Child Labour in India


Mains   > Social justice   >   Human Resources   >   Women and Child issues


Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi warned that due to the pandemic, the number of children being exploited in child labour is expected to increase and called on countries to take urgent action.


  • The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”
  •  The Census of India 2011 reported 10.1 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years, a decrease of around 20% from the 2001 census figures. That amounted to approximately 13% of our workforce, i.e., 1 in every 10 workers in India is a child.



  • An NSSO Report from 2017-18 suggests that 95% of the children aged 6-13 years are attending educational institutions while the corresponding figures for those aged 14-17 years is 79.6%. Hence, a large number of children in India remain vulnerable, facing physical and psychological risks to a healthy development.


  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC):
    • UNCRC is an international human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. India has signed and ratified the convention.
  • ILO Conventions on child labour:
    • The two ILO Conventions on child labour are Convention No.138 on Minimum Age and Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. India has ratified both conventions.
  • Sustainable Development Goal 8.7:
    • It calls to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, among other provisions, and end child labour in all its forms by 2025.
  • World Day Against Child Labour:
    • Each year, 12 June is observed as World Day Against Child Labour, to focus attention on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it.



  • Article 21 A: Right to Education
    • The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years in such manner as the State, by law, may determine.
  • Article 24: Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc.
    • No child below the age fourteen years shall be employed in work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.
  • Article 39 (e):
    • The State shall direct its policy towards securing that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.


  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986:
    • It was formulated by Gurupadswamy Committee to study the issue of child labour and to suggest measures to tackle it.
    • According to Indian legislations, a ‘child’ is anyone who has not completed 14 years of age and ‘adolescent’ is anyone above 14 years of age but is below 18 years. The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law.
  • The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016:
    • The Amendment Act completely prohibits the employment of children below 14 years. It also prohibits the employment of adolescents 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bonded Labor (Abolishment) System Act of 1976
    • It strictly outlaws all forms of debt bondage and forced labor in India.


  • Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour (PENCIL) Portal, 2017:
    • The Ministry of Labour and Employment-operated online portal allows government officials, law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organisations to share information and coordinate on child labour cases at the national, State and local levels for effective enforcement of child labour laws.
    • It has been launched for the effective implementation of Child Labour Act and National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme.
  • National Policy on Child Labour, 1987:
    • Under the policy, the NCPL Scheme was launched to to rehabilitate working children in 12 child labour endemic districts of the country.
  • National Policy for Children, 2013:
    • The policy aims to protect and encourage the rights of the children to survival, health, nutrition, education, development, protection and participation.
  • National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme 2007:
    • Under it, children aged 9-14 years, rescued/withdrawn from work are enrolled in the NCLP Special Training Centres, where they are provided with bridge education, vocational training, mid day meal, stipend, health care, etc. before being mainstreamed into formal education system.
  • Child and Adolescent Rehabilitation Fund:
    • It was created under the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 in every district or for two or more districts.
    • The fine realized from the employer of the child and adolescent is credited and used for the child’s welfare.


  • Poverty:
    • Poverty is the root cause of child labour. Economic insecurity, lack of social protection and reduced household income, children from poor households are being pushed to contribute to the family income with the risk of exposure to exploitative work.
    • As per UNICEF, a 1% rise in poverty may result in at least a 0.7% increase in numbers of children working.
  • Legal loopholes:
    • India’s legal system gives basis to the assumption that children can work and still get an education. Hence, the Child Labor Acts allows children under the age of 14 to work in family occupations after school hours. However, this assumption is widely misused, leave a glaring gap in the prohibition of child labor.
  • Informal economy:
    • Millions of child labourers remain invisible, due to the informal nature of their job. Eg: Many children who work as domestic help in homes remain “hidden”, since such employments do not feature in any government data.
    • Also, a child is paid only a fraction of what an adult would get for the same job. Hence, employers in the informal sector are willing to utilize child labour.
  • Unregulated urbanization:
    • Over the years, while child labour has fallen in the rural regions, it has only increased in the urban. This is because with the onset of urbanization, the demand for cheap labour spiked in the major centres and children provided to be a cheaper source.
  • Gender discrimination:
    • A patriarchal society like India considers girls weaker than boys. Hence, while boys are sent to schools, girls are found to be engaged in labour along with their parents. This is more common in agrarian sector.
  • Societal acceptance:
    • Child labour in India continues to be toleratde in our society. This exploitative and abusive practice will continue unless society adopts a zero-tolerance attitude towards it.
  • Removal of no detention policy:
    • With the removal of no detention policy under the RTE Act, the dropout rates from schools, especially among children from vulnerable groups, are expected to increase.
    • The indirect consequences of this are likely to manifest as increase in child labour and incidences of child marriage.
  • Pandemic induced distress:
    • The true extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child labour is yet to be measured but all indications show that it would be significant as children are unable to attend school and parents are unable to find work.
  • Digital divide:
    • As many schools and educational institutions are moving to online platforms for continuation of learning, the ‘digital divide’ is keeping a large share of children from accessing education, thereby making them more vulnerable to exploitations.
  • Labour shortage due to migration:
    • As adults migrate to urban areas, there is a deficit in manpower required to manage farmlands. Hence, children are forced to work in them. Agriculture is the most common child occupation worldwide.  

Rat hole mining and child labour:

            The mines of Meghalaya are places where children work, live and die in some of the most inhuman work environments.

            A rat-hole mines comprises a deep vertical shaft with narrow horizontal tunnels, two to four feet in dimension, dug on its sides. Miners, often children, go into these horizontal tunnels to take out coal. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned 'rat hole' coal mines in 2014, labelling them unscientific, and unsafe for workers. However, many mines continue to operate illegally.

            Workers involved in rat-hole mining, the majority of whom are children, are generally lured into this work due to the wages offered and the poor living conditions. Most of the children are either migrants or trafficked from neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh by agents.


  • Affects health and wellbeing of children:
    • Children are very often employed in harmful environment, which affects their health. Eg: The firework industries of Sivakasi in Tamil nadu are infamous for employing children in large numbers, where they suffer from respiratory and skin diseases due to poor handling of chemicals.
    • Besides physical harm, victims of child labour suffer from depression and anxiety, pushing them to destructive habits like smoking, alcoholism or drug abuse.
  • Perpetuates poverty:
    • Child labour is both a cause and consequence of poverty. Household poverty forces children into the labour market. Hence, they miss out on an opportunity to gain an education, further perpetuating household poverty across generations, slowing the economic growth and social development.
  • Hinders human resource development:
    • Being employed in menial jobs means that children are unable to develop new skills and qualifications that are required to get into gainful employment. This way, India is losing out on the potential demographic dividend that is required to propel our country’s growth.
  • Degrades human rights:
    • It is the responsibility of a good society to promote and protect its children. However, Child labour deprives children of receiving basic education, health and their basic rights to life and liberty.
  • Slows technological advancement:
    • Through its negative impact on education, skill and labour markets, child labour reduces incentives for the adoption of new, skill intensive technologies.
  • Obstacle to trade and investment:
    • As child labour reduces unskilled wages, countries with more child labour tend to have comparative advantages in labour intensive sectors. However, this discourages global investors due to fear of public backlash and harming its brand value.
    • Eg: In 2017, Apple admitted that Foxconn, its biggest manufacturing partner in China, employed children to make their products.


  • Effective law enforcement:
    • Proper implementation of the RTE Act, increased convictions and effective punishment can curb the issues of employing child labour and child trafficking.
  • Spread awareness:
    • Parental and societal awareness of the evils of child labor can prevent disruption in schooling and pushing of children into labor. Aware communities can comprehend and respond to children’s issues much more effectively.
  • Bridge the digital divide:
    • The ‘digital divide’ is a challenge that India has to reconcile within the coming years. This can be achieved through efforts such as the Digital India mission, Bharatnet.
  • Restructure policy support:
    • The COVID-19 lockdown has exposed gaps in India’s child protection services. Policies are required specifically to protect children from the economic and other effects that may arise during pandemics such as that associated with COVID-19. Eg: India can provide basic social security to children through health insurance and facilities.
  • Utilise NGOs:
    • There are various NGOs in India that work towards preventing child labour and promoting child welfare. They can be utilized as a means of reporting instances of child labor and ensuring that welfare measures reach the intended beneficiaries.
  • Farm mechanization:
    • Promoting farm mechanization can reduce the shortage of labour force in farms. This can directly help in keeping the children from the farmlands.  


Q. ‘Children shouldn't work in fields, but on dreams!’ (Essay)

Q. Give an account of the efforts taken by the government to address the issue of child labour in India?