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  1. Eric V. Edmonds, “Child Labor”, NBER Working Papers Series
  2. International Labor Organization (www.ilo.org
  3. United Nations Children’s Fund (www.unicef.org) 
  4. Govt. of India, Ministry of labour (www.labour.nic.in
  5. National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (www.ncpcr.gov.in
  6. Saqib Jafarey, “Child Labour: Theory, Policy and Evidence”, Department of Economics, University of Wales Swansea 
  7. Basu, K. and P.H.Van, "The economics of child labor", American Economic Review 
  8. “Magnitude of Child Labour”, NCPCR 
  9. “Child labour”, Volume 2 By Gopal Bhargava 
  10. Wikipedia.org 
  11. State Child Labour rehabilitation Cum Welfare Society (www.childlabour.tn.gov.in
  12. “The economics of child labour” By Alessandro Cigno, Furio C. Rosati
Child labour is a significant problem in South East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Latin American Countries. These regions are relatively backward as compared to the rest of the world and the problem of child labour is a symptom as well as a cause of this backwardness.

The major determinant of child labour is poverty. Even though children are paid less than adults, whatever income they earn is of benefit to poor families. In addition to poverty, the lack of adequate and accessible sources of credit forces poor parents to engage their children in the harsher form of child labour -- bonded child labour. Some parents also feel that a formal education is not beneficial, and that children learn work skills through labour at a young age. These views are narrow and do not take the long term developmental benefits of education into account. Another determinant is access to education. In some areas, education is not affordable, or is found to be inadequate. With no other alternatives, children spend their time working.

The Constitution of India clearly states that child labour is wrong and that measures should be taken to end it. The government of India has implemented the Child Labour Act in 1986 that outlaws child labour in certain areas and sets the minimum age of employment at fourteen. This Act falls short of making all child labour illegal, and fails to meet the ILO guideline concerning the minimum age of employment set at fifteen years of age. Though policies are in place that could potentially reduce the incidence of child labour, enforcement is a problem. If child labour is to be eradicated in India, the government and those responsible for enforcement need to start doing their jobs. Policies can and will be developed concerning child labour, but without enforcement they are all useless.

The state of education in India also needs to be improved. High illiteracy and dropout rates are reflective of the inadequacy of the educational system. Poverty plays a role in the ineffectiveness of the educational system. Dropout rates are high because children are forced to work in order to support their families. The attitudes of the people also contribute to the lack of enrollment -- parents feel that work develops skills that can be used to earn an income, while education does not help in this matter. Compulsory education may help in regard to these attitudes. The examples of Sri Lanka and Kerala show that compulsory education has worked in those areas. There are differences between Sri Lanka, Kerala and the rest of India. What types of social welfare structures do these places have? What are the attitudes of the people? Is there some other reason why the labour market for child labourers is poor in these areas? These are some questions that need to be answered before applying the concept of compulsory education to India? India is making progress in terms of educational policy. The DPEP has been implemented only four years ago, and so results are not apparent at this time. Hopefully the future will show that this program has made progress towards universal education, and eradicating child labour.

Child labour cannot be eliminated by focusing on one determinant, for example education, or by brute enforcement of child labour laws. The government of India must ensure that the needs of the poor are filled before attacking child labour. If poverty is addressed, the need for child labour will automatically diminish. No matter how hard India tries, child labour always will exist until the need for it is removed. The development of India as a nation is being hampered by child labour. Children are growing up illiterate because they have been working and not attending school. A cycle of poverty is formed and the need for child labour is reborn after every generation. India needs to address the situation by tackling the underlying causes of child labour through governmental policies and the enforcement of these policies. Only then will India succeed in the fight against child labour.
In pursuit of India’s development goals and strategies, A National Child Labour Policy, was adopted in 1987. The national policy reiterates the directive principle of state policy in India’s Constitution. It seeks to focus on general development programs to benefit children wherever possible and have project based action plans in areas of high concentration of child labour engaged in wage/quasi-wage employment. The National Child Labour Policy was adopted following the Child Labour Act, 1986.

The Ministry of Labour has been implementing the NCLP through the establishment of various projects for the rehabilitation of child workers since 1988. Initially these measures were industry specific and aimed at rehabilitating children working in traditional labour intensive industries. A renewed commitment to fulfilling the constitutional mandate resulted in enlarging the ambit of NCLPs in 1994 to rehabilitate children working in hazardous occupations.

The Action Plan outlined in the Policy for tackling this problem is as follows: 
  • Legislative Action Plan for strict enforcement of Child Labour Act and other labour laws to ensure that children are not employed in hazardous employments, and that the working conditions of children working in non-hazardous areas are regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Child Labour Act. It also entails further identification of additional occupations and processes, which are detrimental to the health and safety of the children.
  • Focusing of General Developmental Programmes for Benefiting Child Labour - As poverty is the root cause of child labour, the action plan emphasizes the need to cover these children and their families also under various poverty alleviation and employment generation schemes of the Government. 
  • Project Based Plan of Action envisages starting of projects in areas of high concentration of child labour. Pursuant to this, in 1988, the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme was launched in 9 districts of high child labour endemicity in the country. The Scheme envisages running of special schools for child labour withdrawn from work. In the special schools, these children are provided formal/non-formal education along with vocational training, a stipend of Rs.100 per month; supplementary nutrition and regular health check ups so as to prepare them to join regular mainstream schools. Under the Scheme, funds are given to the District Collectors for running special schools for child labour. Most of these schools are run by the NGOs in the district. 
Government has accordingly been taking proactive steps to tackle this problem through strict enforcement of legislative provisions along with simultaneous rehabilitative measures. State Governments, which are the appropriate implementing authorities, have been conducting regular inspections and raids to detect cases of violations. Since poverty is the root cause of this problem, and enforcement alone cannot help solve it, Government has been laying a lot of emphasis on the rehabilitation of these children and on improving the economic conditions of their families.

During the Tenth Five Year Plan, children in the age group of 5 – 9 years were enrolled directly under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Further, those in the age group of 9 – 14 were admitted to special schools under the NCLP schemes. Besides this, components of healthcare and vocational training were augmented. Schemes for children under the 10th Five Year Plan include the integrated Programme for Street Children which aims to prevent the destitution of children and engineer their withdrawal from the streets by providing facilities like shelter, nutrition, health care, education, recreation and protection against abuse and exploitation.

The strategy outlined for the 11th Five Year Plan includes expanding the NCLP to ensure universal enrollment in the 6 – 14 age group. The government seeks to amend all laws to recognize everyone under the age of 18 as children and to take appropriate measures to protect their rights accordingly.
The total elimination of child labour is a task fraught with difficulties. It is a problem that is closely intertwined with some of the greatest challenges faced by the world such as poverty, illiteracy, unemployment etc. No amount of legislation can combat child labour until these root causes are addressed.

The first convention of the ILO in 1919 fixed the Maximum hours of work in a week at 48 hrs as well as the minimum age of employment at 14. Thereafter through an amendment in 1922, the minimum age was increased to 15.

The Conventions of the International Labour Organization, the 1930 and 1956 Forced Labour Conventions and the UN Convention on the rights of a child are the major tools for regulation of child labour. Some other instruments used for the regulation of child labour were:

Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989): “State parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Convention 182 of the ILO (1999): The main of convention 182 is to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. It stresses that immediate action is needed to tackle the worst exploitation of children. The Convention also decided upon the various measures to be implemented by the governments upon the ratification of the convention.

International Program On Elimination of Child Labour: The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) was created in 1992 with the overall goal of the progressive elimination of child labour, which was to be achieved through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour. IPEC currently has operations in 88 countries, with an annual expenditure on technical cooperation projects that reached over US$61 million in 2008. It is the largest programme of its kind globally and the biggest single operational programme of the ILO.

While the goal of IPEC remains the prevention and elimination of all forms of child labour, the priority targets for immediate action are the worst forms of child labour, which are defined in the ILO Convention on the worst forms of child labour, 1999 (No. 182) as:

  • All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery. 
  • Such as the sale and trafficking of children 
  • debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; 
  • the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; 
  • the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; 
  •  work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
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.