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Any discussion of child labour must begin with a precise description of what the term means. The phrase "child labour" conjures images of children chained into factories, sold as slaves, or forced into prostitution. Fortunately, while many children work in the developing world, few experience such atrocities. Most of these working children labeled "child labourers" are helping their family at home, on the family farm, or in the family business.

There is a huge amount of heterogeneity that prevails amongst scholars when it comes to defining child labour. We will look at some of the more widely accepted definitions.


The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

It refers to work that:
  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • interferes with their schooling by:
  • depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
  • requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

UNICEF defines child labour as work that exceeds a minimum number of hours, depending on the age of a child and on the type of work. Such work is considered harmful to the child and should therefore be eliminated.
  • Ages 5-11: At least one hour of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week.
  • Ages 12-14: At least 14 hours of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week.
  • Ages 15-17: At least 43 hours of economic or domestic work per week.
Government of India:

India sought to prohibit child labour under THE CHILD LABOUR (PROHIBITION AND REGUALTION) ACT, 1986. The Government of India realized that complete abolition of child labour was not possible and hence drew up a list of occupations considered hazardous under Annexure A of the aforementioned Act. Some of these prohibited occupations are: Any work related to mines, plastic units, handlooms, foundries etc.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights:

“The definition of child labour must encompass children working for the families in their own homes, children in agriculture work, work rendered by girl children and all other forms of work that deprives them of their right to education in a full-time, formal school. In other words, the definition of child labour must be inclusive and it should recognize all forms of child labour as prohibitive. Finally child labour must include children up to 18 years of age. The NCPCR calls for consonance between child labour law and the 86th amendment to the constitution of India which guarantees education as a fundamental right to all children in the 6-14 age group.”


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