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Posted On : April 24, 2021
“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 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.”

Every year, June 12 is observed by countries across the globe as ‘World Day Against Child Labour.’ India has the highest number of child labourers in the world. The Indian government’s 2011 census records about 4.3 million children between the age of five and 14 years are working in hazardous and non-hazardous jobs. A damning report by International Labour Organization is claiming a much higher number.

ILO claims India has 10.3 million child labourers. Of these, a whopping 70 percent are girls. Over 150 million children worldwide qualify in this definition as child labourers, says UNICEF. ILO’s definition of child labour is: “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 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.”

Generally, working children in the five to 14 years age group are classified as child labourers. Underage children are employed in hazardous and non-hazardous industries. In May 2015, the Indian government passed a controversial bill regarding child labour. The Amended Child Labour Act permits children to work in family-owned non-hazardous enterprises.

Child labour exists in India for several reasons. The biggest cause of child labour has been identified as poverty. Families with scant resources force underage children to work. In fact, birth control remains taboo among many Indian cultures. Sadly, some families believe, more children mean higher income. A Human Rights Watch report claims, children work to pay family debts. Ironically, these communities consider it normal for teenagers to marry and procreate at puberty. Lack of education is yet another cause of child labour. Parents cannot afford to educate children and force them to work. Child labour in India is rising, a recent Reuters report says. Sectors, where child labour is prevalent in India, are identified by ILO, WSI, and UNICEF. Five Indian states are the biggest employers of child labour. These are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. These states account for some 20 percent of India’s child labourers.


Thousands of young girls who attain puberty are pushed into India’s flesh trade every year. Indian laws define carnal relations with any girl below 18 years of age as ‘Statutory Rape’.

It is a criminal offense and attracts extremely harsh punishment. Despite this, there is no dearth of criminals who lure village families into sending their young girls to cities. They are promised Bollywood and other glamorous jobs. Instead, they are pushed into prostitution. The demand for underage, post-puberty girls is very high in the flesh trade due to myths surrounding virginity.


Families unable to sustain themselves force their underage kids to beg. Law enforcement authorities in India continue to uncover large begging rackets. Criminals tempt urchins to join these begging chains.

They are housed in sub-human conditions and fed poorly. Often, their eyes are gouged and limbs maimed to attract sympathy from people. Underage girls are raped, impregnated, and forced to beg. These child labourers are condemned to a life of penury and servitude unless rescued by some charity organization.


Indian laws explicitly ban child marriage. Yet, this system flourishes among various uneducated communities on the sly. Young girls married off into impoverished families end up as slaves, child labour.

They are forced to work in the kitchen. Such girls are chided into performing physically taxing household and domestic chores. Peer and family pressures prevent them from seeking recourse to law. These girls bear children despite their poor physical condition. Most of them are unaware of the travails of being a mother at a tender age.


Kids committing crimes are fairly common in India. The infamous ‘Nirbhaya’ rape case on December 16, 2012, aptly highlights this. One of the alleged rapists was juvenile and escaped harsh punishment meted to adults convicted of a similar crime.

Children become delinquent for many reasons. The main among them is a fight from poverty. They want to escape the dithering poverty of their households. Among the rich, children flee home to escape restrictions enforced by parents. Such kids end up as child laborers. Fearing reprisals, they are scared to return home. Often they get trapped by criminals who lure them into drug peddling, pickpocketing, and other illegal activities.

Steps to Stop child labour

The Indian government, in recent years, is winning kudos worldwide for its efforts to eradicate child labour. Amendments made to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act prescribes severe punishment for people found guilty of retaining bonded labour.

The amendment stipulates rigorous imprisonment for those who force children to beg, handle or carry human waste and animal carcasses. The draft National Policy for Domestic Workers, when goes into force, will ensure a minimum of Rs.9,000 salary for household helpers.

Written By :
Apurva Tomar
Apurva Tomar
South Delhi |

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