Child Labour

  • According to Census 2011 reports, India has 10.1 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years. (#diagram)
  • Out of this, 8.1 million are in rural areas, mainly engaged as cultivators (26%) and agricultural laborers (32.9%).
  • India tops the list when it comes to the number of children still living and working in bonded labour and slave conditions.
  • Children are forced to work as bonded laborers in brick kilns to pay off family debts owed to moneylenders and employers.
  • Children from India’s rural areas migrate for employment in industries, such as carpet making, spinning mills, and cottonseed production.
  • Children are trafficked within India for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor in domestic service.
Child Labour Vicious Circle: (#diagram)
Lack of Education -> Low employable Skills -> Poverty -> Child Labour -> Lack of Education
Factors leading to Child Labour:
  • Increase in ‘out of school’ children: UNESCO estimates that around 38.1 million children are “out of school”.
  • Economic crisis: The economic contraction and lockdowns lead to income reductions for enterprises and workers, many of them in the informal economy.
  • Socioeconomic Challenges: caused by the return of migrant workers has compounded the problem.
  • Issues in the Indian Economy: India experienced slower economic growth and rising unemployment even before the pandemic.
  • ‘Digital divide’: Lack of access to the internetDigital devices have forced challenges in distant learning and online learning for children. According to the NSS Report titled ‘Household Social Consumption on Education in India’ only 24% of Indian households had access to an Internet facility.
  • Unorganised Sector Growth: Due to stringent labour laws, industries prefer to hire contractual labour than permanent hiring.
  • Weak Laws:  Laws are not  updated according to the seriousness of the situation.
  • Other reasons: increased economic insecurity, lack of social protection and reduced household income, children from poor households Children are being pushed into child labor.
What are the consequences of child labour?
  • Children who work, fail to get necessary education.
  • They grow weak physically, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically.
  • Long monotonous work reduces their physical conditions and makes the children more vulnerable to disease.
  • Working limits their ability to contribute to their own well-being as well as to community they live in.
  • Young children are involved in dangerous and physically damaging work.
  • It makes it difficult for adults to find employment when employing children is cheaper. Child labour excludes adults from the work force and this creates poverty.
  • Because it means children are at work instead of going to school. Children are denied their right to full-time quality education which is the key to escaping poverty. By working instead of learning, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated.
  • The conditions in which children work is completely unregulated and they are often made to work without food, and very low wages, resembling situations of slavery.
  • There are cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of child domestic workers. The argument for domestic work is often that families have placed their children in these homes for care and employment.
How right policymaking and programmatic interventions can reduce the instance of Child labour?
  • Child labour in India decreased in the decade 2001 to 2011 owing to right combination of policy and programmatic interventions.
  • Policy interventions such as (MGNREGA) 2005, the Right to Education Act 2009, and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme have helped working Children in receiving formal education.
  • By Ratifying International Labour Organization Conventions Nos. 138 and 182 in 2017, the Indian government further demonstrated its commitment to eliminate child labour.
  • India also has a dedicated online portal ( for effective enforcement of child labour laws.
  • However, owing to the Pandemic, the rate of reduction has slowed by two-thirds in recent years.
India has ratified two conventions of ILO: (Not important for mains. Just remember names)
  • Minimum Age Convention (No 138) or Convention 138:
    • It is concerned with minimum age for admission to employment.
    • It was adopted in 1973.
    • So far, it has been ratified by 169 countries. India is 170th.
    • It requires ratifying states to pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work.
    • Countries are free to specify a minimum age for labour, with a minimum of 15 years.
    • A declaration of 14 years is also possible when for a specified period of time.
    • Laws may also permit light work for children aged 13–15 (not harming their health or school work).
    • The minimum age of 18 years is specified for work which “is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young persons”.
    • Definitions of the type of work and derogations are only possible after tripartite consultations (if such a system exists in the ratifying country).
  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No 182) or Convention 182:
    • It is concerned with the prohibition and immediate action for elimination of the worst forms of Child Labour.
    • The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is responsible for assisting countries in this regard as well as monitoring compliance. One of the methods used by IPEC to assist countries in this regard are Time-bound Programmes
    • It was adopted in 1999.
    • It has been ratified by 180 countries. India is 181st.
Way forward
  • Strategic partnerships and collaborations involving government, employers, trade unions, community-based organizations, and child labor families can reduce the menace of child labor in India.
  • The government needs to reinforce its commitment to protect children from unacceptable forms of work. It will ensure achieving Sustainable Development Goal 8.7. (Ending child labour in all its forms by 2025)
UN’s declaration of 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour will ensure that the world countries will take swift actions against Child Labour.

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