Child Labor


The article over child labor and its eradication deal with the problems that were faced by many children of our country and the measures adopted by our country in order to curb this evil. Under this article, all the aspects that were responsible for child labor and abuse were dealt with. There were many factors that force children to earn money at their early age such as lack of educational facilities provided by the government, lack of earning members in the family because of that they have to earn so that they can buy bread for their family, etc.

The problem of child labor is a very big problem in itself; our government has to make proper rules and measures to curb this problem and to provide the basic needs of a child to themselves.




The concept and practice of child labor are economically unsound psychologically disastrous and morally wrong. Economically unsound because the cheap child labor available displaces one worker from job employment. This is psychologically disastrous as the scars incurred during childhood remain embedded during youth and the rest of the life. It is also morally wrong because society is responsible for snatching the childhood of the person. In this cruel and callous system, the child is compelled to invest his/her labor to earn bread for him/her and family members.

Industrialization on large scale leads to many maladjustments. One such maladjustment in the employment of children in factories, workshops, and in other unregulated occupations. The economic practice of child labor in India dates back to the industrial revolution in the country.  Since then the demand for the industry for cheap labor grew so rapidly, labor among the employers increased in an unprecedented manner. Consequently, children began to be employed in organized factories and other industrial establishments in large numbers. “In the absence of state control over conditions for employment in any industry in India or of any legal or executive action for the protection of the child, appalling abuses came into existence and children of tender years were exploited and made to work for excessively long hours.”

Definition of child labor

It was only in December 1986 that the child labor (prohibition and regulation) Act, 1986 was enacted in India later in 2016, and 2017 there were some amendments. The act does not define what child labor is. But, child labor can be defined as the segment of the child population which participates in work either paid or unpaid. It can also be explained as the employment of children in gainful occupations. They materially contribute to the income of the family. Child labor in itself is a classic example of child abuse and exploitation.

According to UNICEF, child labor is exploitative if it involves:

  • Full-time work at a too early age
  • Too many hours spent working
  • Work that exerts undue physical, special or psychological stress;
  • Work and life on the streets in bad conditions;
  • Inadequate pay
  • Too much responsibility;
  • Work that hampers access to education;
  • Any kind of work that undermines children’s dignity and self-esteem, such as slavery or bonded labor and sexual exploitation
  • Work that is detrimental to full social and psychological development.

On the basis of their work, the children can be divided into four categories-

  1. Child laborers: It refers to such children who were doing paid or unpaid work in factories, shop workshops, establishments, mines, and in the service sector as domestic workers.
  2. Street children: It refers to those children living on the street who works as a rag picker, newspaper vendors, beggars, etc. they are always at the mercy of their employers and can be found on the pavement, dhabas, bus depots, railway stations, etc.
  3. Bonded child laborers: This refers to such children who have either been pledged by their parents for sums of money or rural areas they are working to pay the inherited debts of their fathers.
  4. Working children: it refers to those children who work as part of family labor in agriculture and household-based work. In this category, the number of the girl child – workers is comparatively higher.

The extent of child labor

Children have entered all industries in which they are not excluded by law and in which their unskilled labor and limited physical strength could be utilized. Occupation of children may be divided into four major groups:

  • Agriculture
  • Manufacture
  • Trade
  • Domestic and personal service

Agriculture is said to engage the largest number of children. The percentage of children gainfully employed in manufactures was quite low. The relative proportion of children employed in trade, domestic, and personnel services is not available. It is a fact that children do a considerable amount of labor of which there is no record. Some of these may not be legal. Street trades are also hard to eliminate. The unrecorded, if not illegal, employment of children in numerous other occupations (mica cutting, splitting, shellac manufacture, glass manufacture, carpet weaving, etc.) would make the problem of child labor of greater magnitude than the employment figures indicates.

Reduction in child labor after 1923

Data regarding the extent of employment of child labor is inadequate. The number of children varies greatly from the number actually at work. After the year 1923, the number of children working in the organized manufacturing industries fell considerably. This decline has been due to the formation of public sentiment against it and to the passage of numerous social laws.

The gradual reduction in the employment of child labor since independence is also partly due to the expansion of educational facilities by state and relatively better enforcement of statutory provisions relating to child labor. The evidence on the national commission on labor revealed that the employment of children was almost nonexistent in organized industries. As regards plantations, the employment of children has been considered which has raised various special problems of its own. It has been found that the children start working in the plantation from the age of six or seven years only.

Plantation Labor Act

The plantation labor act, 1951 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 12 years. For the purpose of this act, persons between the age of 15 and 18 are deemed to be adolescents. As regards mines, children formed a large part of the labor force in the early years of mining industries in India. Although the first Indian mines act of 1901 defined a child as a person under 12 years of age and granted power to the chief inspector to prohibits the employment of children when the condition in his opinion was dangerous to their safety, the provision was so defective that the children below 12 years still formed a considerable proportion of total labor force.

Indian Mines Act

The Indian mines act, 1923 defined a child under the age of 13 years are prohibited the employment of children in mine and their presence in any part of the mine which is underground. The mines act, 1952 also prohibits the presence of children in any part f the mine which is below the ground or in any open excavation in which mining operation is being carried out. The act fixes the age of employment below ground at 18. Employment of children below the prescribed limit is almost non- existent in the mines.

Evils of child labor

In fact, the problem of child labor involves various far-reaching socio-economic implications.

  • Firstly, the problem is directly related to the health care of the children as it exerts a negative effect on it.
  • Secondly, child labor gives birth to numerous economic problems. These include the use of labor at its lowest productivity implying thereby an inefficient utilization of labor power. It frequently precludes the most productive adulthood, thereby causing enormous economic loss to society.
  • Thirdly, the practice of employing children permits unfair competition with adult labor with the result that there may be extensive unemployment of the adults or the working conditions may be less satisfactory than they would otherwise have been there.
  • Fourthly, child labor tends to interfere with normal family life. It encourages the breakdown of social control which is largely responsible to preserve the existing social order.
  • Lastly, the practice of employing children interferes with their education. Moreover, it minimizes the chances for their vocational training thereby hampering their intellectual development.

Eradication of child labor

With the adoption and enactment of the constitution of India act by the constituent assembly in 1949, certain provisions were inserted in the constitution related to child labor. While article 24 prohibited the employment of children below the age of fourteen years to work in any factory or mine or in any hazardous employment, the directive principles of state policy made some provision for the state which is directed at child labor.

Among other directives, article 39 states that the state should direct its policy so that children are not forced by economic necessity to enter a vocation unsuited to their age or strength and that the children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner so that their childhood and youth are protected against exploitation. Similarly, article 45 casts a duty on the state to provide free and compulsory education for all the children until they complete the age of fourteen years.

In a landmark judgment given by the supreme court of India in M.C. Mehta vs. State of Tamilnadu&ors. The court ruled that all such children below 14 years of age must be given education as a mandate by article 45 through setting up a child labor rehabilitation welfare fund. Any employer found violating the provisions of the child labor act, 1986 would be liable to pay compensation of Rs. 20000 to the fund for every child employed and the appropriate government would be required to deposit Rs. 5000 in the fund. In case parents getting employment, the parent will have to avoid child labor since an alternative source of income would be available from the child labor rehabilitation welfare fund. Besides these, the court directed the government to identify the concentration of child labor for making a comprehensive plan to eliminate child labor.


The problem of child labor is not a problem in or by itself but it is a part of the larger problem of child welfare. The state owes a duty towards the child to protect him or her against the detrimental influences of all kinds. It is not enough to take the child out of the factory or out of the employment but together with the elimination of child labor, there should be legislation for compulsory free universal education and vocational as well as physical training and guidance and a program of all-sided development of the child. It is also necessary to realize that child labor is due to economic necessity. The provision of a suitable wage to the worker alone thus can solve the problem of child labor ultimately.

The problems of child labor can, therefore, be tackled in the long run by bringing about suitable changes in the economic and social structure of the society.

For the eradication of child labor, an immediate action plan has to be adopted on a long-term basis. The best interests of the child must guide such action. As the causes of child labor are complex. The solution must be comprehensive. And, efforts must be made to involve the widest possible range of each section of society and governance. The action program should include immediate elimination of child labor from hazardous and exploitative manufacturing process, free and compulsory education for all children, and comprehensive legal protection to the rights of the child, compulsory registration of all children at birth, continuous data collection and monitoring of child labor and comprehensive poverty alleviation programs. These steps will in the long run crush unmitigated social evil of child labor. This may lead to the welfare and development of the society and nation.


Amartya SharanAmartya Sharan






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