Child Labor in India

India has been on a growth trajectory ever since the 1990s when it opened its doors to the global economy. Today, India is one of the most competitive third world countries in the world and has among the best annual growth rates in the world. Essentially, globalization in India has grappled the country with a myriad of adaptive challenges as the country struggles to keep up with the international competition. In the push for growth, there has been a need for increased labor both skilled and unskilled. Eventually, India faces the challenge of child labor as more and more children are enrolled as workers in different industries.

Child labor is the use of children below the age of eighteen years in the processes of production (Yadava et al., 2012, p. 12). Normally, the process is exploitative as the children cannot make a sensible decision about the employment accorded. Worse still, child labor forces many children to drop out of school and not gain meaningful education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets the minimum age for employment to be fifteen years and eighteen years when the work is hazardous in nature.

In Asia, most countries have been worst hit by the problem of child labor. The International Labor Organisation estimates that about 61% of the total children working at the ages of between 5 and 14 are based in Asia. Unfortunately, India is one of the most notorious countries in terms of child labor and is home to the youngest laborers in the world. In fact, in 2001, the number of child laborers was at 12.59 million up from 11.28 million in 1991 (Kaminsky & Long, 2011, p. 57). A majority of these children are between the ages of seven and fourteen years of age and work for more than 12 hours a day. These figures portray a country that abuses the rights of its children in the mining and agriculture sectors.

Globalization has brought about an increase in the cost of living in the Asian country. The high population in the country has also not helped matters as the incidence of poverty occasionally increases with increase in population. The high poverty levels coupled with the lack of social security in the country are to blame for the high uptake in child laborers (Tisdall et al., 2014, p. 36). Additionally, the privatization of the most basic of services has pushed out large populations out of employment and rendering them poor. This development has affected children adversely largely because of their vulnerability. Essentially, most children end up quitting school in search of employment opportunities to help their families. Large multinational corporations have then taken the opportunity to exploit these vulnerable children who provide an avenue for cheap labor and modern day slavery.

The lack of quality universal education has also contributed to a large number of children dropping out of school to seek employment. The driving motivation is the fact that there are little employment opportunities for the educated and this leads frustrations among the young people leading them to quit education entirely. There is a growing concern because the actual number of child laborers is undetected owing to the ineffectiveness and lack of implementation of the children-protection laws. Most of these children are employed as domestic workers in urban towns that are unregulated therefore making the children more susceptible to abuse (Deb, 2016, p. 72). Instances of sexual, physical and emotional abuse have been reported among these children. Moreover, reporting such cases leads to the children being denied food and other basic needs by their employers.

India has, however, put in efforts to try and curb the spread of child labor in the country. The Ministry of labor has spearheaded such efforts and has criminalized child labor in specific settings. For example, child domestic work has been classified as hazardous labor. The same classification has been given to employment of children in restaurants and tea stalls. This classification means that the employments fall under the hazardous labor bracket in the International Convention of Rights of Children classification. Essentially, only people of above the age of eighteen years are allowed to work in these circumstances by law. Violators of these provisions have been apprehended and charged in courts all over India. The effectiveness of this approach is however curtailed by the lack of commitment to prosecute the violators by the law enforcers. In addition, the high levels of corruption have rendered such efforts futile as notorious violators can buy their freedom.

The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 prohibits the use of children below the age of fourteen years in hazardous production. Among the hazardous processes listed include working near a furnace or in cold environments. Further, mechanical fishing, warehousing, food processing and stone grinding are also listed as hazardous areas of employment for the children. While this legislation has contributed to a reduction in the number of children laborers, it has shortcomings clogging its implementation. Most of the children abused in the course of employment are too desperate to report the oppressors to the authority. Even when it is very clear that their rights have been violated, the children fear that they may lose their jobs.  The loss of the ability to support their families’ livelihoods dissuades most children from reporting instances of abuse.

Another legislation to curb the incidence of child labor is the Factories Act of 1948 which bans the employment of children below the ages of fourteen years. In addition, the Act provides that adolescents of the ages between 15 and 18 years obtain certificates of fitness from doctors before they can work in factories. Moreover, the Act curbs the number of hours that these children are allowed to work in any day, putting it at four and a half hours. Night hours are also prohibited for children under the Act. However, the beauty of this legislation goes no further than in writing. The high levels of corruption makes the acquisition of the certificates of fitness an easy task as doctors are bribed to issue such certificates. Moreover, there is no government agency that is directly responsible for monitoring the application of the legislation therefore making it unworkable.

Despite the challenges, however, there is hope that India can successfully weed out child labor within its borders. One way is through the change in values and cultures that have for long fueled child labor. Bonded child labor is one example of such values where families pay debts through child labor. A shift in such values and practices could effectively minimize if not do away with the menace of child labor (Kara, 2014, p. 68). Technology is another avenue through which child labor can be dissuaded. The uptake of technology means that most companies depend on automated processes of production and the need for human capital is limited to that of operating the machines and equipment. This development could mean that child labor, even if available, is not needed in the market thereby reducing the levels.

India should change its approach and aim to cooperate with international institutions if it harbors any chance of abolishing child labor. Specifically, India should collaborate with the International Programme to Eliminate Child Labor which is a subsidiary of the International Labor Organization. Moreover, institutions such as UNICEF could help in combating child labor by incorporating the policy in its efforts in India. A large number of non-governmental organisations have in recent years set foot in India to combat child labor. CARE India leads in this fight and encourages the education of girls thus reducing domestic and bonded child labor. Action Aid India has more than 10 regional offices in India that facilitate its efforts to fight child labor. The Centre for Rural Education and Development Action (CREDA) is also focused on child labor activities. It has undertaken various projects around Varanasi area aimed at elimination and rehabilitation of child labor.

It is no doubt that India faces a great challenge of dealing with child labor. However, this challenge can easily be overcome through the adoption of the right strategies and a general change in destructive cultural values. The government also needs to pass legislation that focuses on effectiveness and efficiency rather than on the penalties. In addition, the government should invest more on education to encourage the young people to enroll in schools and not opt for employment. In so doing, India will be on the right path towards abolition of child labor.



DEB, S. (2014). Child safety, welfare and well-being: issues and challenges.

YĀDAVA, R. P., DĪPA, R., & ROY, R. (2011). Child labour in India. Jaipur, Pointer Publishers.

KAMINSKY, A. P., & LONG, R. D. (2011). India today. an encyclopedia of life in the Republic : A-K Vol. 1 Vol. 1.

KARA, S. (2014). Bonded labor: tackling the system of slavery in south asia. New York, Columbia University Press.

TISDALL, E. K. M., GADDA, A. M., & BUTLER, U. M. (2014). Children and young people’s participation and its transformative potential: learning from across countries.