• Anupama Soumya


By - Vinayak Uniyal, a 3rd year BA LLB student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies

Image Source : Dreamzone


According to the 2011 population census of India, the total 'child' population, i.e., a person who has not completed his fourteen years of age[1], was registered 259.6 million. Of these, approximately 3.9% of the total child population was part of the working force in India[2]. Shocking as it sounds, even after 70 years of independence, India still faces the problem of Child Labour, which has been defined by the International Labour Organization as "work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development."


Child Labour can be considered as one of the most ignored social wrongs in India. Children of varied ages are seen begging, working as waiters and dishwashers, or unwillingly helping their family in the business. Article 24 of the Constitution of India states that "No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engage in any other hazardous employment." While it does aim at ensuring the child's safety, their mental health is mostly ignored in our country. Thus, let's first examine the reasons for child labour in India.


  • Poverty

Even though India is the fastest developing economy in the world, poverty forces a lot of evils on the children. The poor parents send their children to work instead of schools to add a little more money to the jar. Extreme poverty, lack of opportunity for gainful employment, and intermittency of income, and low standards of living are the main reasons for the wide prevalence of child labour, depriving them of proper wholesome development and education. This, in turn, causes lifelong poverty to the child. According to the data released by the RBI in the year 2018, the total percentage of people below the poverty line, when the base MRP consumption was taken of the year 2011-12, was 21.92%[3].

  • Population

Just like India's poverty, India's population is something that isn't hidden from the world at large. Out of the two, only one is going down. While large families pose a responsibility, contrary to popular belief, incidents of child labour are higher in nuclear families. Given the fact, the information has been gathered through respondent child workers and observed that nuclear families are producing higher numbers of children to supplement the income of the family.

  • Illiteracy

Education, crucial to eliminate any evil, and child labour have an inverse relationship with each other. The higher the literacy rate of a place, the lesser child labourers are found there. The results of the 2011 census reveal that Bihar, with a literacy rate of 63.82%, ranks last in the country, preceded by Arunachal Pradesh (66.95%) and Rajasthan (67.06%).5 While 45% of child labourers in Bihar are illiterate, in Rajasthan and Jharkhand the figure stands at 40%.

  • Cheap Labour

No matter how much one tries to ignore the fact, but the truth is that child labour is indeed demanded. According to a report published by the ILO, "the decline was more visible in rural areas, while the number of child workers has increased in urban areas, indicating the growing demand for child workers in menial jobs." [4] When asked the reason why it is merely because child labour is cheaper.


Child Labour is usually employed for agricultural work, construction, domestic works, factories, brick knells, organized begging, and in the worst-case scenarios, even for slavery and forced prostitution. The International Labour Organization in its 87th session which was held in the year 1999, in Geneva. Adopted Resolution No 182, 'Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999' [5]. Resolution 182 gives a list of activities that have been branded as the worst form of child labour. These include Slavery, Trafficking, Debt Bondage, Serfdom, Sexual Exploitation and trafficking of Drugs, Organized Beggary, Organ Trade, etc.[6]


The constitution has numerous provisions for children and their well-being, from Fundamental rights to DPSPs, even Fundamental Duties. During the initial stages of Constitution-making, child labour was a sub-clause of the art. 23 (forced labour). At the Advisory Committee stage, child labour was made into a separate Article of the Constitution – art. 24. The constitution doesn't just provide rights to children; the state has been given guidelines for child welfare under the Directive Principals of State Policy, mentioned in articles 39(e) and (f). Not only just rights and guidelines, but the constitution also states a duty concerning children under Article 51A(k) of the fundamental duties.


When it comes to legislation prohibiting child labour, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, holds the highest position. This Act repeals the earlier existing, The Employment of Children Act, 1938. The Act regulates the working of children in different fields of work and sets the hours of work that a child is allowed to work for, guidelines as to the health and safety of the children. The Act also contains penal provisions as to the violation of any set rules and guidelines in the Act.

Besides the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, there are many other statues having laws related to child labour in India; these are:

  1. The Guardian and Wards Act, 1890; (Act No. 8 of 1890)

  2. The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933; (Act No. 2 of 1933)

  3. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956; (Act No. 104 of 1956)

  4. The Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956; (Act No. 93 of 1956)

  5. The Children Act, 1960; (Act No. 60 of 1960)

  6. The Apprentice's Act, 1961; (Act No. 52 of 1961)

  7. Juvenile Justice Act, 2015; (Act No. 56 of 2015)


Over the years, the Supreme Court of India has given various judgments on child labour.

  1. Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) v. Union of India [7]

  2. Unni Krishnan, J.P., And Ors. v. State Of Andhra Pradesh And Ors. [8]

  3. M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu [9]

M. C. Mehta filed a PIL in the Supreme Court of India, alleging that many children were being employed in several hazardous industries, particularly in the firecracker and matchstick industries in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. The PIL stated, "As of December 1, 1985, there were 221 registered match factories in Sivakasi; these factories employed 27,338 workmen of which 2,941 were children." a bench of Kuldip Singh, B.L. Hansaria, S.B. Majmudar observed, "Taking advice from there, we are of the vision that the affront employer must be the demand to pay compensation for every child employed in violation of the provisions of the Act a sum of Rs. 20,000 and the inspectors, whose arrangement is envisioned by Section 17 to secure consent with provisions of the Act, should do this task. Under Section 17 inspector scheduled to examine that each child employed under violation of this Act, each concerned employer will pay Rs. 20,000 given amount will be deposited in a fund to be known as the "Child Labour Rehabilitation-cum-Welfare Fund."[10]


Child Labour is a matter of concern for humanity at large. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF, along with the governments of the different countries and International NGOs, are continually working to eliminate it. Apart from the UDHR, the United Nations passed the International Convention on the Rights of the Children. [11]

Even though India Ratified the CRC on December 11, 1992, India kept individual reservations regarding the provisions relating to Child Labour. India gave a declaration stating, "being aware that it is not practical immediately to prescribe minimum ages for admission to every area of employment in India - the Government of India undertakes to take measures to progressively implement the provisions of article 32, particularly paragraph 2 (a), following its national legislation and relevant international instruments to which it is a State Party." [12]

Besides it, India has also ratified ILO Conventions No. 138, The Minimum Age Convention, 1973 and Conventions No. 182, Worst Form of Child Labour Convention 1999.


Child Labour is that social evil, the elimination of which is a necessary step forward for the advancement of the human race, and this could be achieved only through education and awareness.

"Today, we know that the number of child labourers has decreased from more than 250 million to 152 million. So a lot has been achieved, but it is not enough. If the world can reach out to Mars, why can't we reach out to every single child who is in danger?" says Kailash Satyarthi. Every child has the right to live his/her life with liberty and peace; every child has the potential to become the next Tendulkar, or Tagore, or Kalam, taking humanity towards a better and brighter future.


[1] S.2 cl.(ii), The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986

[2] Fact Sheet: Child Labour in India; by the International labour Organisation

[3] Annual Handbook on Statistics of Indian Economy released by RBI

[4] Supra Note 2

[5] C-182, Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999

[6] Ibid

[7] Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) v. Union of India [(1982) 3 SCC 235; AIR 1982 SC 1473]

[8] Unni Krishnan, J.P., And Ors. v. State Of Andhra Pradesh And Ors [1993 AIR 2178, 1993 SCR (1) 594]