04/13/2015 10:38 EDT | Updated 06/20/2015 02:59 EDT

Australia threatens to withhold welfare payments from parents who don't immunize children

CANBERRA, Australia - The Australian government is ramping up pressure on parents who oppose vaccination by threatening to withhold welfare payments from families that fail to immunize their children.

The government announced this week that families could lose up to 15,000 Australian dollars ($11,400) per child per year in tax and children care benefits from Jan. 1, 2016, unless their children are vaccinated under a "no jab, no pay" policy.

The government is removing a category of "conscientious objector" that allowed parents to be eligible for full welfare benefits despite not immunizing their children.

While 97 per cent of Australians are vaccinated, the number of children under 7 years old who are not vaccinated because their parents are objectors has increased by more than 24,000 over the past decade to 39,000.