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Stepping stones towards eradication of Child Labour – Center of Policy Research & Governance

Nearly 1 in 10 children are subjected to child labour worldwide, with some forced into hazardous work through trafficking.


The term ‘Child labour’ refers to the practice of forcing children to participate or stay engaged in any type of economically useful work, whether on a part-time or full-time basis. It suggests a lost or impoverished childhood that results in child exploitation in a variety of ways, including mental, physical, social, and sexual. Child labour is mostly caused by poverty, lack of quality education and training, and the expansion of the informal sector.

Each one of us is familiar with the word child labour, but why does this problem still persist in India? Is it that we haven’t taken any steps yet? Or the steps taken have not been implemented to their full potential? Do we need to take some major initiatives? Various questions still come across our minds. This article, therefore, aims to address all these questions related to child labour and the ways to make India a child labour-free country. 

India has a high rate of child labour due to the country’s extreme poverty and lack of educational options. Both urban and rural regions have child labour issues. According to the census, there were 12.59 million child labourers in 2001 compared to 11.28 million in 1991 and the 2011 Census showed that there are 259.6 million children in India between the ages of 5 and 14 who are working. Among them, 10.1 million (3.9 percent of all children) are employed as “primary workers” or “marginal workers.” Additionally, almost 42.7 million kids in India do not attend school.

There are several reasons due to which parents drive their kids to work. Child labour happens when families experience financial hardship or uncertainty as a result of poverty, a caregiver’s abrupt sickness, or the loss of their principal source of income of the family. If a child cannot attend school for various family financial reasons, he or she is more likely to choose the labour market in order to earn a livelihood and support his family. Due to the inability of parents to pay for their child’s education, poor parents force their children to start working in homes, businesses, and factories at an early age. However, such choices destroy children’s physical and emotional health since they rob them of their childhood at a young age. There are still cases where children are denied their basic right to an education. 

Even after 75 years of independence, people have not been able to come out of the compartmentalised mindset of downgrading education and making money a priority. In our nation, there are countless communities without adequate educational infrastructure and people are still not aware of the illegality of child labour in India. Child labour is therefore a result of administrative slackness, unequal development in various regions of the country, lack of awareness among the population of the country. Children’s education still remains a dream for the people living below the poverty line. Other primary reasons of child labour in India is also the country’s social and economic backwardness. Many times, parents are unaware of different information and programmes for children’s education because of illiteracy. Child labour has been fostered by a lack of education, illiteracy, and lack of awareness of rights among children. 

All the above reasons force a child to get into work instead of studying and such social problems compelled the government to undertake various steps in preventing child labour in India. If we get into the in-depth history, we will find that in 1979, the Gurupadswamy Committee was established to study and tackle the child labour issue in the country because child labour robs children of their childhood. To provide for the abolition of child labour in India, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 came into force which forbade children under the age of 14 to work in dangerous jobs.  It seeked to control the hours and working conditions of young workers and prevent them from working in dangerous industries. 

The child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment act, 2016 says Children under the age of 14 are not allowed to work or be employed in any capacity, and children (aged 14 to 18) are not allowed to work in dangerous jobs or operations.The Government of India is determined to impose stiffer sanctions on employers that violate the Act. Additionally, it will render the employer guilty of violating the act by hiring any youngster or teenager. The Act also gives the government the power to forbid employers from hiring teenagers who are working in dangerous environments.

Coming to the present situation, a parliamentary panel questioned the government about the lack of efforts made with respect to child labour and suggested the drawing up of a ‘National programme for child labour free India. After this, over 14 union ministries took proactive actions on the ‘multi-dimensional’ problem and requested to aggressively work towards the abolition of child labour across sectors. 

The National Programme for a child labour free India has been divided into various steps for the sake of achieving a child labour-free India. The very first step is to identify and reach out to the children. Within this step, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Education have been asked to ensure the enrolment of all “out-of-school” children, especially child labourers under the ambit of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) along with the identification of children missing from school. Additionally, the ministry has been requested to arrange for mentorship, special support, and scholarships for all such students. The skill development ministry would work in tandem with the Ministry of Labour to provide vocational training to students of classes 9 to 12 who are more prone to fall into labour. For families where child labour has been seen, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Tribal Affairs will assist in developing livelihood plans or programmes to ensure that these households have a sustainable source of income. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Women and Child Development have been urged to improve enforcement procedures at the state and district levels in addition to educating elected officials about the dangers of child labour.

The second stage encompasses the enforcement of laws to check child labour and to push for ‘child labour free’ business. Regarding the former, the Home ministry would work towards expediting the delivery of funds to the states and UTs for creating anti-human trafficking units and ensuring that the Child Labor and Adolescent Labor Act is properly enforced (Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986).

Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has been requested to consider issuing directives prohibiting the purchase of bricks or other construction materials from businesses that use child labour. Further, Commerce Ministry has been requested to investigate the potential usage of “Child Labour Free” branding, and the Ministry of Textiles has been urged to focus on eliminating child labour from the supply chain.The labour ministry must establish and oversee an inter-ministerial committee on child labour to assess and keep track of the actions taken to enforce, save, and rehabilitate minors to ensure total coordination. The National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child recommended that each ministry needs to a plan for the “total abolition of child labour” after taking into account regional differences and institutional strengths.

India is in dire need of the policies that work to reduce poverty and inequality because they can have a big and decisive impact on the social and economic factors that influence child labour. Agrarian reforms, programmes to create jobs, the use of better technology by the poor, the promotion of the unofficial sector, cooperative creation, and social security programmes are a few examples of such initiatives. The steps taken by the government of India and the policy initiatives need to be supplemented by effective implementation to create an India free from Child Labour. 


Deepti Kushwaha

Junior Fellow at CPRG India