Childhood foregone 

Childhood foregone 


It is a shame that the goal to eradicate child labour by 2025 seems elusive

What is Child labour?

As per ILO,

The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development

According to UNICEF,

a child is involved in child labour if he or she is between 5 and 11 years, does at least one hour of economic activity, or at least 28 hours of domestic work in a week. And in case of children aged between 12 and 14, 14 hours of economic activity or at least 42 hours of economic activity and domestic work per week is considered child labour

It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • interferes with their schooling by:
  • depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
  • requires them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

The worst form of child labour

Whilst child labour takes many different forms, a priority is to eliminate without delay the worst forms of child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182:

  1. all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict
  2. the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances
  3. the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties
  4. work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children

Hazardous work

Labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out, is known as “hazardous work”

SDGs related to Child labour

8. Decent work and Economic Growth

  • 8.7 – Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms

16. Peace and Justice

  • 16.2 – End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children

Concentration of child labor

As per Global estimates of Child labor: and trends, 2012-2016,

  • Child labour is concentrated primarily in agriculture (71%), which includes fishing, forestry, livestock herding and aquaculture, and comprises both subsistence and commercial farming; 17% in Services; and 12% in the Industrial sector, including mining

International conventions

ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour, 1999

  • Convention No. 182 focuses the international spotlight on the urgency of action to eliminate as a priority, the worst forms of child labour without losing the long term goal of the effective elimination of all child labour

ILO Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for admission to employment and work

One of the most effective methods of ensuring that children do not start working too young is to set the age at which children can legally be employed or otherwise work. This conventions prescribes the age limits for admission to work

Ratification by India

It should be noted that India ratified both of the above conventions in 2017

Alliance 8.7

Under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the 2030 Agenda, UN Member States, employers’ and workers’ organizations, as well as civil society organizations, are urged to eliminate child labour by 2025, and forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking by 2030. In order to contribute to this goal, the ILO launched Alliance 8.7, a global partnership designed to align the efforts of those working towards the achievement of SDG Target 8.7

Who is a child?

“Child” as defined by the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 is a person who has not completed the age of fourteen years

Laws in India

  • The Factories Act of 1948: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory. The law also placed rules on who, when and how long can pre-adults aged 15–18 years be employed in any factory.
  • The Mines Act of 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine. Mining being one of the most dangerous occuptions, which in the past has led to many major accidents taking life of children is completely banned for them.
  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law. The list was expanded in 2006, and again in 2008

Changes introduced in 2016

  • The name of the CL Act has been changed to ‘Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986’. A complete prohibition has been imposed on employment of child labour (i.e. a person below the age of 14 years) in any establishment whether hazardous or not
  • New category added: The Act adds a new category as adolescents(those under 18 years). Children are those under 14
  • Penalty for employing an adolescent in a hazardous occupation: The punishment for those employers, employing children for the first time, the fine has been increased from 20000 to 50000 Rs and 6months to 2 years imprisonment. For repeat offenders the offence is cognizable (i.e. arrest can be made without warrant) and proposes a punishment of 1-3 year
  • Setting up of a Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund to be set up under the Act for rehabilitation of children and adolescent employed
  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000: This law made it a crime, punishable with a prison term, for anyone to procure or employ a child in any hazardous employment or in bondage. This act provides punishment to those who act in contravention to the previous acts by employing children to work.
  • The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009: The law mandates free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. This legislation also mandated that 25 percent of seats in every private school must be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups and physically challenged children

Constitutional provisions

  • Article 24 of the Constitution prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 in factories, mines, and other hazardous employment
  • Article 21A and Article 45 promise to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14
  • Article 39(e) directs the state to ensure that health of workers be protected and children not to be exploited


  • According to Global Slavery Index, India has the 4th largest estimated prevalence of modern slavery in proportion to its population. 1.4% of India’s population live in condition of modern slavery including sex work, domestic work, child labour, manual labour or even forced marriages


What has happened?

Author mentions that at the Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, Buenos Aires, held from 14-16 Nov 2017, it was stated that the deadline to eradicate child labor by 2025 would be missed

Lack of progress

Following points indicate a lack of progress to eliminate child labour,

  • A slowdown in the reduction of child labour, just one percentage point, during the four years until 2016
  • Almost no progress with respect to the rescue of children under 12 years in the four years since 2012
  • The decline in child labour among girls was only half the proportion of that of boys during this period

Reason for lack of progress

Author mentions that the foremost reason for the lack of progress is the absence of national legislation to give effect to global conventions on the employment of children in hazardous industries, as well as on the minimum age of work. Other reasons include,

  • Lack of effective labour inspections in the informal economy
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