Child Labour in India


The Labour Ministry has constituted a task force to ensure the effective implementation of the Child  Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986.

Who is a child?

“Child” as defined by the Child and Adolescent Labour (prohibition and regulation) Act 1986 is a person who has not completed the age of 14 years

What is child labour?

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development.
  • However, children or adolescents who participate in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is not child labour. Example: helping their parents at home, assisting family or earning pocket money outside school hours and on holidays.

Child Labour in India- Statistics:

  • According to 2011 Census, there were more than 10.2 million “economically active” children in the age group of 5to 14-5.6 million boys and 4.5 million girls.
  • Child labour has decreased in rural areas however; it has increased drastically in the urban areas
  • An analysis (2016) by CRY (Child Rights and You) of census data shows that the overall decrease in child labour is only 2.2%per year from 2001 to 2011.
  • There are five states which are the India’s biggest child labour employers- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Nature of Child Labour in India:

1.Change in Location of work: There has been an increasing involvement of children in home-based works and in the informal sector. The change in type of child labour mainly attributes to enforcement of legislation and awareness amongst buyers about child exploitation.

  1. Nature of work in Rural-Urban Areas:
  • In urban areas, a large number of children are engaged in manual domestic work, rag picking, restaurants, motor repair shops etc.
  • In rural sector children are engaged in the agricultural sector including cotton growing, at glass, match box and brass and lock-making factories, in embroidery, rag-picking, beedi-rolling, in the carpet-making industry, in mining and stone quarrying, brick kilns and tea gardens amongst others.
  1. Gender: The division of labour is gender-specific with girls being engaged in more domestic and home-based work, and boys working as wage labourers.
  2. Bonded child labour: Bonded labour means the employment of a person against a loan or debt or social obligation by the family of the child or family as a whole. Bonded child labourers are often found in agriculture sector or assisting their families in brick kilns, and stone quarries. The Bonded Labour Liberation Front estimates 10 million bonded children in India.
  3. Migrant children: Migrant children are often forced to drop-out schools and are inevitably put to work at work-sites.

Causes of Child Labour:

  1. Poverty and Indebtedness:
  • Poverty is the greatest cause of child labour. For impoverished households, income from a child’s work is usually crucial for his or her own survival or for that of the household.Children are also bonded to labour due to a family indebtedness.
  • Rural poverty and urban migration also often exposes children to being trafficked for work
  1. Adult unemployment and under-employment: high prevalence of adult unemployment and under-employment often force children to work to support family.
  2. Illiteracy and Ignorance of child’s parents: Illiteracy of the child’s parents further worsens the situation. Illiteracy and Lack of awareness of the harmful effects of child labour make them violate the law and put their children under the risk of inhuman exploitation.
  3. Lack of access to basic and meaningful quality education and skills training:
  • The prevailing educational infrastructure is highly unsuitable to children of economically deprived families. Further deplorable quality of education has led to increasing dropout rates and forced children into child labour.
  • Compulsory education does not cover 15-18 age group. However, being illiterate or school dropouts, these children are vulnerable and often exploited as part of informal, unskilled and casual workforce.
  1. Demand for child labour: Increasing demand for child labour especially in urban areas is an important reason of prevalence and increase in child labour. Children are employed because they are cheap and flexible according to the demands of the employer and not aware of their rights.
  2. Cultural factors:
  • An expectation that children should contribute to the socioeconomic survival of the family and community, as well as the existence of large families contribute to prevalence of child labour.
  • Children often take up family’s traditional work from an early age. For example, a Goldsmith’s son takes to gold-smithery, or a carpenter’s child takes up carpentry from an early age
  1. Social factors: There is a strong correlation between India’s differentiated social structure and child labour. The majority of child labourers in India belong to the so called lower castes (SCs), the tribal and Muslim religious minority.

Impact of Prevalence of Child Labour:

  1. Child labour impedes children from gaining the skills and education they need to have opportunities of decent work as an adult.
  2. Child labour deprives a child of his/her childhood. It not only denies his/her right to education but also right to leisure
  3. Child labourers face major health and physical risks: they work long hours and are required to perform tasks for which they are physically and developmentally unprepared. Working in hazardous conditions adversely affects a child’s physical and mental health and impairs intellectual, emotional and psychological development
  4. Poverty: Child labour is both a cause and consequence of poverty. Household poverty forces children into the labour market to earn money. Thus the children miss out on an opportunity to gain an education, further perpetuating household poverty across generations

  1. Presence of a large number of child labourers has long term effect on the economy; it is a serious obstacle to socio-economic welfare of a country.


International Safeguards

International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions

  • The two Core Conventions directly related to child labour are that of ILO Convention 138 (Minimum age convention) and 182 (Worst forms of Child Labour Convention). India has ratified both the Core Conventions of International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions

Declaration of Rights of Child, 1959

Universal declaration of human rights 1948 –  stipulates (under article 25) that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance. The above principles along with other principles of universal declaration concerning child were incorporated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, 1959.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

It sets out different rights of children- civil, political, economic, cultural, social and health. Article 32 states that the government should protect children from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education.

Policy Framework surrounding Child Labour:

Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 

Based on the recommendations of the Gurupadswammy Committee (1979), the Act was passed in 1986. It has following objectives:

  • to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments
  • and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments

Salient features:

  • Part II of the Act prohibits children from working in any occupation listed in Part A of the Schedule; for example: Catering at railway establishments, construction work on the railway or anywhere near the tracks, plastics factories, automobile garages, etc.
  • The act also prohibits children from working in places where certain processes are being undertaken, as listed in Part B of the Schedule; for example: beedi making, tanning, soap manufacture, brick kilns and roof tiles units, etc.
  • Part III of the act outlines the conditions in which children may work in occupations/processes not listed in the schedule.
  • Any person who employs any child in contravention of the provisions of section 3 of the Act is liable for punishment with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to one year or fine.


Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016

  • The Amendment Act completely prohibits the employment of children below 14 years.
  • The amendment also prohibits the employment of adolescents in the age group of 14 to 18 years in hazardous occupations and processes and regulates their working conditions where they are not prohibited.
  • The amendment also provides stricter punishment for employers for violation of the Act and making the offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the Act by an employer as cognizable.

National Policy on Child Labour (1987)

  • It contains the action plan for tackling the problem of Child Labour.
  • It focuses more on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations and processes, rather than on prevention.

The policy consists of three main attributes:

  1. a) Legal Action plan –Emphasis will be laid on strict and effective enforcement of legal provisions relating to child under various Labour laws.
  2. b) Focusing of general development programmes- Utilisation of various on-going development programmes of other Ministries/Departments for the benefit of Child Labour wherever possible. c) Project based plan of Action – Launching of projects for the welfare of working child in areas of high concentration of child labour.

National Child Labour Project Scheme

  • For rehabilitation of child labour, Government had initiated the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme.

The NCLP Scheme seeks:

  • To eliminate all forms of child labour through identification and withdrawal children from child labour and preparing them for mainstream education along with vocational training
  •   To contribute to the withdrawal of all adolescent workers from Hazardous Occupations / Processes and their skilling and integration in appropriate occupations.
  • Creation of a Child Labour Monitoring, Tracking and Reporting System.

Pencil: The government has launched a dedicated platform viz. to ensure effective enforcement of child labour laws and end child labour.

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 and Amendment of the Act in 2006

  • It includes the working child in the category of children in need of care and protection, without any limitation of age or type of occupation.
  • Section 23 (cruelty to Juvenile) and Section 26 (exploitation of juvenile employee) specifically deal with child labour under children in need of care and protection.

The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009): The Act made it mandatory for the state to ensure that all children aged six to 14 years are in school and receive free education.


Despite these efforts, child labour legislation to protect children has been inadequate and face the following challenges:

  1. Issues with Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016:
  • The list of hazardous industries has been drastically decreased, this may allow the employers in industries like chemical mixing units, cotton farms, battery recycling units, and brick kilns etc. to employ adolescent labour, which they may even get at a much cheaper price.
  • Further, the amendment allows child to be employed in “family or family enterprises”.This raises question over a large number of child labour in agrarian rural India where poor families are trapped in intergenerational debt-bondage.
  1. Definitional issue: One of the biggest challenges in eradicating child labour is the confusion around the definition of a child, in terms of age, in various laws dealing with child labour.
  2. Lack of identification: Age identification of children is a difficult task in India due to the lack of identification documents. Child labourers often lack school registration certificates and birth certificates, creating an easy loophole in the law to exploit. Further, often children of migrant workers working as labourers, those employed in domestic work often go unreported.
  3. Weak enforcement of law and poor governance: Weak enforcement of law, lack of adequate deterrence and corruption is a major hurdle in eradicating child labour

Way Ahead:

  1. Child labour is a vicious circle of poverty, unemployment, underemployment and low wages. There should be concerted effort towards social protection programmes and cash transfers to improve the economic situation of families and to reduce the “need” to send children to work
  2. There is urgent need to revamp educational infrastructure- to ensure access to educational institutions, improvement in quality and relevance of education
  3. There is a need to brig uniformity in existing Indian laws dealing with child labour. The laws must expand the definition of a child by prohibiting the employment of and ensuring free and compulsory education (RTE, Act, 2009) for children below 18 years
  4. There is need to launch a national campaign to invoke public interest and large-scale awareness onexploitation of children and the menace of child labour.
  5. Government should take adequate measures to raise awareness among families and communities. Parental literacy can play an important role in ensuring the rights of children are upheld.
  6. Elimination of child labour demands commitment from the society e.g. family, state, civil society and those who employ children in any enterprises
  7. Many NGOs like Bachpan Bachao Andolan, ChildFund, CARE India, Talaash Association, Child Rights and You, Global march against child labour, RIDE India, Child line, Kailash Satyarthi Children Foundation etc. have been working to eradicate child labour in India.
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