The Author of this blog is Ms. Suravi Ghosh, Advocate, Burdwan District Judges’ Court, West Bengal & Guest Faculty, University of Burdwan, West Bengal


“It was a very sharp contrast of watching that boy, unable to go to school, clean the shoes of other little children who had the hopes aspirations that education brings….child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here”. Sri Kailash Satyarthi.

The existence of the issue of child labour is considered as one of the biggest challenges of our society. It is a curse and stigma upon the society, a malady that may destroy the economic backbone of a country. The problem is obviously multidimensional. The rights of the child are marginalized. Prima facie, it seems rational to send children to work to augment family income in economic stricken society but it is to be remembered that it is at the cost of their physical, mental as well as emotional development. The practice of child labour is an age-old phenomenon in India. Existence of child labour in different periods has marked the history with the stigma of children’s plight. . Lack of employment, indebtedness etc. are  some of the main reasons for those unfortunate families to force their children to go to work even when they know it very well that the work or labour is not at all proportionate to their age, physical capacity as well as mental health. A gross human rights violation can be located against those children.

Meaning Of ‘Child Labour’

‘Child’ is defined as any person below the age of 14[1]  and employment of any child in any hazardous employment including domestic help is prohibited[2].

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 their physical and mental development.

It refers to work that:

-is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and /or

-interferes with a child’s ability to attend and participate in schools fully by obtaining them to leave school prematurely or requiring them to attempt combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work[3].

India’s census office 2001 defines child labour as participation of child less than 17 years of age in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wages or profit. Such participation could be physical or mental or both. This work includes part time help or unpaid work in the farm, family enterprise or in any other economic activity such as cultivation or milk production for sale or domestic consumption.

Legislative Approach After Independence

  • In Factories Act 1948, the minimum age of admission to the employment also raised to 14 years. 6 months of imprisonment and compensation of Rs. 500/- can be given under section 22 of Minimum Wages Act 1948. Under the same legislation the relevant terms as child, adolescent are also defined.
  • Constitution of India: It was after independence that, the founding fathers of the nation became aware that employment of the children is one of the manifestations of the pervading poverty in the country and realized the nation’s responsibility towards that tender age group. That was why the framers of the Constitution deemed it needful to make special provisions for the protection of working children. They are embodied under Art. 15(3), 21, 21A, 23, 24, 39(e) and 39(f), Art 45, Art 46 and 51A(k). Apart from these provisions, in the Preamble it also lays down the principle of ‘socio-economic justice’ by which indirectly the forefathers of our Constitution extended the very concept of empowerment to the most fragile section of society, the children. India has a federal form of government, and labour being a subject in the Concurrent list, both the Central and the State Govt. can legislate on the isuue of child labour.
  • The Mines Act 1952- This Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 18 in a mine; Motor Transport Workers Act 1961, Apprentice Act 1961, Cigar Workers (Conditions and Employment) Act 1966, Child Labour (Regulation And Abolition) Act 1970. Bonded child labour is a system of forced or partly forced labour under which the child or child’s parents enter into an agreement oral or written with a creditor. Legislation was enacted to prohibit this kind of bonded labour by anyone including children.
  • According to the provisions of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 under section 16, punishment can be provided and which may extend up to the period of 3 years. Under section 20 of this Act, same punishment can be given in the cases of abetment. All are cognizable offences. 
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 was enacted by repealing Juvenile Justice Act, 1986. By succeeding amendments, it is now more efficient to protect the best interest of children and deal them with child friendly approach. Amendment Act of 2015 has made child labour a crime with a prison term, for anyone to keep a child in bondage for the purpose of employment.
  • The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 mandates free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. This legislation also mandates that 25 percent of seats in every private school must be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups.
  • The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 is considered as one of the most important legislations regarding the issue of child labour in India. A child is defined as any person below the age of 14 years of age and this legislation prohibits employment of a child in any employment including as a domestic help (except helping own family in non-hazardous occupations). It is a cognizable criminal offence to employ any children for any work. Children between age of 14 and 18 are defined as adolescent and the law allows them to be employed except in the listed hazardous occupation and processes that include mining, inflammable substance and explosives related work etc.


All the initiatives taken by our Govt. are amply discussed. Nevertheless, every coin has its two sides. Despite all the laws, policies or even the international initiatives the real situation is something different. One of the main pitfalls lies within the framework of Child Labour Amendment Act 2016. It has reduced the long list of hazardous work into a short list consisting of only three occupations[4]. Apart from this another loophole lies in an exempted clause related to family occupation[5]is incorporated. Such a deficiency in the statue will obviously vitiate the very object of eradicating child labour completely. It would not be inappropriate if one says that along with the issues of migration, large family structure, non-existence provisions of compulsory education, illiteracy and ignorance of parents, there are various economic reasons namely, poverty, unemployment, absence of schemes for family allowance, children being cheaply available. If by the application of legal machinery all there issues which are associated with economy cannot be resolved, the menace of child labour cannot be eradicated in spite of having legislations, policies, committees etc. Lastly if the economic condition of nation is stable and every person has employment then no guardian will be compelled to push their little fellows to work. Because child is meant to learn not to earn. Change of a mindset can change everything. It will be appropriate to conclude this Article with this famous quote by Nelson Mandela-

‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’

[1] The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986( Act 61 of 1986), s.2(ii)

[2] The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016. (Act 35 of 2016), The Schedule, s. 3A

[3] Child Labour A Textbook for university students, 2004. International Labour Organization, ISBN web pdf version: 92-2-115549-8:16

[4] The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016. (Act 35 of 2016), The Schedule, s. 3A

[5] The Child Labour ( Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016. (Act 35 of 2016), s.3(2)(a)




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