Review of Child Labour Policies in India

What is Child Labour

The term ‘Child Labour’ is defined as a work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity and is harmful to their physical and mental development.

It refers to the work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, interferes with schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obligement to leave school prematurely or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.


What constitutes Child Labour?

  • All forms of slavery or practices similar to the slavey include but are not limited to the sale or trafficking of children, debt bondage and forced or compulsory labour.
  • It also means the forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
  • The use of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography.
  • The use of a child for illicit activities in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties.
  • It also includes work, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, that is likely to harm the health, safety and morals of children.

What does not constitute Child Labour?

  • It is also important to know that not all work done by children should be classified as child labour targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents participation in work the does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as being something positive.
  • This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These activities are believed to contribute to children’s development.
  • Already, there are an estimated 152 million children in child labour, 72 million of which are in hazardous work. These children are now at even greater risk of facing circumstances that are even more difficult and working longer hours.
  • Almost one in ten of all children worldwide are in child labour. While the number of children in child labour has declined by 94 million since 2000, the rate of reduction slowed by two-thirds in recent years.
  • Target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals calls for an end to child labour in all its forms by 2025.

ILO Convention on Child Labour

India has ratified six out of the eight-core/fundamental International Labour Organisation(ILO) Conventions.

  • The Forced Labour Convention, 1930
  • Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957
  • Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951
  • Discrimination(Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958
  • Minimum Age Convention, 1973
  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999

Causes of Child Labour

  • Poverty is the main root cause though the country has achieved commendable progress in industrialization, the benefits of the same have not been effectively passed on to the lowest strata of society.
  • Families below BPL force their children into work to supplement their household meager income.
  • The combination of poverty and lack of social security networks form the basis.
  • High PopulationIndustrialists in India have been successful in taking advantage of this disadvantage faced by job seekers due to the high population they are not in a position to bargain higher wages.
  • Parents Illiteracy  Illiterate parents don’t understand the need for the wholesome physical, cognitive and emotional development of children.
  • They are themselves uneducated and unexposed.

Nature of Child Labour in India

The location of work has changed. There has been an increasing involvement of children in home-based works and the informal sector. The change in the type of child labour is mainly attributed to the enforcement of legislation and awareness amongst buyers about child exploitation.

In urban areas, a large number of children are engaged in manual domestic work, rag picking, restaurants, motor repair shops etc.

In the rural sector, children are engaged in the agricultural sector including cotton growing, glass, matchbox and brass and lock-making factories.

The division of labour is gender-specific with girls being engaged in more domestic and home-based work, and boys working as wage labours.


Impact of Child Labour

Child labour deprives a child of his/her childhood. It not only denies his/her right to education but also a child is left with little or no time to play. Working in hazardous conditions adversely affects a child’s physical and mental health.

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


National Legislations addressing the issue of Child Labour in India

Child Labour(Prohibition and Regulation) Act (1986)

  • Based on the recommendations of the Gurupadswammy Committee(1979), the Act was passed in 1986.
  • The objective is to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments.
  • The act defines a child as any person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016

  • The Act prohibits the engagement of children in all occupations and of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes. Adolescents refer to those under 18 years and children to those under 14. 
  • It also imposes a fine on anyone who employs or permits and adolescents to work.

National Policy on Child Labour(1987)

  • It focuses more on the rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations and processes, rather than on prevention.

The policy consists of three main attributes:

  • Legal Action Plan- Emphasis will be laid on strict and effective enforcement of legal provisions relating to a child under various Labour Laws.
  • Focusing on general development programmes- Utilisation of various ongoing development programmes of other Ministries/Departments for the benefit of Child Labour wherever possible.
  • Project-based plan of Action- Launching of projects for the welfare of working children in areas of high concentration of 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 of 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.
  • Article 21 A of the Constitution of India recognizes education as a fundamental right.
  • By ensuring free education to children, would help to combat the menace of child labour in India.


Laws on Child Labour

The Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation ) Act, 1986

Statistics on Child labour in India (state-wise)

State-wise distribution of Working Children,2011


Working Children by Residence and Sex, India, 1991,2001,2011

Distribution of Children(Age 5-14 Years) categories as Main and Marginal Workers by Category, Sex and Residence, India, 2011

  • Necessary practical steps to educate the children.
  • Effective implementation of child protection law.
  • Necessary prosecution of child labour defaulters.
  • Practical steps were taken by the Government to educate the children.
  • Funds under Grants-in-Aid Scheme – These are sanctioned directly to NGOs for the elimination of Child Labour in districts not covered by the NCLP Scheme. Under the scheme, voluntary agencies are given financial assistance by the Ministry of Labour on the recommendation of the State Government to the extent of 75% of the project cost for the rehabilitation of working children. Voluntary organizations have been receiving funds under the scheme since 1979-80. Currently, about 70 voluntary agencies are being assisted.
  • National Child Labour Project-  National Child Labour Project SCHEME

The government had initiated the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme in 1988 to rehabilitate working children in 12 child labour endemic districts of the country.

  1. This is the major Central Sector Scheme for the rehabilitation of child labour.
  2. The Scheme seeks to adopt a sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations & processes in the first instance.
  3. Under the Scheme, a survey of child labour engaged in hazardous occupations & processes has been conducted.
  4. The identified children are to be withdrawn from these occupations & processes and then put into special schools to enable them to be mainstreamed into the formal schooling system.
  5. Project Societies at the district level are fully funded for opening up special schools/Rehabilitation Centres for the rehabilitation of child labour.
  6. The special schools/Rehabilitation Centres provide:
  • Non-formal/bridge education
  • Skilled/vocational training
  • Mid Day Meal
  • Stipend @ Rs.150/- per child per month.
  • Health care facilities through a doctor appointed for a group of 20 schools.

The Target group:

The project societies are required to survey to identify children working in hazardous occupations and processes. These children will then form the target group for the project society. Of the children identified those in the age group 5-8 years will have to be mainstreamed directly to the formal educational system through the SSA. Working children in the age group of 9- 14 years will have to be rehabilitated through NCLP schools established by the Project Society.

A joint report released on June 10 2021 by ILO and UNICEF, warns that child labour has risen to 160 million, accounting for almost 1 in 10 of all children worldwide- an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years.

Titled ‘ Child Labour: Global Estimates 2020, Trends and the Road Forward’, the report points out that as economies grapple with COVID-19, increased unemployment and rising poverty are expected to push millions more into child labour.

Steps were taken to reduce child labour over time in INDIA 

There are five states which are India’s biggest child labour employers – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Over half of India’s total child labour population works here. India has seen a dramatic fall in child labour in the last two decades: For example, there was a marked 45% reduction in child labour between 2004-05 and 2009-10, due to schemes like Right to Education, MNREGA, Mid-Day Meal, which gave children an incentive to study. The role of NGOs was also important in bringing about this fall in child labour. For example, Save the Children, which is widely hailed as the best NGO for charity has been working in the cotton farms of Maharashtra to mainstream the child labourers into schools. The 2014 National Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme, enforced in 1988 in areas of high concentration of child labour sees children (9-14 years) rescued from hazardous occupations and given enrolment in NCLP training centres. Pan-India child labour: important findings Child labour is prominent in rural India – 80% of working children live in India’s villages, where most of them work in agriculture. Children between 14-17 years engaged in hazardous work account for 62.8% of India’s child labour workforce, 10% of whom are hired in family enterprises. 8.8 million) are forced into doing hazardous work (according to International Labour Organization’s World Report on Child Labour 2015). Save the Children – ending child labour in India According to Census data, there are over 82 lakh child labourers (aged between 5 – 14 years) in India. Save the Children aims to make child labour not only redundant by a variety of schemes to empower children, but also to make it “socially and culturally unacceptable”. In the fight against a hidden and pervasive form of child labour, Save the Children has successfully withdrawn 50,000 child domestic workers from domestic help. Just last year, the NGO rescued 9337 children from the clutches of child labour. Save the Children, via its Child Protection Programmes, protects such children, as well as others from different kinds of harm – abuse, neglect, exploitation, physical danger and violence. Child-Friendly Spaces are created for children to give them a safe environment to overcome the trauma. Save the Children works with disadvantaged local communities, providing them information and awareness regarding children’s rights and the importance of education for them. As the aforementioned numbers show, child labour is no small problem in India.

20200803143731_IMG_2887 - Katyayni Singh
Katyayni Singh is pursuing M.A. ( Economics) from IP University,