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The issue of child labour in India

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions and Bodies constituted for the Protection and Betterment of the Vulnerable Sections


Source: DTE  

Please refer to a previous article on a similar theme: Child trafficking in India

Context: According to the ILO, a shocking 10.1 million children in India find themselves engaged in various forms of labour.


Child labour:

  • A form of modern slavery, child labour includes any work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity, and physical or mental development. (ILO)
  • The practice includes trafficking, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, and exploitation in armed conflicts.
  • Article 24 of the Indian constitution prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment.



  • Perpetuates the vicious cycle of poverty (child labour → poor education, health → less economic opportunities → poverty), denying children their fundamental rights and a better future.
  • Child labour exposes children to physical (injuries, health complications and long-term developmental issues) and mental harm (anxiety, emotional trauma and a sense of hopelessness).


Prevalence in India:

  • According to the latest National Sample Survey data, UP leads with an estimated 2.1 million child labourers.
  • UP together with Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and MP constitute nearly 55% of the total working children in India.
  • Rural-urban distribution: The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14%) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5%).
  • Gender distribution: Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age.
  • Sectoral distribution: The agriculture sector accounts for 70% of child labour (112 million), followed by 20% in services and 10% in industry).
  • Their educational status: Nearly 28% of children aged 5-11 years and 35% of children aged 12-14 years involved in child labour are out of school.


Case study – The plight of child labourers in India’s Aligarh:

  • Aligarh is known for its renowned lock industry.
  • Children as small as 12, are employed by the lock manufacturing units for a paltry sum of Rs 120.


Steps taken:

Laws Salient Provisions/ Issues
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 In 2016, an amendment completely banned the employment of children below 14 years; adolescents aged 14-18 years are not allowed to work in hazardous working conditions.
The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 It prohibits systems of labour where people, including children, work under conditions of servitude to pay off debt, and also provides a framework for rehabilitating released labourers.



22 States and UTs did not report identifying any bonded labour victims or filing a case under the law.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 It governs laws relating to children alleged and found to be in conflict with the law.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 It seeks to prevent commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill The MWCD published the Draft of the Bill in 2021, detailing measures to prevent, protect and rehabilitate victims.



There are specified penalties for offences divided into “trafficking” and “aggravated trafficking”. It widened the scope of “victims” to include transgender persons.


National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme:

  • The Union Ministry of Labour & Employment has been implementing the scheme for the rehabilitation of child labourers through District Project Societies under the chairmanship of the District Magistrate.
  • Under the scheme, the children in the age group of 9-14 years are rescued/withdrawn from work and enrolled in the NCLP Special Training Centres (STCs), where they are provided with –
    • Bridge education,
    • Vocational training,
    • Mid-day meals, stipend, health care, etc. before being mainstreamed into the formal education system.
  • The NCLP scheme has now been subsumed under Samagara Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).


The role played by the ILO:

  • It plays a crucial role in setting international labour standards and advocating for their implementation.
  • It facilitates dialogue and cooperation to address labour challenges through its tripartite structure, bringing together representatives of workers, employers and governments.


Way ahead:

  • The theme for World Day Against Child Labour 2023 (June 12) is “Social Justice for All. End Child Labour!” – highlighting the connection between social justice and the issue of child labour.
  • Therefore, there is a need to prioritise –
    • Access to quality education empowers them with the knowledge and skills they need to break free from the clutches of labour.
    • Enforcement of labour laws and providing social protection.



The battle against child labour necessitates a united front – a resolute stance against this grave injustice that brings together governments, non-profits and individuals from all walks of life.


Insta Links:

Child trafficking in India