New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed a bill that restricts the employment of children below 14 in all occupations and enterprises, except those run by his or her own family.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, introduced by labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya, was passed unanimously by the upper House. The bill will now be taken up by the Lok Sabha.

Once passed, it will make employing child labour a cognizable offence attracting a jail term of up to two years. Children below 14 will be allowed to work only in family enterprises and farms after school hours and during holidays. The Union cabinet had approved the draft bill in May 2015.

While a section of society welcomed the bill, others had criticized the government for allowing children to work in family occupations and enterprises.

Child rights activists and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi said though it is a good first step, he was unhappy about letting children work in family occupations and enterprises.

“The amendment in child labour law may have good intent and moves gradually towards our destination, but I cannot say I am happy for the millions of child labourers in our country. This day has come after a long struggle, which began in 1986 when the child labour law was enacted," Satyarthi said after Rajya Sabha passed the bill.

“A weak law on child labour may have severe implications on economic, social, human rights and moral well-being of society. It seems to me that a political scene has been set to fail our children once again due to the existing apathy, complacency and old-age mind set," he added.

The government has maintained that while considering total prohibition on employing children, it is prudent to keep in mind the country’s socio-economic conditions. “In a large number of families, children help parents in occupations such as agriculture and artisanship, and while helping the parents, children also learn the basics of these occupations," the government said after the cabinet approved the amendments in May 2015.

“Therefore, striking a balance between the need for education for a child and the reality of the socio-economic condition and social fabric in the country, the cabinet has approved a child can help his family or family enterprise, which is other than any hazardous occupation or process, after school hours or during vacation," the government had said then.

Terming the development historic, Dattatreya said the move is aimed at “total abolition of child labour". Explaining the exception, Dattatreya said “family’ has been exempted as the relationship between employer and employee does not exist and that a law should be framed keeping in mind the ground realities as well as ensuring that it is implementable".

The bill also has provisions barring the employment of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes such as chemicals and mines.

The 2001 census counted 12.6 million child workers between the ages of five and 14 in India. In 2011, this number fell to 4.35 million. The National Sample Survey Office’s survey of 2009-10 put the number at 4.98 million.

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