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Child Labour-A Hindrance In Development

By Divya Bhargava

09 July, 2009

As we can see today child Labour is mushrooming in our country. Just like a plague which spreads in a place. It is so rampant in India that it is becoming difficult for Indian government to weed it out from the very Indian roots. Child Labour is not only a hindrance in child's development but also a hindrance in nation's development. Children are universally recognized as the most important asset of any nation and child Labour, in the recent past, has evoked a great concern among all. Children have been the main focus of attention especially after proclaiming the year 1979 as the International Year of the Child by the United Nation's General Assembly.

What Is Child Labour?

Child Labour can be defined as that segment of the child population which participates in work either paid or unpaid. Child Labour has also been defined as employment of children in gainful occupations, which are detrimental to their health and deprive them the chances of development. Child Labour implies the work of children both in organized and unorganized sectors that are injurious to their physical, mental, moral and social development. Thus child Labour assumes the character of social problem. Child labour as defined by Homer Folks “ any work by children that interferes with their full physical development, their opportunities for a desirable minimum of education or their needed recreation.”


Causes of Child Labour:-

1. Child Labour

2. Migration

3. Poverty

4. Preference of Employees

5. Introduction to Factory System

6. Broken Families

7. Population Growth

8. No scheme for allowance

9. Lack of enforcement of Laws

10. Perception of the parents/employers

11. Apathy of the Government

12. Pledging of labour


Child Labour in organized and unorganized sector and their working conditions:-

Most of us would be horrified to support a business that exploits children. Yet most of us have been doing this in myriad ways. In the last shopping trip we may have bought a handcrafted carpet without knowing it was made by a seven year old from India , where children work on the loom for 12 hours a day. We may have bought soccer ball for present, without realizing our gift was produced by a five year old inside dark and silent factory in Pakistan . Some hundreds of children in Indonesia work up to 18 hours a day in a closed damp room under insufficient light sewing parts of REEBOK Shoes. The leather balls used in cricket tournaments in England , Australia etc are sown by 8-10 year old boys in Jalandhar city in India . Around the world today, some 250 million boys and girls between the age of 5-14 are exploited and work in the most hazardous working conditions, according to the International Labour Organisation.

Child labour in Mines:-

Despite various laws, child labour is still rampant in mines .” In contravention to the provisions of Acts both women and children are employed underground in mica mines. In Ram Ahuja's view, children mostly boys have important role to play in mining operations. While men do the digging inside the pits, boys carry coal to the surface as their height allows them to walk without bending in the tunnels.

Child Labour in Gemstone Polishing:-

The operations research group in 1993 report signaled out that children mostly boys between 12 and 13 years old in Surat , Gujrat are polishing diamonds for an average of seven to nine hours a day in unhygienic conditions. This study also found major health and safety problems including eyestrain, headaches, leg and shoulder pain, malaria, discoloration of hair, rotten teeth, and dysentery. According to the Burra, local doctors revealed that more than 30% of children get TB presumably due to unhygienic conditions, overcrowding and malnutrition.

Child Labour in Brassware and Base Metal Articles:-

Brass products which are made in Uttar Pradesh are exported all over the world. Children work in almost all aspects of brassware production for long hours and low wages and are exposed to health hazards. Children remove molten metal from molds furnaces.(approx 2000 degrees Fahrenheit temperature). Children were also observed working in electroplating, polishing and applying chemicals to the wares. The constant inhalation of fumes from the furnaces and metal dust leads to TB and respiratory problems and eye irritation. While adults have protective glasses to shield their eyes from flying sparks children sitting close to the adults and watching them do not use protective glasses. Cylinders often explode, causes injury to children. Children working are very young mostly in the age of 6 to 9 years. They work for 8-10 hours a day with one weekly holiday.

An earlier study in 2987 by Cox Newspapers reporters found boys under 14 running from the furnaces to the glass blower carrying molten glass. In addition, Children of the glass factories in Ferozabad suffer mental retardation, asthma, bronchitis, eye problems, liver ailments, skin burns, anemia, TB etc. a recent study by DR Asha Singh of Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi revealed genetic damage in the body cells of the labourers working close to furnace heat for three years or more.

Child Labour in agriculture:-

In rural areas, the children begin to help their parents in the field at a very early age and school going is an exception rather than a rule. The total number of children employed in agriculture, according to agricultural labour enquiry of the ministry of labour was 2million in 1950-51 rose to 10.55 million in 1965. The children are put to many jobs. They not only assist their parents in fields but are also employed on wages or as unpaid family labourers. According to 1971 census there were 10.74 million working children which constituted 14.6% of the total work force.

Child Labour in Plantation :-

According to Labour Investigation Committee a large number of children below 12 years of age work in plantations. They constitute about 25.7% of the total workforce in Dooars in Bengal , 21% in Darjeling, 14.5% in Assam valley and 11% in tea and coffee plantation in south India . The proportion of children to total work force has declined in recent years from 15.2% in 1946-47 to 10.4% in 1950-51.

Child Labour in Unorganized Sector:-

It is in the unregulated factories and workshops that the worst evils of child labour are found. These factories and workshops are not covered under factories acts and there has been no separate legislative provision for them except for beedi workers.

Carpet industry :-at least 50,000 to 1, 50,000 children 6 to 14 years of age work in carpet industries in Kashmir and Punjab .

Fireworks industry:- in Shivkasi in Ramanathpura, district in Tamil Nadu employs about 40,000-45000 children. They work for 11-13 hours and get 50paise to Rs 2. chemicals used in fireworks have brought health hazards for them and these children are suffering from a variety of diseases.

Mica, shellac, toy making, paper flower making, wool cleaning etc are some of the other unregulated industries where children are employed and exploited. Mica industry employs 12000 children.

Another typical workshop industry employing children in glass bangles industry at Ferozabad in U.P. of the 6000 workers of these factory children below 14 years of age constitute 35%. Children in glass industries look anemic, myopia, gloomy and invariably suffer from rickets and eye diseases.

Other industries in which child labour is prevalent are wood and cork, furniture and fixtures, printing, publishing and allied trades, leather products, rubber and rubber products etc. countless number of children are employed as domestic servants, workers in hotels, restaurants, canteens, wayside shops, hawkers, newspaper sellers, sweet and ice crème vendor etc.

Legislative protection for children and national policy :-

The government considers child labour a necessary evil. As its total eradication is not possible, the government has only tried to improve their working conditions through reducing working hours, ensuring minimum wages and providing facilities for health and education. Attempts have been made to provide legal protection for children even earlier to independence. The important legislations are:-

  1. The Factories Act, 1881 :- it defines a child as “ any person below 12 years of age and prohibits the employment of children below 7 years of age.” The hours of work was also regulated and fixed at 9 per day. Rest intervals and holidays provisions were also made.The minimum age of employment of children was raised to 9 years in 1891 and to 12 years in 1922. Further it restricted the maximum number of hours a child can be made to work to 7 hours a day.
  2. Indian Merchant Shipping Act, 1923:- according to it, no child below 14 years of age is to be employed in any capacity in any coastal or foreign ship.
  3. The Children(Pledging of Labour) Act,1933 :- the Act declares an agreement, oral or written to pledge the labour of children where by the parent or the guardian ofa child undertakes to cause or allow the services of the child to be utilized in any employment in return of any payment or benefit to be received as void. This evil is being tackled now under the “ Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976.
  4. The Employment of Children Act, 1938 :- this Act regulates the admission of children to certain industrial employments. The act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years( as amended in 1948) in workshops connected with beedi, carpetweaving, cement industry, cloth printing, dyeing and weaving, matches, explosives and fireworks industry, mica cutting and splitting industry etc. the state governments are empowered by the act to modify or extend its scope.
  5. The Indian factories Act, 1951:- this Act defines an adolescent as ” a person who has completed his 15 th year but not his 18 th year and a child as a person who has completed his 15 th year. ” The factory act has limited the hours of work for children, prohibitednightwork and provided for weekly holiday. The employer has to maintain a register of child workers and periods of work have to be notified. Before employment the children and adolescent are medically examined and proof of age is obtained.
  6. The Plantation Labour Act, 1951:- the Act applies to all tea, coffee, rubber and cinchona plantations. No child below 12 years of age shall be permitted to work in any plantation. Unless the employer is in possession of a certificate of fitness given by a qualified surgeon andtheworker himself carries a token giving reference to such certificate, no child or adolescent may work in a plantation.
  7. The Mines Act, 1952 :- according to this Act no child under 15 years of age may be employed in any mine. No child may be allowed to be present underground or in any excavation where mining operations are carried on. No adolescent may wok below ground in any mine unless he is certified to be medically fit, he carries a token while at work, he is given rest interval of halfanhour every after 4 and half hours. Fixed hours of work on any day is between 6 p.m to 6 a.m.
  8. Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) act, 1986 :- this Act prohibits employment of children below 14 years of age has been allowed in selected areas of the non –hazardous jobs.
  9. Constitutional Provisions : - according to Article 24, no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or in any hazardous employment. According to Article 39(f) childhood and youth are tobeprotected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment. Article 45 enshrines that the state shall Endeavour to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the constitution free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years.


Development programmes and projects- based action plans:-

Child labour cannot be eliminated merely by introducing laws. Apart from statutory strict enforcement of statutory provisions, steps must also be taken to make jobs more safe, secure and healthy. Child is due to economic necessity. Hence, in the presence of poverty and starvation child labour cannot be eliminated. Hence, all efforts must be directed at lessening poverty and improving standards of life. Hence, fixation of a minimum and fair wage and a scheme of social insurance for industrial workers can solve the problem to a very great extent. It was in this context that the ILO report on the protection of children and young workers aptly remarked that the problem of prohibition of child labour is inextricably mixed up with the problem of the maintenance of the child the provision of a living wage for all employed persons adequate to maintain the family at an adequate standard.

Education plays and important role in checking child labor. Hence development programmes for child labourers and their families must include education. Thus apart from making education compulsory up to the age of 16years and free provisions must also be made for the education of child labourers so that they learn and also earn to support their families.


Under the project-based action plan of the national policy initially the projects were proposed to cover the areas where child labour is prevalent. Of these only few projects were taken care off. Many doubt the seriousness of this action plan as it suffers from the drawbacks.

The Supreme Court in its judgment of 10/12/1996 banned child labour on hazardous jobs and ordered the setting up of a Child Labour Rehabilitation Welfare Fund. The following are the significant features of the judgment:-

  1. Offending employer would have to deposit Rs 20,000 as compensation for each child in the fund.
  2. Liability of the employer would not cease even if he now desired to disengage the child.
  3. Directions to Central and State Government were given to see that an adult member of the child's family gets a job instead of child's employment.
  4. Concerned State Governments were asked to conduct surveys on child labour within six months.
  5. For this purpose nine industries were identified by court.
  6. The employment given or payment made would cease if the child is not sent for education by the parents.
  7. The working hours of the child in non-hazardous jobs should not exceed 4-6 hours a day and at least 2 hours are set aside for child's education.
  8. The entire cost of education should be met by employer. The court also warned of severe penal action in case of non-compliance of the directive.



  1. A minimum age for employment in any remunerative occupation outside the must be fixed.
  2. The working condition of child labourers needs to be regulated through the introduction of the licensing system.
  3. Punishments for Violation of Child Labour Act 1886 should be made more stringent.
  4. Provisions should be made for monitoring the organized sector for prevention of child labour.
  5. Major emphasis should be on education and training.
  6. Medical Examination for all working children.
  7. A maximum period of work per day and forbidding work at night.
  8. Prohibition of certain types of Work for Children.


UN declaration on the convention of the rights of the child ( 20/11/1989 ):-

According to declaration the rights of the child are the following:-

  1. Non-Discrimination
  2. Survival and Development
  3. Freedom of Expression
  4. Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
  5. Freedom of Association
  6. Protection of Privacy
  7. Access to Appropriate Information
  8. Parental Responsibilities
  9. Protection from Abuse and Neglect
  10. Special care of Disabled Children
  11. Health and Health Service
  12. Standard of Living
  13. Education
  14. Prohibition of Child Labour



According to an estimate there is about 17 million child labour in this country. The child labour (prohibition and regulation) act 1986 was passed to improve conditions a lot of child workers, and yet, nothing significant came out. The law failed to protect children who are forced to earn a living because of the rural improvishment and struggle for existence in urban areas. Since poverty is not eliminated overnight, the pragmatic approach was to regulate child labour. “Nothing is Impossible”- the word Impossible itself stands for I AM POSSIBLE. So, let us pledge that we will join our hands together to eradicate this evil of child labour from our Indian society and make India a better living place not just for the rich but for the poor as well. After all Right to Life is a Fundamental Right of every citizen of India then why only few enjoy it? With our efforts and determination one day definitely India will get rid of this evil and every child will have a tension free smile on his face. Let us bring back those smiles, happiness, security and zest for living which are lost somewhere.



  1. Ram Ahuja- Social Problems in India .
  2. G. Subramanya- Social Problems With Reference To India .

Divya Bhargava is a law student in Bangalore


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