Child Labour in India


India has long struggled with the issue of child labour, which has both short- and long-term effects on the lives of underprivileged children. But in order to successfully address this issue, we must have a contemporary understanding of child labour.

The definition of child labour encompasses any work that interferes with a child's opportunities, dignity, or right to an education while also endangering the bodily and/or mental development of children between the ages of 0 and 15. Also regarded as child labour are extreme forms of (hazardous) work carried out by minors between the ages of 15 and 18.

  • Children's rights: Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to be shielded from commercial exploitation and dangerous jobs. Additionally, working children frequently miss school, which is against their right to education.
  • Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 8: The elimination of all child labour is a component of the SDG 8 goal of decent work and economic growth.

What is the problem with Child Labour?

Malnutrition, mental health conditions, and drug addiction are just a few of the concerns that child labour can bring about in a child's life. It can also infringe upon the rights of other children, such as the right to an education. Let's look at some child labour statistics.

These children frequently perform unsafe and terrible tasks. Their rights are violated every single day. Some instances even entail sexual exploitation, which is against a child's morality and dignity. They might also be separated from their parents since they must commute to work from where their parents reside. Sometimes, which is almost the same as slavery, children are made to work for very little pay and no food. These children are frequently the targets of sexual, psychological, and physical abuse.

Causes of Child Labour

The main reason why children engage in child labour is that their parents or guardians think it's "normal" for them to work, and sometimes it's necessary for the children's own and their families survival. When discussing the topic, it is crucial to take the children, families, and communities affected by the practice into account. The underlying factors that particularly expose children to child labour are listed below.


Without a doubt, poverty is the main factor pushing young people into the workforce. When families are unable to meet their basic needs, such as food, water, education, or healthcare, they are obliged to put their children to work in order to increase their family income. Given its connections to other major contributors to child labour, such as low literacy and numeracy rates, a lack of adequate employment prospects, natural catastrophes and climate change, conflicts, and mass migration, poverty is one of the major factors that contribute to child labour. Without addressing one, we cannot end the other; poverty and child labour are mutually exclusive.

Poverty has an impact on a child's overall well-being. Physical problems in children, such as malnutrition and illnesses, are caused by poverty. A child living in poverty has mental difficulties due to a lack of opportunities and education. A child who lives in poverty is emotionally defined by fear, anxiety, and despair.

Lack of Education:

The joy of a child learning to read and count might be lost in many impoverished communities. Putting food on the table comes before education. Parents who did not finish high school may not see the long-term value of education.

Young children who are pushed into labour are more likely to experience obstacles that prevent them from attending school, leaving them with rudimentary literacy and math skills. It is hard to attempt to balance working long hours and severe workloads with attending class. Prioritizing basic nutrients can take hours. A child might have to trek miles every day just to get a bucket of clean water.

Future chances are constrained and the poverty cycle in families persists without education.

While both boys and girls can be victims of child labour, girls' education seems to be more in danger. It's a widely held belief that girls require schooling less than boys do. As a result, young girls are pulled out of school and made to labour at home, or even worse, sold into domestic or sex work.

Poor access to decent work:

Children who were engaged in child labour frequently lack the fundamental educational foundation that would enable them to acquire skills and improve their prospects for a decent adult working life. Young people frequently have little choice but to labour in dangerous conditions if they can't find jobs that offer them social safety, fair compensation, equality for men and women, and a place to express their thoughts. Child labour is sometimes defined as a hazardous job carried out by youngsters who are older than the legal minimum age to work.

Limited knowledge of child labour:

The idea is that working helps children develop their skills and their character. Families are more inclined to send their children to work when they are unaware of the risks associated with child labour and how these risks affect their child's health, safety, well-being, and future. Social and cultural conventions and attitudes can also contribute to child labour.

Sometimes, cultural and economic constraints are so pervasive in a community that children are only used as labour. The ILO claims that child labour may be so engrained in regional customs and practices that neither the parents nor the children are aware of how detrimental and unlawful it is.

Natural disasters and Climate change:

Farmers in rural areas who witness their crops being damaged by climate change are forced to send their children to work. One issue that is growing in importance is the impact of climate change and natural disasters. Extreme weather events, changed rainfall patterns, and soil erosion are particularly dangerous for rural families whose livelihoods depend on predictable seasons. Families struggle to make a living and are more likely to send their children to work on nearby farms when crops are lost or farming land is devastated.

Conflicts and Mass migration:

Child labour and violent conflict and natural disasters are strongly correlated. Children make up more than half of all those who have been displaced by war, according to the ILO. Due to an increase in economic shocks, a collapse of social support, education, and basic amenities, and disruption of child protection services, these children are especially exposed to types of exploitation, including child labour. Conflict-affected nations have a rate of child labour that is almost twice as high as the world norm. As one of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, involvement in armed warfare is also dangerous for children.


Unfortunately, those who want to harm others frequently exploit those who are less fortunate. Children who are at risk are their primary target.

When a family member must work to repay the debt that members of the family have incurred due to hardship, this practice is known as debt bondage and is a prevalent kind of contemporary slavery.

Parents may give their child over to the creditor's job for little or no compensation, which is inconceivable. They risk effectively enslaving their child for the family debt if they don't have any influence over the repayment procedure. Debt-bondage scams are particularly dangerous for single mothers.

The worst types of child labour expose defenseless children to abuse that could be physical, emotional, or sexual. These include unlawful forms of child labour as well as trafficking, prostitution, drug selling, and slavery.

Types of Child Labour

Following are some types of Child Labour.

Industrial Child Labour

The industrial sector in India employs children most commonly under the legal age of 18 to work. Between the ages of 5 and 14, nearly 10 million children, including over 4.5 million girls, work in unorganized sectors.

Small enterprises, such as those in the apparel sector, brick kilns, agriculture, the diamond industry, and the fireworks industry, among others, are some of the biggest employers of children. Sometimes, these firms operate from peoples' homes, making it difficult for the authorities to take the necessary measures.

The unorganized sector of the economy is one of the biggest and most notable employers of children in India. Children can frequently be seen working at grocery stores, roadside dhabas and cafes, or tea booths. Children are preferable in this situation since they are controllable and easy to fire.

Domestic Child Labour

According to reports, 74% of child domestic workers in India are between the ages of 12 and 16. They are both boys and girls that perform everyday errands for wealthy homes as domestic helpers.

These kids are forced to assist other families at a time when they should be in school and playing with friends. The main factor in the majority of cases is poverty.

Parents typically give their approval in exchange for financial assistance and a safe environment for their kids. According to statistics, girls make up the majority of domestic workers, and approximately 20% of all domestic workers hired are under the age of 14.

These children work as live-in servants for the family, doing chores including cooking, cleaning, looking after the family's pets or young children, and other jobs.

Bonded Child Labour

A child is said to be working as a slave if they are being made to do so in order to pay off their parents' or guardians' debt.

Strong government control and laws against it have considerably reduced the occurrence of bonded child labour in recent years, but it still happens clandestinely in remote locations.

It is more likely that children who reside in rural areas and work in agriculture will be forced into this type of labour. The siblings of poor farmers who are severely indebted to lenders may consent to work as slaves for wealthy lenders.

Many different businesses employed thousands of bound labourers up to the last 10 years, but as of today, their numbers have significantly decreased, and the government claims that they no longer exist bonded child labourers.

Child Labour Laws in India

The necessity for legislation and rules to forbid the harmful practice of child labour was recognized when, in the 20th century, child labour became so prevalent that stories of industrial accidents and the risks of killing innocent children splashed all over the press. Today, many laws exist to condemn and forbid child labour, including:

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986

  • The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 in certain occupations and processes listed in the Schedule to the Act. This schedule includes hazardous occupations and processes where the employment of children is strictly prohibited.
  • For adolescents (between the ages of 14 and 18), the Act regulates the conditions of work, specifying working hours, rest intervals, and other aspects to ensure their safety and health.
  • The Act prescribes penalties for employers who violate its provisions. Penalties may include fines and imprisonment.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016

  • This amendment emphasizes the prohibition of child engagement in all occupations and restricts adolescents from engaging in hazardous occupations and processes.
  • Amendment in Section 3 to prohibit child employment in any occupation or process, with exceptions for non-hazardous work in family enterprises and certain artistic activities.
  • Introduction of a new section, 3A, prohibiting adolescent employment in hazardous occupations and processes.
  • Amendment in Section 14 to specify penalties for employers violating provisions related to child and adolescent employment.
  • Exemption for parents or guardians from punishment for the first offense.
  • Introduction of a new section, 14D, allowing the compounding of offenses by the District Magistrate for a first-time offense under specific conditions.
  • Establishment of a fund for the rehabilitation of child and adolescent laborers through a new section, 14B, with contributions from fines imposed on employers.
  • Designation of offenses by employers under Sections 3 and 3A as cognizable under Section 14A.
  • Conferral of powers and duties on the District Magistrate through Section 17A to ensure proper implementation of the Act.
  • Mandate for periodic inspections by the appropriate government to monitor compliance, as per Section 17B.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Rules,2017

  • The amendments reflect a comprehensive effort to strengthen the legal framework aimed at eradicating child and adolescent labor in India. The focus is on defining clearer guidelines, introducing awareness measures, and establishing effective monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.
  • The rules replace "Child Labour" with "Child and Adolescent Labour," acknowledging a broader age group.
  • Introduction of Rule 2A emphasizes the importance of public awareness campaigns through various media to discourage employers from engaging children and adolescents in prohibited occupations.
  • Rule 2B provides guidelines for children to assist their families without compromising their education, ensuring safety, and preventing engagement in hazardous activities.
  • Rule 2C outlines conditions under which a child may work as an artist, addressing working hours, permissions, and safeguards for the child's well-being.
  • Rule 15A imposes limits on the working hours for adolescents, aligning with existing laws regulating working hours.
  • Establishes the Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund, funded by fines from employers. This fund is designated for the rehabilitation of child and adolescent labourers.
  • Rule 17 outlines the process for obtaining a certificate of age, incorporating various documents to determine a child or adolescent's age.
  • Rule 17C designates duties to the District Magistrate, Rule 17D outlines duties of Inspectors, and Rule 17E establishes a system for monitoring and inspection by the Central Government.
  • Rule 17B introduces a process for compounding offenses, allowing accused persons to apply for compounding under certain conditions.

The Factories Act of 1948

This law forbids hiring anyone under the age of 14 in any factory. The law also set restrictions on who, when, and how long pre-adults between the ages of 15 and 18 might work in any factory.

The Mines Act of 1952

The act forbids the employment of minors under the age of 18 in mines. Since mining is one of the most hazardous professions and has historically resulted in numerous fatal accidents involving children, it is prohibited for children.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000

Anyone who obtains or employs a youngster in any risky employment or bondage is guilty of a crime that carries a prison sentence. This law imposes penalties on individuals who use child labour in violation of earlier legislation.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009

In accordance with the Act, all children between the ages of six and fourteen are required by law to attend free, public schools. This Act also required that children from underprivileged groups and children with physical disabilities receive a quarter of the seats in every private school.

Domestic Acts related to Child Labour

Minimum Wages Act, 1948

Several jobs that have been selected by the relevant authorities and are listed in the schedule of the Minimum Wages Act, (1948), establish minimum pay rates. Adult, adolescent, and child minimum wage rates were established under the Act.

Plantation Labour Act, 1951

A child (under the age of 14) or a teenager (aged 15–18) cannot be engaged in labour unless a doctor certifies that they are fit to do so, according to the Plantation Labour Act of 1951. The certificate of fitness may be issued by a certifying surgeon who has determined that the subject of his examination is qualified to work as a child or as a teenager. This Act makes it clear that the employer is in charge of providing housing, healthcare, and recreational amenities.

Merchant Shipping Act, 1958

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1958 prohibits the employment of children under the age of 15 on ships, with the exception of school or training ships, family-owned ships, home trade ships of less than 200 tonnes gross, or ships where the child will work for a meager wage and be supervised by his father or another nearby adult male relative.

Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966

All industrial facilities where any manufacturing activity linked to the production of beedis, cigars, or both is currently being done or is normally being done, with or without the use of power, are covered by the Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, passed in 1966. Children under the age of 14 are not permitted to work in these establishments under the Act. Between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., minors between the ages of 14 and 18 are not permitted to work.

Consequences of Child Labour in India

Education is a crucial part of a child's upbringing since it enables them to acquire the skills they need to advance in the modern world. However, early labour hinders children from going to school and developing these skills. Since there is typically no other source of revenue in the household, these youngsters are frequently under a lot of stress to support their families. (ILO, 2017)

Furthermore, the psychological repercussions of child labour are frequently as detrimental as the physical effects, which can result in trauma that lasts a lifetime. Inflicted youngsters may grow up with mental diseases like despair, guilt, anxiety, lack of confidence, and hopelessness.

Facts about Child Labour in India

Inequality, a lack of educational possibilities, a halt in the demographic transition, a lack of social safety and respectable employment, as well as customs and cultural expectations, all contribute to the continued use of child labour in India.

In addition to endangering national economies, child labour and exploitation has significant short- and long-term effects on children, including the denial of education and compromised physical and mental health.

Have a look at these five facts to learn more about child labour in India.

India accounts for one in ten child labourers worldwide:

According to Census 2011 data, there are 10.1 million working children in India between the ages of 5 and 14 (3.9% of the country's total child population), of which 5.6 million are males and 4.5 million are girls. However, girls exceed boys (4.6 million) among youngsters in the age range of 10 to 14 who are recorded as neither working nor attending a school (3.9 million).

The most impacted are girls:

Between boys and girls, UNICEF reports that girls are twice as likely to drop out of school and to be responsible for home duties including cooking, cleaning, and looking after other children.

Five regions are most likely to have child labour:

The main Indian states where child labour is prevalent include Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. More than half of all children who work in the country do so here.

Several important industries use underage labour:

Brick kilns, carpet weaving, garment manufacturing, domestic service, unorganized sectors (food and refreshment services like tea stalls), agriculture, fishing, and mining are a few industries in India that have a reputation for high child labour employment and subpar working conditions.

Policies have improved things:

The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act of 1986 made it illegal to use children under the age of 14 in certain dangerous jobs and processes. In 2016, the government passed the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Act, which outright forbids the hiring of children younger than 14 in any jobs or procedures.


India can tackle the problem of child labour if knowledge of the drawbacks of child labour is raised throughout the country and stringent enforcement of the application of existing child protection laws in India is carried out. Everyone must recognise how crucial it is for children to develop and learn since they will be the ones who mold the country's future.