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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 15:04 GMT
Tough child labour laws proposed
By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Child worker
Million of children work in India
The Indian government is proposing a complete ban on employing children below the age of 11.

Women and Child Development minister Renuka Chowdhary told the BBC that the move is aimed at providing basic education and health to all children.

Recently, India banned children under 14 from working as domestic servants or in food stalls.

Official statistics show India has 12 million child workers, but NGOs say the numbers could be as high as 60 million.

"The idea behind the proposal is to ensure the right to education and a life of dignity to every single child as enshrined in our constitution," Ms Chowdhary told the BBC.

Right step

The proposal has now been sent to experts and the state governments for their opinion.

Children below the age of 14 are banned from a large number of hazardous industries and have been recently banned from being employed at homes and food stalls too.

But millions of children continue to work in other sectors not categorised as hazardous industries, such as making handicrafts, and on farmland.

NGOs working for the welfare of children say it is a step in the right direction.

But they say the government should raise the cut-off age and ban all child labour below 14.

"It is an irony that India is trying to match global standards in everything else as a fast growing economy, but it is adopting a separate standard on an important issue such as child labour. It will damage India's reputation internationally," Kailash Satyarthi of the Save the Childhood foundation told the BBC.

Rarely enforced

Experts say India has emerged as the second fastest growing economy in the world in recent years and can ill afford to ignore international opinion on key issues such as child labour.

India has laws in place to prohibit and regulate child labour, but activists say the ban is rarely enforced.

Many parents say they are too poor to support their children and are forced to send them to work - sometimes as young as five or six - in other people's homes or in factories.

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