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After nearly 59 years of Independence and over a decade after India became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Child Rights, our children continue to be the most neglected segment. Statistics reveal that India has 17 million child labourers -- the highest in the world. Lack of awareness about the basic rights of a child has lead to easy violation of laws meant to protect and empower children. In homes, on the streets and in sweatshops, children are being exploited by the thousands. Moreover, unrelenting poverty forces the parents to push their young children in all forms of hazardous occupations. Child labor is a source of income for poor families. They provide help in household enterprises or of household chores in order to free adult household members for economic activity elsewhere. In some cases, the study found that a child's income accounted for between 34 and 37 percent of the total household income.

Where do these children work?

Over half of the working children (54%) are in agriculture, and most others are employed either in construction (15.5%) or in household work (18%). About 5% are in manufacturing jobs, and the remainder (about 8%) are scattered across other forms of employment. The table below provides a gender-wise breakup of working children, and their schooling status. Please note that the data are for children in the age group 5-14 years.

Children of Age Group (5-14 years)
Number of Children (%)
Number of Children (in 100's)


Children engaged in "economic activities"
Attended domestic duties only
Attended domestic duties plus free collection of goods, tailoring, weaving for HH only
Children at Work
Attending schools
Children neither at work nor at school

Children Labour Statistics
  • Street Children - Child welfare organisations estimate that there are 500,000 street children nation-wide
  • 5,000 children work in the silk industry 
  • In Bombay and Bangalore more than 100,000 children work as rag-pickers 
  • Glass and Bangle Industry - In the glass bangle industry in Ferozabad, one quarter of the workforce - about 50,000 - are children under 14 years of age. (UNICEF, State of the World's Children, 1997) 
  • Fireworks and Match Production - 125,000 work in the match industry. 
  • Diamond and Gemstone Industry - 6,000 to 100,000 children working in the diamond industry, cutting and polishing diamond chips. (US Dept of Labor, Sweat and Toil of Children, 1994, citing ILRF, Trading Away the Future, 1994) 
  • There are no universally accepted figures for the number of bonded child labourers. However, in the carpet industry alone, human rights organisations estimate that there may be as many as 300,000 children working, many of them under conditions that amount to bonded labour. 
  • Some NGOs estimate that the number of bonded labourers is 5 million persons. However, in a report released during the year, Human Rights Watch estimated that 40 million persons, including 15 million children, are bonded labourers. The report notes that the majority of bonded labourers are Dalits, and that bondage is passed from one generation to the next 
  • Over 1 million girls and women are believed to be forced into the sex industry within the country at any given time. Women's rights organizations and NGO's estimate that more than 12,000 and perhaps as many as 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the country annually from neighboring states for the sex trade. (US Dept of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2000, February 2001) 
  • According to an ILO estimate, 15% of the country's estimated 2.3 million prostitutes are children. The traffic is controlled largely by organized crime. (US Dept of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2000, February 2001) 
  • There are child soldiers in every insurgent group in Manipur, including, apparently, children under 15 years of age. The lowest age recorded is 11 years. It is estimated that the number of child soldiers is between 6,000 and 7,500, which is equivalent to around 50% of the total group membership. It is further claimed that the recent trend is to induct more and more girls into insurgency movement in order to avoid suspicion on the hard core activists. The number of girl soldiers is said to be between 900 and 1,000, i.e., 6-7% of child soldiers. (CSUCS, Asia Report, July 2000, citing a local research project quoted by Rädda Barnen) 
  • In the Assam insurgency approximately 9-10% of soldiers are girls, numbering 3,000-4,000, with the lowest recorded age at 12 years. (Rädda Barnen, Childwar database) 
  • A survey in India, noted that 17% of domestic workers were under 15 years old and also reported that girls aged 12 to 15 were the preferred choice of 90% of employing households. (UNICEF, State of the World's Children, 1997)

The following table gives the state wise distribution of working children:

Magnitude of Child Labour

Children Out of School
The Kerala Experience

The state of Kerala distinguishes itself from the rest of India with its education system. The government of Kerala allocates more funds to education than any other state. It is not only the expenditure of more funds, but where the funds are used that makes the difference. Kerala spends more money on mass education than on colleges or universities.

Kerala’s emphasis on primary education has led to a dropout rate of close to 0%, a literacy rate of 94% for males and 86% for females, and a low child work participation rate of 1.9% compared to the Indian average of 7.1%. It is noteworthy that the Kerala government has made no special effort to end child labour. It is the expansion of the school system rather than the enforcement of labour legislation that has reduced the amount of child labour.


  • Anonymous said... 7:25 am

    thanks for all the information

  • mkhan said... 3:01 pm

    hi! I am a Master's student doing some research on child labour across states and was wondering what is the source of the table illustrating the state-wise numbers of child labour pop? Also, is it possible to get more updated figures?

  • Very informative blog...Thank for sharing...

  • Very informative article ..Sir...

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