May 12, 2021

Child labour is any work performed by children that is harmful to their mental and physical development. The Central Government introduced the Child Labour (Prevention and Regulation) Act, 1986 to regulate child labour practices in India. The act was amended in 2016 and is currently called the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prevention and Regulation) Act, 1986. This act prohibits the employment of a child under the age of 14 in any establishment, whether in hazardous or not, with certain limitations. Children are permitted to work in family enterprises and as child artists, provided that it does not involve hazardous work, and work is carried out after school hours or during vacations. The term adolescent means persons whose age is between 14 to 18 years old. The 2016 amendment permitted the employment of adolescents, except in establishments that are of hazardous. The amendment also ensures that the children’s education between six to fourteen is not compromised through the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

India is a signatory with the United Nations’ Convention on the Right to Child, to protect the children’s interests and safeguard their rights. As per 2011 consensus, there were 10.13 million child labourers, between ages of 5-14 years. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Maharashtra constitute nearly 55% of the child labourers in the above-mentioned consensus. Due to India’s socio-economic conditions, a large number of children have been deprived of their childhood because of child labour and are forced to work to survive. 

The law on child labour in India allows children to work in their family business or perform as a child artist, but provides for punishments for illegal child labour. The Indian law declares child labour as a cognizable offence, i.e. the police have the authority to file a first information report and start with investigations, and make an arrest without a warrant without the order of the court. 

While the punishment for employers has enhanced, punishments for parents/guardians have been relaxed. 

  • Any employer involved in the employment of a child or allowing a child to work in any occupation against the law can be fined up to ₹20,000 to ₹50,000 or imprisonment between 6 months up to 2 years, or both. For instance: Employing a 10 year old child to work in a firework factory is a punishable offence. 
  • Employment of an adolescent or permitting them to work in hazardous conditions can lead to the payment of fine of ₹20,000 to ₹50,000 or imprisonment ranging from 6 months up to 2 years, or both. For example: Forcing a 17 year old boy to work in a mines factory is illegal, and calls for penalty and/or imprisonment. 
  • In cases where the above-mentioned offences have been committed once again illegally, one can be imprisoned for a period of 1 year to 3 years.
  • Parents who force their children to work in the family or as child artists or any occupations that are against the law can be punished. There is no punishment for parents or guardians performing a child labour offence for the first time, only a warning. But in case of a second offence, the penalty prescribed is a fine of maximum ₹10,000. 

The Child Labour Act provides rehabilitation for children and adolescents who have been the victims of child labour. It also provides for the setting up the Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund, which rescues and provides for the rehabilitation of children and adolescents subject to child labour. NGO’s like ChildLine Foundation, Child Rights and You (CRY), Save the Children India, which work for child rights and child protection, make great efforts to draw an end to illegal child labour. 

India has taken a significant step towards the prohibition and control of child labour which scars the victims physically and emotionally. The new amendments seem to be progressive and provide hope for the eradication of child labour. Although even with the laws being strict in its provisions, child labour is very much prevalent in cities. The lack of legal awareness, the lack of education, the lack of finance and the lack of implementation of the authorities’ laws are the key reasons for child labour growth. This social evil deprives children of their childhood and leads to clinical depression, substance abuse, and malnutrition. Given the magnitude of the problem, merely enactment of the law is not sufficient. Stricter laws need to be implemented in order to completely eradicate the evil of child labour.