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In our society an age is decided for achieving every task and before reaching that stage each task seems to be a burden. The hands which were meant for holding books and toys are washing dishes and carrying burden. Child labor is a severe issue that is being addressed from many decades and still not even a single country can confidently say that every child is living its childhood without engaging their hands in any kind of struggle. Tiny toddlers are supposed to enjoy their tender age and make memories not to get them entangled with the high-tech dangerous apparatuses. As truly said by Nelson Mandela “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of the children”. Our nation is leaving no page unturned to restore the fairyland for children. Many laws and judgments keep on adding new stepping stones for a better world. According to the reports in 2011, the total number of children working as child labor in our country has declined from 1.26 crore as per the census 2001 to 43.53 lakh which shows 65 per cent reduction which indicates a developing position.


There are many legislations which define the word ‘child’. A child is a young human who is below the age of puberty or a person who has not attained the age of legal majority. To put simply, a child is the person who is between the age of infancy and adolescent. In India, different laws define ‘child’ and ‘minor’ separately in a different sense.

As defined by the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 a child is defined as a person who has not completed 14 years of age.

According to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 a child is defined as a person who has not completed 18 years of age.

The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act 1966, defines a child as a person who has not attained the age of 14 years.

Article 45 of the Constitution of India defines a child as a person less than 14 years of age.

Child labor is a deep-rooted problem which requires deep cleaning of society and mindsets. Child labor is not only an infringement of human rights but also gross seclusion of four basic rights namely, survival, development rights, protection rights and the rights of participation.

Child labor is the act of exploitation of children by engaging them in any form of labor or work and depriving them of their childhood, forbid them to attend school. This labor is also defined as any work which is harmful to the mental and physical development of children. It is also considered as work which affects a child morally, physically, socially, mentally negatively and is harmful to them. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and any work which 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.

UNICEF defined child labor as children working before, they reached the lawful minimum age for employment in their country, often the same as the cut-off age for compulsory attendance at school. According to UNICEF and International Labor Organization, child labor is, “Child labor is abuse that deprives children of their childhood and their dignity which hampers their access to education and the acquisition of skills and which is performed under deplorable conditions harmful to their health and their development”

According to the Indian Constitution, “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other 8 hazardous employment”.

Different types of child labor

The international organizations have categorized different forms of child labor.

  1. Hazardous child labor - It is described as the worst form of child labor. This is the kind of work where children get to indulge in work that is out of their ability. It is very heavy work like firecrackers making industries, metal or iron industry, glass industry or in mines.

  2. Non-hazardous child labor - This kind of labor is not strident on children. Although child labor itself is the worst form of labor but, all labors are not harsh on children rather some of the jobs help them build their personality and character. Some forms of help in the development of a child and make them independent, also inculcate some moral qualities. This kind of child labor also helps economically weaker families to make them stable. Working as a babysitter, working in shops, delivering the newspaper, etc.

  3. Child trafficking - Child trafficking is the illegal transportation of children for their exploitation. It is the transfer of the child for consideration. It is an extended form of bonded labor. Children are trafficked for the purpose of begging, prostitution, etc.

Causes of child labor

The various government studies and policy statements show the following are the major reasons for engagement of children in labor in India. These issues become very evident from the plans of the government being targeted towards solving these issues.


Poverty is one of the biggest causes of driving children to workplaces. In such circumstances earning at a very early age is the only hope for their survival. In many instances parents force their child to get employed in hazardous jobs for income.

Lack of education

In backward and remote areas children do not have adequate and meaningful alternatives. There are no means to impart education to the population in such areas. Lack of schooling results in missing educational qualifications and higher skills thus perpetuating their life in poverty.

Economic uncertainties

In our country, the greatest number of child labor belong to socio-economically poor families, the working members are often short of employment. Even if they are employed it's on low wages or bad working conditions and rising price of commodities deteriorates their conditions further. This leads to toddlers to fend for themselves by earning their livelihood.


Parents tend to send their child in order to earn a sufficient amount of money to get rid of the debt. They even compromise with the low wages and pathetic working conditions just for the sake of their livelihood.

The weak policies of legal framework

There are laws but the system lags behind in its implementation. There are numerous cases of child labor which remains unregistered due to corruption in every nerve of the framework.

Legislation for preventing Child Labor

The Law of the Land that is The Constitution Law embodies upon the States a duty to make provisions for the welfare of Children. The Laws related to prevention of Child labor and of their welfare are not only confined to the Constitution Law but we have a number of separate sovereign statutes for the purpose of welfare of Children and to Prevent Child Abuse.

The Constitution of India

Individual role

The 86th Amendment in December 2002 created a duty upon individuals by adding a clause after 51A(j) as- Article 51A(K), The Duty is laid upon the Parent or Guardian to provide Opportunities for Education to his child or ward, under the age of six and fourteen years.

State government’s role

Under Article 15(3), the State Government is empowered to make special provisions relating to children, which will not be violative of Right to Equality.

Article 21 focusses on that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, except according to the procedure established by law. The Supreme Court held that “life” includes freedom from exploitation and to live a dignified life.

Article 21A was inserted by the 86th amendment by virtue of which the States are under a duty to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.

Article 23 Prohibits Trafficking in human beings and forced labor and such are made punishable offenses under Substantive Laws.

Article 24 Prevention of Employment of a child under Hazardous employment, no child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.

Article 39(e) states “That the health and strength of workers, men and women and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength”.

Article 39(f) The children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment.

Article 41: “The state shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want”.

Article 45: The State shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years”.

Article 47: “State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standards of living of its people and the improvement of public health are among its primary duties and, in particular, the state shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except from medical purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”.

The Factories Act, 1948

The Act lays down different restrictions as per the age group of Children as:

Employment of Children below the age of 14 years is prohibited.

Employment of Adolescents aged between 15 years and 18 years is only permitted if he/she obtains a certificate of fitness from an authorized medical doctor.

Under section 71 of the act, The Working hours for children are prescribed as that, no child can be permitted to work for more than 4.5 hours in a day, and no work can be taken from them at night and no female child shall be required or allowed to work in any factory except between 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Minimum Wages Act, 1948

The act aims to fix the minimum wages by the appropriate Government, related to certain employment which is specified in the schedule.

Section 3 of the act mandates that different rates of minimum wages shall be fixed for adults, adolescents and children.

The act is also simultaneously governed by The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950 and Rule 24 provides that in case of a child the number of hours in a normal working day shall be 4.5 hours.

This Implies that the Minimum wages act 1948 fixes the maximum number of working hours in case of children to be 4.5 hours.

States are also using this act to punish and prosecute those who are employing children and are paying them less than the minimum wages.

The Plantations Labor Act, 1951

The subject matter of this act includes employment in the plantation of tea coffee rubber, cinchona.

The employment of Children is regulated by the act as:

No child below the age of twelve years can be employed under this act.

Section-26 of the act states that No child between the age of 12-15 years and no adolescent person between the ages of 15-18 years can be allowed to work in any plantation unless he is certified fit to work by a duly appointed certifying surgeon and unless he carries a token of this effect while at work.

And such certificates/ tokens will only be valid for 1 year.

The Act provides a maximum of 40 hours of work in a week.

Employment of Children (Amendment) Act, 1978

The amendment abolished the employment of a child below 15 years of age in occupations in the railway premises such as cinder-picking or clearing of ash pit or building operations, in catering establishment and in any other work which is carried on close to or between the railway lines.

The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986

The Act prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 in 13 occupations and 57 processes considered to be hazardous which are listed in Part A & B of the schedule of the act. Children of any age may be employed in all other activities, provided employers adhere to legal restrictions, including a maximum 6 hours work a day with 1 hour rest period and at least one day off per week. Penalties under the Act range from 3 months to 1-year imprisonment and a fine of between rupees 10,000 and 20,000.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000

This Act was amended in 2002 which brings the provisions of the act in conformity with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which covers young people below 18 years of age.

Section 26 of the lays Act deals with the Exploitation of a Juvenile or Child Employee, and provides in relevant part, that whoever procures a juvenile or the child for the purpose of any hazardous employment and keeps him in bondage and withholds his earnings or uses such earning for his own purposes shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable for fine.

Bonded Labor System Abolition Act, 1976

This Act abolishes the bonded labor system to prevent the economic and physical exploitation of the weaker sections of the people.

Bonded Child Labor is also Prohibited by the act and the allegations of bonded child labor are directly investigated by District Level Vigilance Committees

A Statutory Punishment of 3 years of imprisonment and fine of Rs 2000 is also laid down under the act.

The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961

This Act will be applied to every motor transport undertaking which employs a minimum number of 5 persons or more.

Section 21 of The Act prohibits employment of persons under 14 years of age in any capacity in the motor transport undertaking.

Committees and Commissions on child labor in India

Although there are numerous legislations which aims to cater the evil of child labor still government do not want to leave any stone untouched to lower the numbers of child laborers. Government has set up committees and Commissions for the executive operations to make rules and guidelines in the interest of children.

Labor investigation committee, 1944 (Rage Committee)

The committee recommended that it is not enough to prohibit the employment of children, but it is also essential to adopt simultaneously positive measures to warn them away from industrial employment.

National commission on labor, 1966

The commission recommended fixing of the minimum age for children, arrangements for work along with informal education for the child labor.

Gurupadaswamy committee, 1979

The report submitted by this committee was both analytical and comprehensive in nature, some of the observations and the recommendations of the committee are:

The minimum age for entry into employment should be 15.

Child labor is not homogeneous groups and, therefore, should be divided among the categories of wage earners, family workers, apprentices in traditional crafts and children who are both working and going to school.

The existing law relating to prohibition and regulation of employment of children should be consolidated into a simple comprehensive one.

The planning commission should work out the feasibility of removing children below 15 years from the labor market to facilitate the unemployed and able-bodied persons to get job opportunities.

Government has also initiated programs for the upliftment of the children, such as:

Sarva Siksha Abhiyan


All children in school, Education Guarantee Centre, Alternate School, ' Back-to-School' camp by 2003.

All children complete five years of primary schooling by 2007.

All children complete eight years of elementary school by 2010.

Focus on elementary education of satisfactory quality with emphasis on education for life.

Bridge all gender and social category gaps at primary stage by 2007 and at elementary education level by 2010.

Education Guarantee Scheme


Formal education to the nation’s out of school children, including child laborers.

Program of nutritional support to primary education.

The government provides mid-day meals to children to increase enrollment and attendance and help improve the nutritional status of children.

The mid-day meal program was made mandatory in all states by a January 2005 Supreme Court ruling.

Role of judiciary in eradicating child labor

Legislature, executive and judiciary are three pillars of democracy. Whenever any social evil starts spreading its roots in society, all three bodies work best to their potential to eliminate such vicious practices. Lawmakers have devotedly contributed their share of work in remodeling the condition of children in our nation, but one hand cannot accomplish the pronounced heights. To complete the machinery, the judiciary also flipped all the pages of law and order to revitalize the innocence of minors. Since the 19th-century judiciary has acted as a guiding light for society. There are innumerable cases ruled by Supreme Court and High Courts that stand as precedent for instances to arise in future.

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India

This matter was brought before the hon’ble supreme court regarding the children working at the construction sites.

The supreme court clearly stated that construction activities are plainly dangerous and there must be a restriction on employing children under the age of 14 years at construction sites and construction act plainly and absolutely a hazardous employment, it is open that by the ground of constitutional prohibition no child under 14 years can be allowed to be unavailable in construction work.

Laborers Working on Salal vs. the State of Jammu and Kashmir

This case was regarding the employment of children under 14 years of age in factories or by a contractor. In this case, it was said that “No child under the age of 14 years is employed by any contractor/sub-contractor on any factories in the schemes. In case any child laborer is included by any contractor/subcontractor prompt orders for their break should be furnished forthwith and an outline report provided to the sanction”.

Sheela Barse v. Union of India

In this case, it was reflected that the state is not only responsible for eradicating child labor but should also be concerned about their welfare and future. It was held that “it was held that a child is a state blessing, and it is the responsibility of the state to focus behind the child with a perspective to guarantee proper development of its personality”.

M.C. Mehta vs State Of Tamil Nadu And Others

This case was settled for the compensation by the employer to the child labor in ‘Child labor rehabilitation cum welfare fund’. While deciding the case the bench said that the employer must pay the compensation of 20,000 rupees for every child who is employed by him which is against the provision of the Act.

Bachpan Bachao & Ors. vs Union of India & Others

The Courts of law came forward to prescribe the duties of the committee and the commission. The commission and committee were directed to look upon the matters understated:

When the child or worker is employed for long working hours. The work for which the child (age group 14-18 years), is employed puts him under physical exertion and is beyond his physical capabilities.

At the working place, the basic facilities like medical care, washrooms, food etc. are not available.


Child labor is still a big challenge for every developing or developed country. Although countries are moving forward in order to make this world a better and harmless place full of love for children, still countries are lacking big time in providing education and better working conditions. India has remarkably improved its position in reducing child labor. India was the largest hub for the industries involving children into harmful and dangerous labor. Due to the required necessary actions were taken by not only necessary legislatures or judiciary but also NGO’s and other agencies involved in working for underprivileged sections, in today’s date India stand at a better place in the world among the countries involved in child labor.


The Constitution of India

The Plantation Labour Act, 1951

Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986

Employment of Children (Amendment) Act, 1978

The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958

The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966

The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961

The Mines Act, 1952

The Minimum Wages Act, 1948

The Plantation Labour Act, 1951

The Factories Act, 1948

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2000

The Rage Committees report 1944

National Commission on Labour Report

Gurupadaswamy Committee Report

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

Education Guarantee Scheme

The Royal Commission on labor report 1929

Theories of the worst form of child labour by Dessy and Pallage


This article is written by Jyotsna Rathore of Chanderprabhu Jain College of Higher Studies and School of Law.

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