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Lost Childhoods: Current Trends and Challenges in India's Child Labour Laws

"There is no greater violence than to deny the dreams of our Children." - Kailash Satyarthi

Child labour is a major problem in India since early labour market participation during a child's formative years means skipping out on a proper education, which reduces the child's chances of earning more money in the future. Child labour is a complicated issue that has its roots mostly in poverty.

Childhood is a crucial period in human development since it can shape any society's fate. Children who are raised in an environment that supports their intellectual, physical, and social growth will grow up to be responsible and useful members of society. As a result, every society connects its present with its children's future.

When it comes to defining the boundaries of child labour, religious and cultural beliefs can be misleading and obfuscating. This article examines the numerous causes of child labour and seeks to identify the instances of discrimination in the industry. The article argues that the eradication of child labour requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond legal interventions to address the root causes of the problem, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and social norms that devalue children's rights. The article concludes with a call for stronger protections and government policies that prioritize the welfare of children and their right to a childhood free from exploitation and harm.

Child labour has been a long-standing problem in India, with an estimated 10.1 million children aged between 5 and 14 years involved in child labor in 2011, according to a survey conducted by the Indian government. Despite the existence of laws and policies aimed at preventing child labour and protecting children's rights, the practice persists in various sectors of the Indian economy, including agriculture, domestic work, and the informal sector.

In recent years, there have been some positive developments in India's efforts to address child labour. In 2016, the government amended the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which banned the employment of children under 14 in all occupations and processes. The amendment also prohibited the employment of adolescents between 14 and 18 years in hazardous occupations and processes. However, there have also been some concerning trends related to child labour in India.

For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in child labour as families struggle to make ends meet due to job losses and reduced incomes.[1] Additionally, there is evidence of children being exploited in the informal sector, such as in home-based work and in the production of goods for export. Also, there are challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of child labour laws in India.

The government has limited resources and capacity to monitor and enforce child labour laws effectively, and there are also issues related to corruption and lack of awareness among stakeholders. Moreover, there are social and cultural factors that contribute to the prevalence of child labour in India, including poverty, lack of access to education, and social norms that devalue children's rights.

The article on child labour in India in light of current trends provides an overview of the legal framework, implementation, and enforcement of child labour laws in India, as well as the social and cultural factors that contribute to the problem. The article also discusses the challenges and opportunities related to addressing child labour in India and highlights the need for a comprehensive approach that goes beyond legal interventions.

The article begins with a brief background on child labour in India, highlighting the prevalence of the problem and the persistence of child labour despite existing laws and policies. It then provides an overview of the legal framework related to child labour, including recent amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

The article goes on to discuss the challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of child labour laws in India, including issues related to resources, capacity, corruption, and lack of awareness among stakeholders. The article also examines the social and cultural factors that contribute to child labour in India, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and social norms that devalue children's rights.

Legal Framework For Child Labour In India:

The necessity for legislation and statutes to forbid the harmful use of child labour was recognised when, in the 20th century, child employment became so prevalent that stories of factory accidents and risks killing innocent children splashed all over the press.

Today, many laws exist to criticise and forbid child labour, including: [2]

  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986: This law prohibits the employment of children below 14 years of age in hazardous occupations and processes, and regulates the conditions of work of children in non-hazardous occupations and processes. The law was amended in 2016 to prohibit the employment of children below 14 years of age in all occupations and processes.

  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015: This law provides for the care, protection, and rehabilitation of children in need of care and protection, including those who are victims of child labour.

  • The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009: This law provides for free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14 years.

  • The National Child Labor Project Scheme: This is a government scheme that aims to withdraw children from work and provide them with education and vocational training.
  • The National Policy for Children, 2013: This policy provides for the protection, development, and participation of children in all aspects of life, including education, health, and social welfare.

  • The National Action Plan for Children, 2016: This plan provides a framework for implementing the National Policy for Children and addresses issues related to child labour, child trafficking, and child abuse.
The legal framework related to child labour in India has several strengths and weaknesses.
Some of these are:
  • Strengths:
    Despite the prevalence of child labour in India, the country has a legal framework in place to address the issue. The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, prohibits the employment of children below 14 years of age in hazardous occupations and processes and regulates the conditions of work of children in non-hazardous occupations and processes.

    The law was further strengthened in 2016 to prohibit the employment of children below 14 years of age in all occupations and processes. India has also ratified several international conventions related to child labor, demonstrating its commitment to addressing the issue. Another strength of the legal framework is the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which provides for the care, protection, and rehabilitation of children in need of care and protection, including those who are victims of child labor. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, provides for free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14 years, which is essential for preventing child labour and promoting the well-being of children.
  • Weaknesses:
    Notwithstanding the legal framework, there are several weaknesses in addressing child labour in India. One of the main challenges is the lack of effective implementation and enforcement of laws. The government agencies responsible for enforcing child labour laws lack the resources, capacity, and political will to effectively address the issue. Corruption is also a major issue, with some officials turning a blind eye to child labour in exchange for bribes.

    Another weakness is the cultural and social acceptance of child labour in India. Many families are forced to rely on the income of their children to make ends meet, and there is a lack of awareness among parents and communities about the negative impact of child labour on children's physical, emotional, and cognitive development. There is also a lack of social protection measures for vulnerable families, such as access to healthcare, education, and social welfare programs.

    In addition, the legal framework does not adequately address the issue of child labour in the informal sector, which accounts for a significant proportion of child labour in India. Children working in the informal sector are often invisible and not protected by labour laws, making it difficult to address the issue. Finally, there is a need for greater collaboration and coordination among government agencies, civil society organizations, and international organizations to address the issue of child labour in India.

Implementation of child labour laws in India:

Challenges to effective implementation:

Child labour has undoubtedly become a social and economic issue throughout time, but there are a number of reasons why parents permit their children to work, with poverty and a lack of quality public education being the two most significant. "Bounded labour" is the worst type of child labour. Children who are sold by their parents to make money, settle debts, or repay loans are the subject of this term.

This is how our social structure looks when a youngster is made a victim at a young age.[3] It establishes the employee-slave relationship as an ongoing aspect of societal structure. In rural India, child labour of this kind is widespread. Child labour is directly affected by widespread unemployment and job losses since children of all ages are compelled to work.

The Child Labour Act, a piece of legislation intended to prevent child working, has not been successful in doing so, and the union government's revision to the law, which allows children younger than 14 years of age to work in "non-hazardous" family businesses, was seen as a step backward. The implementation of the labour law and the compulsory education system has proven ineffective.

While the labour department may assert that it is following the script, the reality on the ground depicts a quite different picture, especially in the informal sector. Children are compelled to work as domestic helpers, bus drivers, in auto shops and garages, in the weaving industry, and as street vendors.

Family obligations, which are related to high unemployment and the weakening state of the economy, have become indisputable factors contributing to an increase in child labour, while inadequate enforcement of the law has slowed the fight against it.

Role of Government and Other Stake Holders[4]:

  • Employers:
    Employers have a responsibility to ensure that they do not exploit child labour and to create safe and healthy working conditions for all workers. This includes complying with labor laws, providing fair wages and benefits, and ensuring that children are not employed in hazardous or exploitative work.

  • Civil society organizations:
    Civil society organizations can play a critical role in advocating for the rights of children, raising awareness about the harmful effects of child labour, and providing support to child labourers and their families. They can also monitor and report on violations of child labour laws and advocate for their enforcement.

  • Parents and communities:
    Parents and communities can play a role in preventing child labour by valuing education, advocating for their children's rights, and creating safe and supportive environments for children. Communities can also work together to identify and report instances of child labour and support the rehabilitation and reintegration of child labourers.

  • International organizations:
    International organizations, such as the United Nations and the International Labour Organization, can provide technical and financial support to governments and civil society organizations to address child labour. They can also help to develop international standards and guidelines for the prevention and elimination of child labour.

  • Government:
    The government has a primary responsibility to protect children from labour exploitation and to enforce child labour laws. This includes ensuring that laws are effective, developing policies to address the root causes of child labour, and allocating resources for prevention, protection, and rehabilitation of child labourers.

The Government of India has implemented various schemes to prevent and address child labour in the country.
Some of the key schemes are:
National Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme aims to rehabilitate child labourers and prevent children from entering the labor force. Under this scheme, special schools are set up for child labourers, where they are provided with formal education, vocational training, and nutritional support.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is a flagship program of the Government of India for the universalization of elementary education in the country. The program aims to provide free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 years.

Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is a scheme that provides a package of services for the holistic development of children under the age of six years, including health care, nutrition, and early childhood education.

National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme aims to provide employment to rural households, including those with children, to prevent them from engaging in labour for survival. Under this scheme, households are provided with at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year.

Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao is a campaign that aims to address the issue of declining child sex ratio and promote the education of girls. The campaign encourages parents to send their girls to school and provides financial incentives to families for the education of girls.

These schemes aim to prevent and address child labour by providing education, vocational training, and employment opportunities to children and their families. The government is also working towards strengthening the legal framework for child labour and improving its enforcement.

Case Laws[5]:
  • A bench of S Mukhopadhaya and N Tiwari ruled in Ganesh Ram v. State of Jharkhand and Others on April 5, 2006, that if a person under the age of 14 gets employed, a penal order may be issued against the employer under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation Act of 1986), but no such order may be issued against the employee.

  • "Delhi High Court directs the Govt. of NCT of Delhi to come out with a proper scheme to address the issue of rehabilitation of these rescued children by providing some kind of economic help so that the parents or guardians do not force them to work as child labourers again to meet with their basic needs and to supplement their income for their basic survival," stated the court in Jayakumar Nat & Anr vs. State Of NCT Of Delhi & Anr on September 4, 2015.

  • State of Tamil Nadu v. M.C. Mehta, 1997:
    This case is regarding the constitutional perspective on the elimination of child labour and the hiring of children under the age of 14 at the infamous Sivakasi Match Industries. The Court stated that the orders were practicable and inevitable and reaffirmed the need for their swift execution after taking account of the reason why the constitutional duty had not been carried out.

The Link Between Child Labor And Human Trafficking:

Vulnerability Of Male Children To Human Trafficking:

Human trafficking of male children for child labour is a pervasive issue in India. Boys are often targeted for labor trafficking due to their perceived physical strength, which makes them ideal for heavy manual labour. Male child labourers are forced to work in a variety of industries, including agriculture, mining, construction, and manufacturing.

The traffickers, often working in collusion with local recruiters, lure the children with false promises of decent wages and working conditions. However, once the children arrive at the job site, they are often forced to work in hazardous conditions for long hours without adequate food, water, or rest. They are subjected to physical, emotional, and sometimes sexual abuse.

Many of these children come from poor families and are forced to work to support their families. In some cases, parents are deceived into giving their children away, while in other cases, children are abducted or sold. Once they are trafficked, it is difficult for them to escape as they may be isolated from their families, community and do not have any legal or social support. Male child labourers are denied their basic rights such as education, healthcare, and a safe and secure environment. They are often subjected to extreme poverty and exploitation, which has a long-lasting impact on their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to thrive in the future.

Exploitation And Abuse Of Female Child Laborers:

Human trafficking of female children as child labour is a major problem in India. Girls are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers, where they are forced to work in a variety of industries, such as textiles, domestic work, and agriculture. They are often sold or lured with promises of work, but once they reach their destination, they are forced to work in hazardous conditions for long hours without proper food, water, or rest.

The traffickers often target vulnerable girls from poor families, who are more likely to be lured by the promise of income. Girls may also be trafficked by family members or acquaintances who falsely promise employment or marriage. Once they are trafficked, the girls may be forced to work for years without any contact with their families. Female child labourers are subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by their employers, and many suffer from malnutrition, illness, and injury due to the harsh working conditions.

They are often denied basic human rights, such as education, healthcare, and a safe and secure environment. Girls who are trafficked for labor are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, as they often have limited legal protections and social support. They may also face discrimination based on their gender, which can exacerbate their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.

Physical And Emotional Impact On Children As Child Labourers:

  • Physical impact:
    Children who work in hazardous conditions, such as in mines, factories, and construction sites, are at risk of physical injury and illness. They may suffer from respiratory problems, skin diseases, and other health problems due to exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants. They may also experience physical injuries from accidents, falls, and machinery. Child labourers are often subjected to long hours of work without proper rest, leading to fatigue, exhaustion, and malnutrition. This can result in stunted growth, weakened immune systems, and other health problems.
  • Emotional impact:
    Child labour can have a lasting emotional impact on children, affecting their self-esteem, confidence, and sense of identity. Children who work may experience feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety, as they are often separated from their families and peers. They may also suffer from trauma and stress due to abusive and exploitative working conditions. Child labour can also limit a child's access to education, preventing them from reaching their full potential and perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Children who are forced to work miss out on the opportunities for learning and personal growth that come with attending school, which can have a long-term impact on their lives and future prospects.

Social And Cultural Factors Contributing To Child Labor In India[6]:

Parents that are socially backward do not send their kids to school. As a result, their kids are forced into child employment. Many times, parents are unaware of different information and programmes for children's education because of illiteracy. Child labour has been fostered by a lack of education, illiteracy, and, as a result, a lack of awareness of rights ,among children. Additionally, uneducated parents are unaware of the effects child labour has on their children. Rural households have a compulsive reason for including kids in a variety of duties due to the situations of poverty and unemployment. In actuality, India's child labour issue is still perpetuated by the remains of the feudal, zamindari system.

There Are Various Kinds Of Social Factors Contributing To Child Labour:
  1. Dependency, ailment, or impairment:
    Due to addiction, illness, or handicap, there is often no income in the family, and the child's wages are the only source of support. Additionally, when the population grows, unemployment rises, which has a negative effect on efforts to prevent child labour. In order to boost the family's income, parents are willing to send their kids to work instead of enrolling them in school.
  2. Inadequate adherence to regulations, nonconformity with laws:
    Laws mandate that people have the right to a quality education, access to quality healthcare, and self-care. Every citizen has the right to enjoy all forms of entertainment, play the games they want, and when they're older, to find a job that will allow them to make a good living and give back to their community and country. But child labour is still being used in India because the regulations are not being followed properly. Only rigorous adherence to the relevant laws will make it unlawful.
  3. Attraction to inexpensive workforce:
    Some shops, businesses, and factory owners hire children out of a desire for cheap employment so that they can pay them less, which amounts to hiring cheap labour. Shopkeepers and other small business owners make children work just as hard as older people while only paying them half as much. Child labour also reduces the likelihood of theft, greed, or money misappropriation.
  4. Heritage convention:
    The sad but bitter truth is that child labour is frequently excused in many households in our culture under the guise of tradition or custom. At the voluntary level, cultural and traditional family values contribute to India's growing problem of child labour. Many families think that a nice life is not in their future and that the only way they can get money and support themselves is through the age-old practise of labour. The selfishness of small business owners who want to carry on their family firm with lower production costs also wastes the lives of their children. Some families also think that putting their children to work from an early age will help them become more responsible and savvy adults.
  5. Bias between males and females:
    We have been socialised to believe that boys are stronger than girls and that they cannot be compared on an equal footing. In our society, there are still numerous instances where girls are denied the opportunity to pursue their education. Girls who are considered as being weaker than boys are denied access to education and school. Girls are often found working alongside their parents in families who are labourers.

Comprehensive Approach To Addressing Child Labor In India In Paragraph:
Addressing child labour in India requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. Firstly, strong legislative measures and enforcement mechanisms must be put in place to prohibit and penalize child labour practices. This includes regularly updating and strengthening existing laws, increasing penalties for offenders, and ensuring effective implementation and monitoring.

Secondly, there needs to be a focus on addressing the root causes of child labour, such as poverty, lack of education, and limited economic opportunities. This involves implementing poverty alleviation programs, promoting inclusive and quality education, and creating skill development initiatives for vulnerable families. Additionally, raising awareness among communities, parents, and employers about the negative impacts of child labour is essential to change societal attitudes and behaviors.

Collaboration between the government, civil society organizations, and international stakeholders is crucial to pool resources, share best practices, and coordinate efforts in combating child labour. Furthermore, providing support and rehabilitation services for rescued child labourers is vital to their physical, psychological, and social well-being. By adopting this comprehensive approach, India can make significant strides in eradicating child labour and ensuring a brighter future for its children.

In conclusion, child labour remains a pressing issue in India, posing numerous challenges to the well-being and development of children. It is a violation of their rights, depriving them of their childhood, education, and opportunities for a better future. However, concerted efforts are being made to address this problem through legislative measures, awareness campaigns, and social initiatives.

It is crucial to continue implementing and strengthening child labour laws, improving enforcement mechanisms, and addressing the underlying causes of child labour such as poverty and lack of education. This article highlights the current trends and challenges of child labour laws in India.

It emphasizes the physical and emotional impacts on children engaged in labour, the strengths and weaknesses of the legal framework, and the role of the government and other stakeholders.

The challenges to effective enforcement and the link between child labour and human trafficking are also discussed. The article sheds light on various government schemes aimed at preventing child labour. Also, it calls for a comprehensive approach involving strong legislation, poverty alleviation, education, awareness, and rehabilitation programs to effectively address child labour in India and ensure the well-being and future prospects of its children. Only through collective action we can ensure a brighter and more equitable future for the


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