Child labour in India

2024 MAY 11

Mains   > Social justice   >   Human Resources   >   Women and Child issues


GS 2 >> Social Justice >> Human resources >> Women & Child issues


A recent report from an Australian Parliamentary committee has highlighted concerns regarding child labor in India. It pointed out that the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) signed between India and Australia fails to uphold international labor rights and neglects environmental standards. The report emphasizes that child and forced labor, which it classifies as modern slavery, are prevalent in India despite existing laws intended to eliminate such practices.


  • According to The International Labour Organisation (ILO), child labour is a work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development.
  • According to the last available Census 2011, there were 10.1 million child labourers in India. According to the International Labour Organisation, India has the highest number of child labourers in the 5-17 age range in South Asia.
  • According to NCRB Report 2022, in 2021, around 982 cases were registered under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. The highest number of cases were registered in Telangana, followed by Assam.
  • According to a study by Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), there has been a significant increase in Child labour in India. According to a new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF, the number of children in child labour has increased to 160 million worldwide.
  • India’s biggest child labour employers are- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.


  • Economic Hardship and Family Debt - In India, poverty is the primary driver of child labor. For families living in poverty, the income generated by a child's labor is often essential for survival, either for the child or for the household. An example of this is bonded labor, where children work to pay off family debts.
  • Unemployment and Insufficient Employment Among Adults - The high rates of unemployment and underemployment among adults force children into the workforce to help sustain their families financially.
  • Parental Illiteracy and Lack of Awareness - Many parents in India are illiterate and unaware of the harmful impacts of child labor, leaving their children vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
  • Inadequate Education and Training Opportunities - The poor quality of education and insufficient educational provisions for adolescents aged 15-18 contribute to high dropout rates. This often leads children to enter the workforce at a young age instead of continuing their education.
  • Traditional Practices - Cultural norms often dictate that children follow in their family's vocational footsteps at a young age. For instance, a goldsmith’s son might begin working in gold-smithery or a carpenter’s child might take up carpentry, perpetuating the cycle of child labor.
  • Societal Structures - India's complex social hierarchy also plays a role in child labor, with a disproportionate number of child laborers coming from marginalized communities such as Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and the Muslim minority.
  • Crisis and Calamity - Natural disasters, conflicts, and pandemics heighten the risk of forced labor for children as families struggle to cope with crises. During these times, children are more likely to be exploited by traffickers or other opportunists.


  • Obstruction of Educational and Skill Development - Child labor significantly hinders children from acquiring the necessary education and skills for securing decent employment in adulthood. This not only contravenes their constitutional right to life and liberty but also limits their future prospects.
  • Health Hazards and Developmental Risks - Extended working hours in often hazardous conditions can severely impact a child’s physical, mental, and emotional health. This environment stunts their intellectual and psychological growth, leading to long-term developmental issues.
  • Detriment to Human Capital Formation - Engaging in labor from a young age restricts children’s ability to develop skills and acquire knowledge, which are critical for their future productivity and earning potential. This limits their ability to contribute effectively to the economy later in life.
  • Perpetuation of Intergenerational Poverty - Child labor is both a result and a perpetuator of poverty. Economic necessity forces children into the workforce, depriving them of educational opportunities that could break the cycle of poverty. This continuation of poverty not only affects individual families but also communities at large.
  • Barrier to Socio-Economic Progress - The widespread presence of child laborers can have profound long-term effects on a nation’s economy and is a significant hindrance to the socio-economic well-being of the country. For example, international trade agreements might be jeopardized due to violations of human rights standards like child labor.

Child labour in Mica Mines of Jharkhand

  • A 2018 report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) estimated that 4,545 children from Koderma and Giridih, two mica-rich districts in Jharkhand, dropped out of school to mine mica. 
  • A 2019 NCPCR survey also estimated that 5,000 children between the ages of six and 14 in three mica mining districts of Jharkhand and Bihar have dropped out of school to work as scavengers. 


  1. Shortcomings in the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016:
  • Reduction in Hazardous Industries List: The amendment significantly reduced the list of industries considered hazardous, which now excludes sectors like chemical mixing, cotton farming, battery recycling, and brick kilns. This change has made it permissible for employers in these industries to hire adolescent labor.
  • Employment in Family Businesses: The act permits children to work in family or family-run enterprises. This provision particularly affects rural agrarian families, where child labor is often seen as part of family duties, perpetuating intergenerational debt bondage.
  1. Inconsistent Definitions of a Child: The definition of a "child" varies across different legislations related to child labor, such as the Juvenile Justice Act and the Child Labour Act. This inconsistency creates confusion and loopholes that hinder the effective enforcement of laws against child labor.
  2. Challenges with Identification and Documentation: Many child laborers do not have essential documents like birth certificates or school registration certificates, making it difficult to prove their age and enforce labor laws. Additionally, children of migrant workers often go unreported, exacerbating the issue.
  3. Inadequate Law Enforcement and Governance: The enforcement of child labor laws is often weak, with insufficient penalties to deter violations. Corruption within the enforcement agencies further undermines efforts to combat child labor effectively.
  4. Socio-Economic Barriers: Economic downturns and the impact of lockdowns have led to reduced income for many families and businesses, which in turn has pushed more children into the labor force as a means of family support.



  • Harmonization of Child Labor Laws: It is essential to achieve consistency across all Indian laws that address child labor. Expanding the definition of what constitutes a child and ensuring free and compulsory education for all children under the age of 18, as stipulated in the Right to Education Act, 2009, are critical steps.
  • Enhanced Accountability in Law Enforcement: Following recommendations from the 52nd report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, it is proposed that legal mechanisms be established to hold police accountable for failing to register cases of child labor, similar to provisions in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
  • Strengthening Social Protection Measures: Implementing robust social protection programs and direct cash transfers can improve the financial stability of families, thereby reducing the compulsion to engage children in labor
  • Creation of Child Welfare Funds and Tracking Systems: The establishment of district-level funds and a National Child Tracking Mechanism, as recommended by the 52nd Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour report, would provide immediate relief and aid in the rehabilitation of child laborers.
  • Increasing Public Awareness and Parental Education: Collaborative efforts with NGOs like Bachpan Bachao Andolan, ChildFund, CARE India, Talaash Association, and Child Rights and You are vital for enhancing community awareness and education. Educating parents about child rights can significantly contribute to the prevention of child labor.


Q: Child labor is a global challenge that affects millions of children and hampers their economic, social, and health development. Discuss the causes, consequences, and solutions of child labour in India.(15M, 250W)