Child Labour: Statistics and Statutory Provisions by Utkarsh Shubham



Child labour is an evil with which almost every nation of this world is struggling to eradicate. Children are called “gift of the God”, yet there are millions of gifts who are unable to see a bright light of the day. The law prohibits every child who is below 14 years of age to be employed either in a factory or restaurant, home, or office. But the fact is that even today many children are bound to work in this field to earn their livelihood. 

What Does Child Labour Means?

According to the definition given by ILO, Child labour is the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. This definition is accepted in one or the other form by many international organizations and countries. There are various legislations across the globe which prohibit child labour. However, these laws do not consider all work by children as child labour; there are exceptions which include work by child artists, family duties, supervised training, etc.

Child labour is existing from a very historical period. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many children aged 5-14 from poorer families were working in Europe, the United States, and various colonies of Europe such as Brazil and the West Indies. These children were mainly engaged in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, factories, mining, and services. The worst is that some worked night shifts which last for 12 hours. With the increase of per capita income and passage of child labour laws, the rates of child labour declined a little.

In developing countries like Bangladesh, with high poverty and poor schooling opportunities, child labour is still prevalent. In 2010, sub-Saharan Africa had the highest count of child labour, with several countries witnessing over 50 percent of children aged between 5-14 working. Agriculture is considered as the largest sector where the maximum of child labours are engaged. The irony is that the child labours in agriculture are not even regarded as child labours in many countries. They are considered as child workers who are helping their family.

According to a report by World Bank, child labours decreased from 25% to 10% between 1960 to 2003, Albeit, the total number of children labours is very high, with UNICEF and ILO acknowledging an estimated 168 million children aged 5-17 worldwide, were involved in child labour in 2013.

Count of Child Labour in India

There are various faces of child labour in our nation. These can be seen in rural as well as in urban areas. Almost in every part of the world, the children are used as a workforce but the problem is much more severe in India. In a survey of the Bureau of Statistics and special studies of ILO, it could be observed that more than 52 million children are employed in a variety of occupations. Southeast Asia accounts for 29 million child labours followed by 10 million in Africa, 9.1 million in East Asia, 3.1 million in Latin America, 7,00,000 in Europe, 3,00,000 in North American, and 1,00,000 in Oceania.

The number of children labours in India is increasing drastically. In the 1981 survey, it was 13.64 million but in 2011, it increased to 17 million. The 1981 survey revealed that out of these 13.64 million, 4.3 percent were girls and 2.1 percent were boys below the age of 14 years of age. The problem of child labour in females is more acute than that of the males. Our society supports an unequal distribution of household work which results in that girls in the age group of 6 to 11 years are bound to work in their own home only without proper education. They are bound to serve as maid or caretaker in others’ home also. In addition to household work, 40% of agricultural activity is done by the girls.

Categories of Child Labour

Child Labour

Those children who are doing paid or unpaid work in factories, workshops, establishments, mines, and in the service sector such as domestic labour. As per the definition given by the Government of India, child labour is a child who is doing “hazardous” work. Children who are not doing hazardous work are not considered to be child labours and are child workers. The repercussions of this narrow definition of that this definition only includes a very small percentage of children and ignores millions of children who require care, affection, and support from the Government.

Street Children

Children living on and off the streets, such as shoe polisher, ragpickers, newspaper-vendors, beggars, etc. come under the umbrella of this term. The problem of street children is somewhat different from that of other child labours. Child labours have a home at least to go back to in the evenings or nights, while street children are completely alone and on the streets for their whole life. They live on the pavements, in the bus stations or the railway stations. They are at the mercy of some caring people who may give them food as a charity.

Bonded Labour

Children who have either been pledged or sold by their parents for money or, those working to pay off the inherited debts of their parents are the bonded child labours. This is an acute problem in many states. It is very difficult to rescue them because they are inaccessible. If the carpet owner has bought them, are in the darkroom where they are hardly visible by anyone. If a family has paid for them, they cannot run away from the house. If the landlord in the village owns them, they will spend their life serving the landlord until they sell their children as a replacement.

Working Children

Children who are working as helpers in agriculture or household activities are working children. If children are working 12-14 hours a day along with their parents at the cost of their education, they will be count as child labour only. Specifically, the girl child is expected to work for the family until her marriage. These are children who are out-of-school and are working day and night.

Children for Escort Services

Thousands of young girls and boys serve the sexual appetites of people from all social and economic backgrounds. Children are absolutely powerless to resist abuse by perpetrators or intermediaries. Village loan sharks often act as procurers for city brothels, as families are bound to give their daughter as a repayment of the loan. Apart from this, Children are betrayed by those who took them to big cities with the anticipation of giving them employment and end up in this dark world. The physical, as well as psychological health, are also distressed due to this exploitation at a very little stage. 

Migrant Children

India faces a huge challenge with “distress seasonal migration”. Even at the time of lockdown, we have witnessed many child migrants on the roads. Millions of children are forced to leave their homes and education for several months in search of livelihoods. The number of children who are below 14 years of age is as huge as 9 million. Studies reveal that the majority of child migrant labours are found in states like Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra. Almost all major states appear to be affected by migration, although to varying degrees. Many industrial and agro-industrial sectors like brick-making, carpet, firecracker, salt manufacture, sugar cane harvesting, stone quarrying, construction, fishery, plantation, and so on run largely on child migrant labors.

Statutory Provisions

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted several conventions and recommendations for the eradication of child labour. It has adopted 18 conventions and 16 recommendations so far. Convention 59 lays down that the person below the age of 14 years shall not be employed in any hazardous factory or mine.

There are several provisions relating to children in our Constitution also. Art. 15 (3) of our Constitution says that nothing in Art. 15 shall prevent the State from making any special provisions for women and children. Therefore, Art 15(3) empowers the state to make special provisions for children and it cannot be declared unconstitutional on the ground of discrimination. Again Art 23 of the Constitution prohibits the trafficking of human beings, beggars and similar forms of forced labour. Art 24 is the most important step to deal with the issue of child labour. It provides that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.

Explaining the scope of Article 24, the Apex Court has held that children below 14 years of age may be employed in harmless jobs. This means that under Art. 24 prohibits child labour in the loose sense and not in the strict sense. The Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution states that it is the duty of the State to prevent the children from entering into any job which is unsuited to their age and health through its various article such as Art. 39 and Art. 45. Apart from the constitutional obligations, there are a number of legislations by which restricts the employment of child labours.

The Employment of Children Act, 1938 was the first serious effort by the Legislature towards the abolishment of this evil. It prohibited the employment of children in certain occupations and processes. After the direction of the Supreme Court, the Act was amended in 1986 and comes in the form of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. Under this law, the “Child” means a person who has not completed his fourteen years of age and any child shall not be employed in any of the occupations or processes mentioned in the Schedule of this Act.

This Act mentions some occupations and professions where child labour is prohibited. But an establishment which is not mentioned is running and there is no restriction on the employment of child labour. Therefore, we may say that the object of this Act is the regulation rather than the abolition of child labour. Not only that, but Sec 3 of the Act has also mentioned that in the case of family works, the Act is not operational. The Act also does not protect children in the unorganized sector. Its Implementation and enforcement are also not up to the mark. India with 44 million child labours had only 3488 prosecutions and 1,426 convictions under the said Act and the penalty is also between Rupees 50 to 5000 which is much less than that is prescribed in the law.


From the evolution of mankind, children have been exploited mercilessly and indiscriminately. Child Labours are the cheapest and easy to control. They can work on many hours with very fewer wages. One of the major reasons for its rampant multiplication is that some parents think that learning work skills through labour at a young age is much more beneficial than education. They are unable to know the benefits of education.

One day, India will eliminate the nemesis of child labour from even the grass-root level. It is a socio-economic problem which is connected with poverty and illiteracy. It demands continuous efforts from the government and stakeholders to make a big blow. Success can be achieved only through social engineering on a major scale with the participation of all.:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.