Image by billy cedeno from Pixabay 

'If we can't begin to agree on fundamentals, such as the elimination of the most abusive forms of child labour, then we really are not ready to march forward into the future.' - Anonymous.


Children are considered to be the earthly manifestations of God. They are considered to be the harbinger of happiness. The future of any nation is based upon the children of that respective country. It's of utmost need that the childhood of every child must be protected. Societal abuses like 'Child Labour' strangle the basic and fundamental rights granted to every child. It is an illicit practice prevailing within the society and is now regarded as a punishable offence under the law. Child labour is a global phenomenon that is especially predominant in developing countries.

Definition of 'Child Labour'

  1. According to International Labour Organization ( ILO ), Child Labour is defined as work that not only affects their childhood but also deprives them to attend school. The practice deprives the child of his/her dignity, potential and childhood. Chained in the shackles of child labour, the child is not able to develop mentally, socially, physically and morally.
  2. According to UNICEF, Children around the world are engaged in both paid and unpaid works that may or may not be harmful to them. However, they are regarded as child labourers when they are either too young to work or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, social, mental or educational development.
  3. According to the recent Indian Census, 2021; the agricultural sector accounts for 70% of children in child labour, followed by 20% in services and 10% in industry. An estimate has been recorded that 28% of children aged 5 to 11 years and 35% of children aged 12 to 14 years in child labour are out of school.

The Social Evil of Child Labour

The problem of child labour continues to pose a serious challenge before the nation. Child labour is regarded to be a socio-economic problem inextricably linked with poverty and illiteracy. Child labour robs the child of his childhood. Child labour is the employment of children less than a legally specified age. The movement to regulate child labour began in Britain where a large number of child labourers were exploited in large scale industries.

Not all the forms of work undertaken by children are regarded as child labour. It depends on factors like the country where they are working, their working hours, conditions of work, age of the child so and so forth. They are forced to work in poor conditions without adequate health facilities. The non-awareness about the laws to prohibit child labour is also responsible for accentuating the social evil. The societal taboos have also contributed to shambles in the life of the child. Steps both from governmental and non-governmental organisations are required to counter the issue.

Child labour is found in the agricultural sector also. It has been a convention in the rural minds that children must work to enhance their family agricultural set-up. Boys below the age of 18 years are largely seen here. The child is seen working around big tractors, harvesting machines and around other dangerous machines that classify this type of child labour as 'hazardous'. Not all agricultural tasks are classified as hazardous. Child labour has been found in sub-agricultural sectors too such as, fishing, forestry, farming etc. The children are also forced into domestic child labour, especially in urban areas. They work by living together with their masters, sometimes, either paid or unpaid. Generally, a girl works inside the home and the boy is expected to work somewhere around the garden. This all reflects the 'gender inequality' present within child labour as well. The textile, tobacco and mining industries are also witnessed practising this social evil. The lack of awareness especially in the rural areas has been reflected as the child labour rates are much higher in the rural areas than the urban areas.

What are the 'worst forms of Child Labour'?

As per Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182; the worst forms of child labour are defined as;

  • all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the trade and trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in military conflict;
  • Procuring, forcing or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic content;
  • 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;
  • 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.

The worst forms of child labour include (ILO):

  1. Child Trafficking:- It refers to the immoral commerce of children. The trade, transport, transfer, housing of any person by different methods including the use of force, abuse of authority, abduction, fraud etc. Such children after being sold are treated as slaves. They are subjected to both physical and psychological violence. On a routine figure, around 3000 children regularly fall as victims to this practice.
  2. Sexual Exploitation:- Childrens are sexually exploited either for profit or pleasure or for both. Pornographic content is recorded to obtain commercial gain. Sexual explorations cramps the physical health of the child. The child gets prone to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, AIDS and STDs etc. Such children are abandoned by the society. Generally, girls after they attain the age of puberty are attacked by the abuse of prostitution.
  3. Drug Trafficking:- The illegal global drug trade of a variety of drugs including, cocaine, heroine, cannabis etc. is a major source of revenue for organised criminal groups. It's very humiliating that these small children are also coerced into this endless battle of smuggling of drugs.
  4. Bonded Labour:- Many children work in order to pay off their debts along with their family as the family isn't so fiscally strong to pay back the loans. They are reduced to the status of slaves. They are deprived of water, food, shelter and are seldomly paid.
  5. Slavery:- Although slave trade is universally banned in almost all the forms; still both adults and children are victims of the practice. The children are made slaves at first and are forced to work against their will, thereafter, they are pressed by practices like prostitution, armed conflicts, bondage etc.
  6. Begging:- Begging is a new form of slavery, accepted or rather tolerated within the society. The children are forced to beg either by their parents or their marabout in order to bring a specified sum of money. Although this sight seems normal, nonetheless, it flouts the most basic rights of the children. The childrens are poorly dressed, some with untreated illness, some with their body parts cut, so much so that the social security of these childrens gets endangered.

What is 'Hazardous Child Labour'?

Hazardous child labour is defined under Article 3(d) of ILO Convention No. 182 as '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' (ILO). Child labour is classified as hazardous when the work is performed in an unhealthy or in a dangerous environment which can cause physical and psychological injury to the child, prone the child to illness and in some extreme cases can cause the death of the child. It is regarded as the largest category of child labour accounting for 73 million children employed in this section. Children working in manufacturing sectors, firework industries, toxic metals industries etc all are classified as hazardous forms of child labour.

What is 'Forced Child Labour'?

Under international law, 'forced' labour is defined as 'work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its non-performance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily.' This can happen when due to factors like financial constraints, the family forces their children to labour to earn a livelihood. They can also become a victim of this practice due to coercion exacted by some non-state actors for illegal and commercial purposes. Sexual exploitation, serfdom and slavery are all examples of forced child labour.

Drivers of Child Labour:-

  1. Poverty and Unemployment:- Children are considered to be the helping hands in the family rather than dependents. The poverty-stricken families force their children to work so as to earn a living. They also have to work in order to pay off the debts incurred on their family. They have to work for their survival. The widespread unemployment and lack of job opportunities make these children vulnerable and they are forced to join any sector of child labour.
  2. Inadequate and Weak Educational System:- It has been a traditional convention ingrained especially in the rural minds that child labour is such a lucrative use of children's time than what the child spends his time in schooling. Many parents are even not able to afford the school fees. The teachers, faculty and resources in a school are generally inadequate. Hence, the environment of a school in itself is weak to provide educational access to the child. Children have to face drop-outs as they are expected to follow the footsteps of their parents in their family business. It has been a convention that working in any sector enhances the skill of the child but this connotation neglects the violation of human rights by virtue of the work.
  3. Inadequate enforcement of laws that prevent child labour:- Child Labour persists even though laws and standards exist for its elimination. The laws to prohibit child labour are not well enforced. Violation of existing laws and regulations is further depreciating the solace of children. Child labour in itself is a signal that the laws defined for its eradication are not enforced or implemented properly.
  4. Domestic and Professional Needs:- In the wake of modernity and urbanisation, both spouses are found working. In such a situation, it becomes extremely exhaustive for them to handle the household chores too in tandem with their professional work. Hence, they hire some domestic servants, preferably child workers to handle the domestic activities. Domestic child labour is the most accepted and unrecognized form of child labour. Similarly, some professional tycoons hire child labourers for tasks that require delicate and soft hands as in the case of Bangle Industries.

Effects of Child Labour:- 

Child Labour is an insidious practice. It sabotages deliberately the childhood and the life of the children. The mental solace of the child gets affected. Their physical and psychological health also deteriorates. They are prone to accidents at their workplace which can lead to physical deformity of these children. The emotional development of the child is ignored. Their intellectual development is glued to stagnancy. They are exposed to torture and various forms of abuse. Some of them even suffer from malnutrition, drug dependency and depression. They are isolated from their family. Their work conditions are not properly looked after. As they are not much experienced, the risk of getting injured is also much high. They are exposed to dangerous chemicals and poisons in mining activities. Adequate medical facilities are also not provided to them. They also face sexual abuse and ailments derived from it. To sum it all, Child labour endangers the dignity, morals, ethics, potential and most importantly the childhood of the child.

Child Labour Laws in India:-

Child labour is more prevalent in India. 10.1 million children ( 3.9% of the total child population ) in the country are organised into child labour and are working either as 'Main Workers' or 'Marginal Workers'. Various laws have been made to control child labour. These laws include:-

  1. The Minimum Wages Act, 1948:- The Government fixed the wages that were to be provided to the labourers including the child labourers. The wages were fixed according to the type of work or the class of workers working.
  2. The Plantation Labour Act, 1951:- This Act prohibited employment of children below the age of 12 years. However, children above the age of 12 years could be appointed if the doctor issued a fitness certificate to the child for working.
  3. The Mines Act, 1952:- No children should be present in an area around mining.
  4. The Apprentices Act, 1961:- No child below the age of 14 years can go for apprenticeship training unless the child has completed his educational and physical prerequisites.
  5. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009:- Free and compulsory education must be provided to every child below the age of 14 years.
  6. Section 67 of the Factories Act, 1948:- No child below the age of 14 years are not allowed to work in a factory.
  7. The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) of Children Act, 2000:- If a child pursues under a person some hazardous work like slavery, bondage and prostitution to name a few. The person responsible for this is punishable as per the due process of law.

Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act; 1986;

The Act provided that a child below the age of 14 years cannot be employed in 16 occupations and 65 hazardous processes that are dangerous to the life of a child. These occupations and processes are mentioned in Part III of this Act. Following are mentioned some of the occupations and processes.

• Processes in which a child should not be employed.

  1. Cement manufacturing
  2. Carpet weaving
  3. Explosive fireworks
  4. Shellac Manufacture
  5. Industries using toxic metals like lead, cadmium, chromium etc.
  6. Polishing of gem and it's cutting.
  7. Industries where pesticides and insecticides are manufactured.
  8. Refinery units and so and so forth.

• Occupations that prohibit the employment of children:-

  1. A child should not be employed in a building operation in the railway premises.
  2. A child shouldn't be employed within the port authority.
  3. Industries of Fireworks and Crackers.
  4. Slaughterhouses.
  5. Mining Industries.
  6. Hotels or Restaurants.
  7. Circus or taking care of elephants.
  8. Children shouldn't be appointed as domestic workers of servants.

This Act provides the definition of a 'child'. A child is a person who has not yet attained the age of 14 years. The Act attempts to regulate the hours of work and the working conditions of child labourers and parallelly prohibits the employment of child labour in hazardous industries. The Act was amended both in 2006 and 2008 respectively.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation ) Amendment Act,2016:

  • This Act prohibits the employment of children who are less than 14 years of age and adolescents employment in case of hazardous occupations and processes. It regulates the working conditions where the employment of adolescents is not prohibited. -This Act also provides for punishment in case of violation of any provision of this Act and employment of children below 14 years of age would be considered as a cognizable offence.
  • The list of hazardous occupations reduced from 83 to 3. A Rehabilitation Fund for the children is also to be created under this Act.
  • The Act also empowers the Government to make a periodic inspection of areas where the employment of children is banned.
  • The penalty for violating the provisions of the Act was increased.
  • In order to ensure that the provisions of the Act are properly implemented, for this, the Government can empower the District Magistrate to take the steps.

After the passage of this Act, the Indian law is also now aligned with the conventions of ILO.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Rules, 2017:

  • The amendment provided broader dimensions and rules for prevention, protection, prohibition, rescue and rehabilitation of child workers. The working hours and the working conditions of the child labourers were clearly emphasised.
  • Safeguards were provided to those who have been given permission to work under this Act.
  • It lays down the duties and responsibilities of enforcement agencies so that all work is done according to the provisions.

Roadblocks in the implementation of Child Labour Laws:-

Child labour continues to exist as an evil in society as some factors contribute to its maintained existence. Firstly, non-awareness about the child labour laws is a factor for their poor implementation. Secondly, high rates of poverty and unemployment make the child vulnerable to join any sector of child labour. Thirdly, the political will in the country is not well organised to curb Child Labour. Fourthly, the administrative machinery fails to enforce the labour laws properly. Fifthly, the lack of education develops the inability to understand rules and regulations.

Constitutional Provisions for Child Upliftment:-

  1. Article 21A (Right to Education):- All children in the age group (6-14 years) must be provided free and compulsory education in their respective States. Article 45 of Directive Principles of State Policy also connote the same.
  2. Article 24:- No child below the age of 14 shall be employed in hazardous factories.
  3. Article 39(e):- Citizens due to economic pressure shouldn't be forced into child labour. The labourers should not abuse the health and strength of workers.
  4. Article 23 and 24 of the Constitution of India provides for the 'Right against Exploitation'. Human trafficking and forced labour are banned as per Article 23 of the Indian Constitution. The government has passed the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, according to the provisions enshrined in the Constitution of India. The minimum age for employment of a child in any occupation is 14 years while the minimum age requirement for hazardous work is 18 years.

Punishment for Violation of Child Labour Laws:-

  • Any person who employs a child below 14 or a child between 14 and 18 in a hazardous occupation or process can be punished with jail time of between six months and two years and/or a fine between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 50,000.
  • National Policy of Child Labour was introduced in 1987. It provides an action plan that tackles the problems of child labour. It contains the legislative action plan and the general development programmes for the benefit of every child. Project-based action plans are introduced for the larger welfare of the children. In order to enforce the programme, the National Child Labour Policy ( NCLP) was started. The government takes strict measures to enforce the legislative provisions curbing child labour. It also attempts to establish rehabilitation centres with the object of regulating the working hours and conditions of those child workers involved in a hazardous occupations. The government is also empowered to carry out raids and inspections in areas where child labour is practised illegally or where it is banned.
  • In 1979, Gurupadswamy Committee was formed to know about child labour and the ways to tackle it. Based on the recommendations of the committee, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was introduced in 1986. To rehabilitate children working in hazardous occupations, a National Policy on Child Labour was formulated. Later, in 1988, the National Child Labour Policy was started. Many National Child Labour Projects were implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. States in India like Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh are constantly taking measures to curb child labour. The government is showing proactiveness in eradicating this social evil.

Role of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

  • Various NGOs like Child Fund, Global March against Child Labour, Child Rights and You, Care India etc are directing their efforts to eradicate this detrimental social abuse. Public interest litigations have been launched against Child Labour like 'PIL on Child Labour' which is also known by the case of 'Hemant Goswami Vs Union of India'. 
  • NGOs are working to provide the children with the basic rights which they are being deprived of due to this practice. Such organisations work to change the scenario for these underprivileged sections. These organisations aim at protection from abuse, exploitation and slavery etc. They work out collectively to create a maximum potential to proportion the maximum interest. They work for a reform that is sustainable enough. They want accountability and transparency in any sort of labour performed by a child where work is permissible. It aims at expanding equal opportunity for expression, information, thought and religion. These organisations attempt to secure the survival and the development of the children. Strides by these civic agencies are also hastening the process of the decline of social abuse.

Changing Demography of Child Labour in Pandemic.

In times of pandemic, the students are unable to find school and parents are unable to find work, hence, child labour has drastically increased. Over 152 million children around the world are still in child labour while 73 million of them are involved in hazardous work. A Government of India survey suggests that 95% of children in the age group of 6-13 years are attending educational institutions, while the corresponding figures for the age group of 14-17 years are 79.6%. A large number of children in India remain vulnerable. Education for children holds a constitutional responsibility as per Article 21A of the Constitution. The Census of India 2011 reports 10.1 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years, out of whom 8.1 million are in rural areas, mainly engaged as cultivators ( 26% ) and agricultural labourers ( 32.9% ). The recent Census data has been mentioned at the very onset of the paper. UNESCO estimates based on the 2011 census that 38.1 million children are ' out of school.' A rapid survey on Children ( 2013-14 ), jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and UNICEF, found that less than half of children in the age group of 10-14 years have completed primary education. Policy interventions such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ( MGNREGA ), 2005 are there to guarantee employment to many. Right to Education Act, 2009 and the Midday Meal Scheme has paved the way for children in schools along with guaranteed wage employment ( especially for unskilled workers ) in rural families. Ratifying International Labour Organization Conventions No. 138 and 182 in 2017, the Indian government further demonstrated its commitment to the elimination of child labour. 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. Increased economic insecurity, lack of social protection and reduced household income force children from poor households into child labour to contribute to the family income. Strategic partnerships and collaborations involving Government employees, trade unions & community-based organisations should be promoted to curb child labour in its entirety. Forming a strong alliance and ending child labour in all its forms by 2025 is one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goals ( SDG ).


Child Labour continues to remain a serious problem before the nation. Reviewing the national laws and actionable legislation can help in curbing the evil. A code of labour practices should be provided to solve the problems associated with child labour. Monitoring systems are required to check and regulate the growth of this practice. Collective and a multi-pronged approach will channelise a new spirit in solving this persistent problem. We must adopt a new environment that is free from child labour. To upscale the fight against child labour, greater support and public awareness campaigns are the need of the hour. Combating the evil of child labour will assist in revamping the societal structure to its modern essence.