Morality of Child Labour Laws in India

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Introduction

Not every work done by a child can be categorized as Child Labour and be put forth for the purpose of eradication. The participation of children or adolescents in work that does not attack their health and well-being, along with their personal development, or obstructs their schooling cannot be interpreted as something negative. This involves activities such as earning pocket money by assisting in a family business after school hours and during vacations or even assisting parents at home. Undertaking such activities helps add to the welfare of the families along with, contributing to the child’s overall development. Not only this, but it also prepares them to be productive members of society by providing adequate skills and experience. The International Labour Organisation defines the term “Child Labour” as, “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:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or
  • 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.”[1]

Acts which do not deprive any child of their childhood and dignity are not classified as acts pertaining to child labour. Still, child labour is an ever-prevalent issue in the country. The primary causes for the existence of the practice of child labour include lack of good schooling facilities, poverty, and the growth of the informal economy. The figures estimated by “The National Census of India, 2001[2] illustrate the number of child labourers to be 12.6 million out of the total child population of 253 million, in the age group of 5-14 years. Further, out of the total 12.6 million child workers, 120,000 of them were engaged in hazardous activities. India is considered to have the highest number of child labourers across the world below the age of 14 years[3]. The child labour is not an isolated phenomenon it is coupled with socio economic problem of the society so in order to eliminate child labour first we should focus on socio economic issues of the society. It is in the hands of administrative. It should bring effective measures to eliminate child labour”.

Child Labour Laws in India

India has passed several constitutional provisions and laws in order to prohibit child labour, post the colonial period. “The Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of the State Policy (DPSP) of the Constitution of India safeguard the rights of child labourers by prohibiting the activity for children below the age of 14 years in mines and factories or any sort of hazardous employment (Article 24)”. The Constitution of India is also said to have envisioned, to provide the necessary facilities for “free and compulsory education to all children in between the age of 6-14 years” (Article 21-A and Article 45). “The major legislations passed by The Government of India to address the issue of child labour are:

  1. The Factories Act, 1948: Prohibits the employment of children less than the age of 14 years in factories. The Act also lays rules highlighting who, when, and for how long can the adolescents aged 15-18 years be employed in a factory.  
  2. The Mines Act, 1952: The act prohibits employment to children below the age of 18 years in mines”.
  3. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986: “The Act prohibits children, less than 14 years of age, to seek employment in hazardous occupations identified by Law”. The Ministry of Law and Justice (Legislative Department) refers to it to as, “An Act to prohibit the engagement of children in all occupations and to prohibit the engagement of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes and the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto[4]. The Act was last amended in the year 2016 and is renamed as The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 It received the President’s assent on July 29, 2016”.
  4. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2000: The Law as made child labour (to employ a child in any hazardous employment or bondage) a criminal act, “punishable with a prison term”.
  5. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009: The law, under this Act, directs “free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14 years”[5]. The legislation, herein, also mandates the reservation of a certain percentage of seats (25%) for the physically challenged children along with, children from backward and disadvantaged groups in all private schools. However, despite these efforts, Child Labour still continues to be a crucial issue for India, which calls for immediate action”.

Constitutional Provisions relating to Child Labour

The various Constitutional Provisions formulated to address the issue of Child Labour in India are as follows:

  1. Article 21-A[6]Right to Educationstates that, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” Right to education is a fundamental right and has been regarded as one of the most progressive articles of the constitution. This ensures that every child in the country receive proper in his or her foundational years. This article encourages educating children rather than indulging them in alternative activities such as child labour.
  2. Article 24[7]states that, “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.”This article ensures that child labour is discouraged. Provisions are made under is article to punish the employer.
  3. Article 39[8]The Article ensures that the children are given facilities and opportunities to mature and grow in a healthy manner and are provided with an environment of freedom and dignity. It further ensures that the youth are safeguarded against exploitation along with, moral and material abandonment”.

Morality of Child Labour Laws in India

Child Labour is considered to be a breach of Human Rights and is undoubtedly a “Necessary Evil” to an economy like India. The government has taken out several laws and schemes in order to curb child labour, but, to no avail. This poses hindrances and threats to the children’s physical, mental, social, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional development. The Government of India has made an attempt to take necessary measures towards the problem and has posed a firm stand towards this social evil. It has alsoundertaken various child upliftment programmes such as “Mid-Day Meal scheme, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan”. The government realizes the need to nourish the children and youth of the country. However, in spite of all these measures undertaken by the government to tackle the problem, Child Labour still continues to be a severe issue in the country. The rules and regulations formulated, fail to cater to the problem of child labour. Earlier, the problem of child labour was restricted only to hazardous forms of work. However, over the years, “the scope has widened to non-hazardous forms of work as well. Adding to this, the problem of bonded labour, child trafficking, and slavery exists on a huge scale”. The problem of child labour cannot be eliminated by solely focusing on the primary factors or a single determinant. Therefore, the problem of child labour needs to be addressed keeping multiple determinants in mind, and by ensuring proper enactment and enforcement of the proposed government policies.

Conclusion and Suggestions

In order to battle with the issue of child labour, it is important to spread enough awareness and raise the consciousness in minds of the people regarding the cons associated with child labour. It is crucial for every citizen of the country to understand and acknowledge the fact that it is wrong to deprive children of their childhood and put forward a helping hand to elevate their growth instead. Children are the ones who shape the future of the nation and the evil practice of child labour forces them to break down mentally, physically and, emotionally.

The issue of Child labour remains to pose hardships for the nation. The Government of India has made an effort by taking several steps in order to dodge this problem. It is crucial for the government to keep an eye on the employment conditions of adolescent workers as well as working state of children in family run businesses. This can be done through an increase in personnel deployment which presently seems to be scarce. Along with that, there is a need to and provide adequate support to the non-governmental organisations and individuals who are steadily working to improve the scenario for the said cause. However, taking into consideration the fact that Child Labour is substantially a “socio-economic problem inextricably linked to poverty and illiteracy”, it demands for more concentrated efforts from each section of society to create a bump in the problem.


[1] ILO, Eliminating the worst forms of Child Labour: A practical guide to ILO Convention no. 182, handbook for parliamentarians, no. 3, 2002 (December, 01, 2002)

[2] Report on Child Labour in India, by National Census of India, 2001

[3] UNICEF INDIA, REPORT ON CHILD LABOUR AND EXPLOITATION (2018)

[4] THE CHILD LABOUR (PROHIBITION AND REGULATION) AMENDMENT ACT, 2016, No. 35 of 2016 (July, 29, 2016)

[5] THE RIGHT OF CHILDREN TO FREE AND COMPULSORY EDUCATION ACT, 2009, ACT No. 35 of 2009 (August, 26, 2009)

[6] India Const. Art. 21-A – Right to Education

[7] India Const. Art. 24 – Prohibition of employment of children in factories

[8] India Const. Art. 39

Author: Ananya Brajesh Anand, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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