By Souromita Chatterjee, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar.

Children should be making sand castles, not bricks.

Child labour is the practice of having children engage in economic activity, on a part-time or full-time basis. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) 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, or work whose schedule interferes with their ability to attend regular school, or work that affects in any manner their ability to focus during school or experience a healthy childhood.”

The eminent English writer Charles Dickens helped publicize the evils of child labor with his novel Oliver Twist.

Due to lack of modern machinery, child labour is extensively used. Economic factors also tend to trigger the practice of child labour, as the employers have to pay more to the adult workers. Poverty forces parents to send their children to work outside.

Due to the aforementioned complications:

  • Children are deprived of their education, mental and physical development.
  • Physical injuries and death are caused by badly maintained machinery on farms and in factories.
  • Long-term health problems, such as respiratory disease, asbestosis and a variety of cancers affect those children.
  • Exhaustion and malnutrition are a result of underdeveloped children performing heavy manual labour, working long hours in unbearable conditions and not earning enough to feed themselves adequately.

Sherin, a young orphan girl from Durgapur (West Bengal), was taken by a couple to Titagarh to perform domestic service as well as baby-sitting. She was not being paid for her work. Her plight took a new turn when she was accused of stealing money from the piggy bank. She was threatened, beaten and was dragged to the open air terrace to spend the night in biting cold conditions. She was shivering and crouching in the cold. Seeing her condition, a neighbour called CHILDLINE for help.

CHILDLINE immediately went there to verify the authenticity of the complaint. The very next day, they took local police with them to rescue Sherin. She was seriously injured and was taken to B.N Bose road hospital. “I was punishable for every small mistakes and the lady of the house often used to beat me” told Sherin. The CHILDLINE team filed an FIR against the couple under Juvenile Justice Act, The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, and The Indian Penal code.

The truth behind beautifully embroidered sarees is a child’s little hands working day and night to make a living. This is one such story. In a tip off received by CHILDLINE Jaipur, a large number of children were believed to be working in small dingy rooms with no light or ventilation. These small rooms were homes as well as workplaces for children trafficked from West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. On receiving this information, CHILDLINE Jaipur conducted a raid and rescue operation of 150 child labourers working in zari units with help from the police. The children were made to work for more than 12-14 hours a day without a break, for a minimum salary of Rs. 200 per month. Today, 10 people have been arrested and booked under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJB) for the illegal use of children. According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act , 1986, zari making has been classified as a hazardous form of child labour in India.

The Current State of Child Labor

  • In the world

The latest ILO estimates indicate that 152 million children – 64 million girls and 88 million boys – are in child labour globally, accounting for almost one in ten of all children worldwide. Seventy-one percent of children in child labour work in the agricultural sector and 69 per cent work within their own family unit. Nearly half of all those engaged in child labour – 73 million children in absolute terms – are employed in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety, and moral development. 20 million child workers are employed in factories that make garments, carpets, toys, matches and hand-rolled cigarettes.

  • In India

  • One in every 11 children in India is working.
  • More boys (38.7 million) than girls (8.8 million) are involved in hazardous work.

Children are engaged in every sector of economy like match stick making, fireworks, domestic labour, construction, carpet making industry, brick kilns, etc. One of the places where the problem of child labour is widespread is Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu.

Today, there are sufficient statutes condemning and prohibiting child labour, such as:

The Factories Act of 1948: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory. The law also placed rules on who, when and how long can pre-adults aged 15–18 years be employed in any factory.

The Mines Act of 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine. Mining being one of the most dangerous occupations, which in the past has led to many major accidents, thus taking the life of children, is completely banned for them.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law. The list was expanded in 2006, and again in 2008.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000: This law made it a crime, punishable with a prison term, for anyone to procure or employ a child in any hazardous employment or in bondage. This Act provides punishment to those who act in contravention to the previous acts by employing children to work.


The government last month amended child labour laws allowing children under 14 years to work in family business and entertainment business (except in a circus).

While the challenge is still extensive, we are clearly moving in the right direction. The 2016 results show that child labour has again declined worldwide, continuing a trend seen since the publication of the Global Estimates of Child Labour in 2000. The 16-year period starting in 2000 saw a net reduction of 94 million children in the child labour industry. The number of children in hazardous work fell by more than half over the same period. There were almost 134 million fewer children in employment in 2016 than in 2000.

Children constitute the nation’s valuable human resources. So, it is the duty of the society to look after every child with a view to assuring full development of his/her personality. Various organisations working in the area of child labour are taking effort to eradicate the same, and to make the parents aware that temporary work and pay is not going to be  helpful to the family in the long run. Thus, if awareness about the cons of child labour is spread across the nation and strict policing of implementation of existing laws is done, India can combat the issue of Child Labour.

Child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here. A lot of work still remains, but let’s hope that we are able to work on reducing the same to a large extent, especially by spreading awareness about the issue.