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Where Are Indian Laws Against Child Labour Going Wrong In Eradicating The Issue?

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Children are the future of society. Every child should get an equal chance to education and opportunities for livelihood, and no child should be deprived of their rights and liberties. Child labour is a major concern of the world as it affects children both mentally and physically. It is a serious issue in India as well as the world.

According to Census 2011, the number of child labourers in India, between the ages of 5-14, are 10.1 million, out of which 4.5 million are girls and 5.6 million are boys. Out of the total number of 152 million children between the ages of 5-17 globally, 86 million boys and 64 million girls are estimated to be child labourers. There are 22.87 million working children in India between the ages of 15-18 years. As per this record, one in every 11 children in India are working. Almost 80% of the issue of child labour is concentrated in India’s rural areas.

Before getting into it, let’s find out what is child labour?

Not all work done by children is considered child labour — work that doesn’t affect ac child’s health and personal development, or hamper their education, is regarded as constructive. This includes activities including helping parents at home, assisting in family business, and working to earn pocket money outside of school hours or during holidays. All these activities contribute towards children’s development.

The term child labour is used for work that deprives children of their childhood, dignity and potential, and which is harmful to their physical and mental development. Work that is mentally, physically, morally and socially dangerous for children and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of attending schools, forcing them to quit school prematurely or involving them in heavy or long work is considered child labour.

Despite the decreasing rates of child labour over the past few decades, children are still being used as some form of labour, such as bonded labourers, for trafficking within and outside India and as child soldiers. Across India, child labour can be found in different industries such as brick kilns, garment making, carpet weaving, domestic service (house help) and food and refreshment services such as at tea stalls, on farms, and for fishery and mining also. Several other forms of exploitation faced by children include sexual exploitation and production of child pornography.

Children are still used as some form of labour, such as bonded labourers, for trafficking within and outside India and as child soldiers. Image source: Accountability Initiative

What Are The Different Forms Of Child Labour?

  • All forms of slavery, such as child trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage
  • Using a child for prostitution for production of pornography
  • Offering a child for illicit activities, such as for production or trafficking of drugs
  • Work that harms their health, both physically and mentally, safety or morale of children

Why Is Child Labour So Widely Practiced

There are several reasons that are responsible for an increasing occurrence of child labour, such as:

  • Poverty,
  • Social norms condoning them,
  • Lack of decent work opportunity for adults,
  • Migration,
  • Emergencies,
  • Lack of availability and quality of the school. According to the UNICEF, girls are twice more likely to be out of school and working in domestic roles than boys.

All these factors mentioned above are not only the cause of child labour, but also the consequences of social inequalities reinforced by discrimination.

Child labour is a major barrier to child’s education. It deprives children of their right to go to school and reinforces the intergenerational cycle of poverty. It also poses a threat to the national economy. Maximum child labourers are illiterate — while 45% of child labourers of Bihar are illiterate, states including Rajasthan and Jharkhand have 40% of their child labourers illiterate, and both Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have about 38% of illiterate child labourers.

According to a study by the ILO, a majority of the world’s child labour, i.e. almost 71% of them, are working in the agricultural sector, around 17% are working as domestic help in restaurants and houses, while the remaining 12% of the children are working in industrial sectors that include being exposed to risky and dangerous activities in the mining industry. Some of them also work in brick-making factories or for processing carpets. Some child labourers also sell cigarettes and tobacco.


In India, many child laborers are working for the starvation of wages in textile factories, helping on the street. Children are also used as cheap labour in the industries for gem polishing, carpet manufacturing and steel extraction. A large number of girl child labourers are victims of child trafficking. The commercial sexual exploitation of children is among the worst forms of child labour. Prostitution in India envelops the lives of around 1.2 million children.

People exploit the loopholes in the law that allows children to get employed or work in the family business.

Does India Have Laws Against Child Labour?

The Indian Constitution provides laws against child labour, both in its Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. Both the laws prohibit child labour below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine, or engage in any other hazardous employment (Article 24). By 1960, the Indian Constitution envisioned to provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education to all children between the age of 6-14 years (Article 21-A and Article 45).

  • The Factories Act of 1948 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 in any factory. The law has also framed rules on when, for how long and who between the age of 15-18 years can be employed in a factory.
  • The Mines Act of 1952 restricts employment of children below the age of 18 years in any of the mines in India.
  • The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 prohibits employment of any child below the age of 14 years as domestic help. It is a cognisable criminal offense. However, children between 14-18 years are called adolescents and can be employed in non-hazardous occupations.
  • The Right Of Children To Free And Compulsory Education Act 2009 provides free and compulsory education to all children aged between 6-14 years. The Act also mandates to reserve 25% of the seats in every private school for children belonging to economically backward class
  • The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) of Children of 2015 has made bondage of a child for employment a punishable offense with a prison term.
  • In 1993, the Indian government enacted a law against child labour and banned all dangerous work or activities that could harm the mental, moral, spiritual or social development of children under the age of 18 years.

However, child labour continues for several reasons. People exploit the loopholes in the law that allows children to get employed or work in the family business. Thus, having children sell tobacco/cigarettes on streets can be considered legal, if it is part of their family business. Along with that, many influential and powerful people, because of their links with political leaders, get special liberties in these laws. And companies may not be interested in removing their cheap labour from their business.

  • Laws against child labour were tightened in the years 2006 and 2016. Children under the age of 14 were prohibited from getting employed as service staff in restaurants or as house helps as well.
UNICEF is working with the Central and state governments to eradicate child labour from the world. But a lot more needs to be done.

However, child labour in family business remains acceptable, and with that, these laws can be twisted to make children from the age 15-18 years work. The law also doesn’t exclude activities such as field work, where children are exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and have to put laborious hours.

To ensure the strict enforcement of these laws, the Indian government is developing additional laws that would increase the punishment of the employer who appoints children under the age of 14 years as labour, the penalty amount of which would be collected as fine. The period of imprisonment is also likely to change.

What Initiatives Has The Government Taken To Eradicate Child Labour?

  • The Indian government formed the Gurupadswamy Committee in 1979 for research on child labour and ways to tackle it. On the recommendation of this Committee, the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act was enacted in 1986.
  • In 1987, a National Policy on Child Labor was formulated, especially to focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. Since 1988, the Ministry of Labour And Employment has implemented around 100 industry-specific National Child Labour Projects to rescue and rehabilitate child workers.

A plethora of laws, Acts, institutions and organisations have been formed by the Indian government to combat the prominence of child labour from India. Several NGOs including ChildFund, Care India, Bachpan Bachao Andolon, Child Right & You, Talaash Association and Global March against Child Labour have been working to eradicate child labour in India.

What Else Can Be Done To Eradicate Child Labour In India?

Several steps have already been taken and the government is taking many more steps to reduce child labour in India. UNICEF is also working with the Central and state governments to eradicate child labour from the world. But a lot more needs to be done.

  • Laws against child labour need to be strengthened more and strictly enforced.
  • It is very important to first combat poverty as this the root cause of child labour.
  • Equal access to education is also crucial to break the cycle of child labour. As children learn more and more, they are more likely to get employed in decent jobs in when they grow up. Although the government is providing free and compulsory education to children under the age of 14, widespread poverty and lack of opportunities to earn money for adults often force families to send their children to work. As a result, children are forced to discontinue their education and drop out of school.

Child labour in our country has become a social norm that we all accept and tolerate in our society. This abusive and explorative practice will continue unless society adopts a zero-tolerance attitude towards it.

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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