Government on Wednesday gave its nod to a proposal allowing children below 14 years of age to work only in family enterprises or entertainment industry with certain conditions while completely banning their employment elsewhere.
The original child labour law banned employment of children below 14 in only 18 hazardous industries.
The amendments also make it clear that children between 14 and 18 years will also not be allowed to work in hazardous industries.
The changes in the labour law also provide for stricter punishment for employers for violation. While there is no penalty provision for parents for the first offence, the employer would be liable for punishment even for the first violation.
In case of parents, the repeat offenders may be penalised with a monetary fine up to Rs 10,000.
In case of first offence, the penalty for employers has been increased up to two and half times from the existing up to Rs 20 thousand to up to Rs 50,000 now.
In case of a second or subsequent offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the law, the minimum imprisonment would be one year which may extend to three years.
Earlier, the penalty for second or subsequent offence of employing any child in contravention of the law was imprisonment for a minimum term of six months which may extend to two years.
After the Cabinet nod, Government will move official amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 in Parliament.
While child rights activists were opposed to the dilution saying it will promote child labour, those involved in business maintained that children need to be trained in traditional arts at an early stage or they will not be able to acquire the required skills like weaving and stitching.
The age of prohibition of employment has been linked to age under Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.
Exceptions have, however, been made in case of works in which the child helps the family or family enterprises.
The condition is that such enterprises should not involved any hazardous occupation. Another condition set forth is that they should work after school hours or during vacations.
Moreover, exemption has also been given where the child works as an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry, including advertisement, films, television serials or any such other entertainment or sports activities except the circus.
An official statement said that while considering a total prohibition on employment of child, it would be prudent to also keep in mind the country's social fabric and socio- economic conditions.
Justifying the amendments, it said, "In a large number of families, children help their parents in their occupations like agriculture, artisanship etc and while helping the parents, children also learn the basics of occupations.
"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 that a child can help his family or family enterprise, which is other than any hazardous occupation or process, after his school hours or during vacation." Besides a new definition of adolescent has been introduced in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act and employment of adolescents (14 to 18 years of age) has been prohibited in hazardous occupations and processes.
"These provisions would go a long way in protecting adolescents from the employment not suitable to their age," it said.