• Anupama Soumya


Updated: Aug 28, 2020

By- Aditi Banerjee and Rishabh Gupta, Second Year, B.B.A. LL.B. (H) students at Chanakya National Law University, Patna.

Image Source: Deccan Chronicle


Child labour can be defined as the practice of engaging children, below the age of 14 years, in hazardous economic activities, which hampers their growth and development and is harmful to their health.

Children are the most valuable asset of a nation. As William Wordsworth used the expression 'the Child is the father of Man,' the future of a nation depends on how its children grow and develop. Every child has the right to life, and the state must ensure the development and survival of a child.[1] A child also has the right to be protected from economic exploitation, from any hazardous work that is harmful to his/her health and his/her physical, mental, moral, spiritual, and social growth, and which interferes with his/her education.[2]

However, the practice of child labour is crippling India and its future assets since time immemorial. After the advent of the industrial revolution, more children are forced to work in hazardous factories and mines. With the increase in demand for workers in industries, the rural population migrates to urban areas in search of employment, and due to poverty, their children are forced to work in industries and engage in hazardous activities to support their families.[3]Many child labours also work in the agricultural sector.

As per a study conducted by the International Labour Organization in 1980, there were 52 million child labours in the world and 38 million in Asia, with India contributing 1/3rd of Asia's child labour population.[4] Unfortunately, the number of child labours is increasing day by day, despite the enforcement of various legislations to curb the practice of child labour.


Child labour not only endangers the physical, mental and emotional health of children, but also strips away their education and career opportunities, and perpetuates poverty. Child labour also violates certain rights of children as laid down by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC was enforced in 1990 and articulated basic human rights that every child has. The following articles of UNCRC, other than Article 32, i.e., protection from child labour, are violated by the practice of Child Labour:

  • Article 6: Right to Life, Right to Survival and Right to Development

The right to life can be interpreted as the right to live with dignity and facilities that fulfill the bare necessities of life. Child labours are forced to work in hazardous conditions, like in chemical factories and coal mines, which threaten their life and hamper their development.

  • Article 19: Protection from Violence, Neglect, Abuse

Many times, their employers abuse child labours, are subject to physical and mental violence, and are negligently maltreated or exploited.

Child labours are forced to work in an unhealthy environment and indulge in activities that are harmful to their health. Most of the employers don't even provide healthcare facilities to child labours.

Child labours live in an unhealthy environment, poverty and are not properly taken care of, which deprives them of an adequate standard of living.

"Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world."

– Nelson Mandela

However, child labours are deprived of education as they are forced to work at the time of going to school.

Child labours don't get to leisure, engage in recreational activities, and participate in cultural activities, which also hinder their growth.

  • Article 35: Protection from Abduction, Trafficking, Sale

The practice of child labour also has a darker side; that is, it also includes abduction, sale, and trafficking of children to engage them in hazardous occupations.


Since independence, India is actively trying to prohibit child labour, and its tenacity can be examined by various provisions enshrined in the Indian Constitution for the well-being of children, viz.:-

  1. Article 21A – Right to free and compulsory education for all children between 6-14 years.[5]

  2. Article 23 – Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.[6]

  3. Article 24 – Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc.[7]

  4. Article 45 – Provision for early childhood care and education to children below the age of six years.[8]

Labour being the subject in Concurrent List, gives the powers to both Central and State governments to form legislation on it. At present, nearly 300 Central and State Statues are working for child welfare with the main motive of eradicating child labour. With time, there has been the development of various national legislations like The Factories Act of 1948, The Mines Act of 1952, The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education of 2009, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2015 and most importantly The Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Amendment Act of 2016.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, defines the child as any person below the age of 14 and prohibits employment of children in any employment as well as makes it a cognizable criminal offence. While the person between the age of 14 and 18 is defined as an Adolescent, who can be employed, except in any hazardous work, according to The Factories Act of 1948. From various years different legislations were only helpful in regulation of child labour while these Acts strictly prohibit child labour.

The Indian Judiciary also, from time to time, has come to the aid of the children who had been suffering from the plight of child labour. Judiciary, through its judgment and help of the government, has brought reforms in the plight of the child labours and imparted them a better environment where a child can nurture its mental health and can avail its basic right of education. There have been various judgments of the Courts on child labour such as:-

  • In People's Union for Democratic v. Union of India & Others[9], the Court held that Article 24 is a constitutional prohibition. Even if it is not followed for forming appropriate legislation, it must operate Proprio vigour, and it is clear that by constitutional prohibition, no child can be engaged in hazardous employment like construction work.

  • In Ganesh Ram v. the State of Jharkhand[10], the Jharkhand High Court held that an employer could be penalised under The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, for employing a person below 14 years of age while the employee cannot be penalised.

  • In Jayakumar R. Nair & Anr.v. State of NCT of Delhi & Anr[11], the Delhi High Court directed the Delhi Government to form a policy that gives financial aid for the rehabilitation of rescued child labours, so they are not forced in the child labour by their parents again.

  • In Court on its motion [In re Contagion of COVID-19 Virus in Children Protection Homes][12], the Calcutta High Court found that due to poverty and uncertainty of social stability, the families of children are themselves involved in the trafficking of the children in the garb of child marriage and child labour for some monetary benefits.

Apart from state machinery, several NGOs have also been continuing their functions to rescue child labours and to reform their lives. At present, NGOs have been continuing their operations in remote parts of the country.


Child Labour has become a grave problem in society. A society where everyone has the right to liberty, these children are unable to get their basic rights and are being forced to live a life in a hazardous environment with being subjected to day to day abuse, violence, trafficking. Although the state machinery has enacted several laws, the implementation of these laws on grounds has always been the major problem. The government should try to make these policies more socially conscious.

It can be inferred that child labour is a social evil that is the cause of poverty. Until the government does not adopt appropriate policies to eradicate poverty, child labour will always be present in some or another way. Apart from it, the government should majorly focus on the rural areas where the child labours are in abundance in the sector of agriculture. The government should spread awareness about the children's education so that each child could get a proper environment, where she/he can gradually develop skills and help in building her/his nation a better place.


[1]UNCRCart. 6.

[2]UNCRC art. 32. [3]Kumkum Kishore, Human Rights Jurisprudence i