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Saving childhoods

Steps India could take to eliminate child labour


Why in news?

  • On World Day Against Child Labour (June 12) in 2017, India ratified two core conventions of the International Labour Organization on child labour.
  • It now has to double its efforts to ensure that the benefit of those conventions reach the most vulnerable children.


  • Causes and nature of child labour: The factors that contribute to child labour – including “hazardous” child labour – include:
    • the poverty and illiteracy of a child’s parents,
    • the family’s social and economic circumstances,
    • a lack of awareness about the harmful effects of child labour,
    • lack of access to basic and meaningful quality education and skills training,
    • high rates of adult unemployment and under-employment, and
    • the cultural values of the family and surrounding society.
    • Often children are also bonded to labour due to a family indebtedness.
    • Out of school children (OOSC) or those children at risk of dropping out can easily be drawn into work and a more vulnerable to exploitation.
    • Girls, especially those from socially disadvantaged groups, tend to be at a higher risk of being forced into work.
  • Other reasons for children being forced into work:
    • Poverty and a lack of livelihood options lead to a child’s “need” to contribute to the family income,
    • Due to conflicts, droughts and other natural disasters, and family indebtedness,
    • Rural poverty and urban migration also often exposes children to being trafficked for work.
    • Children are employed because they are cheap and pliable to the demands of the employer and not aware of their rights.

India’s achievements in eliminating child labor

  • India is among the only 14 countries to have made significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in 2017.
  • In 2017, India made a significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
  • The Indian government ratified both ILO Convention 182 and Convention 138 and amended the Child Labor Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 years from working in hazardous occupations and processes.
  • The government also launched the ‘Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour’ to more effectively enforce child labour laws and implement the ‘National Child Labour Programme’.
    • In addition, the government released a new ‘National Plan of Action for Children’ that implements the ‘National Policy for Children’, which includes a focus on child labourers, trafficked children, and other vulnerable children.


  • Children in India engage in the worst forms of child labour, including in forced labour producing garments and quarrying stones.
  • The Child Labour Act’s hazardous work prohibitions do not include all occupations in which children work in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time.
    • Penalties for employing children are insufficient to deter violations, and the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups is not criminally prohibited.
  • Data: Although comprehensive data on child labour are not available for India, as per the 2011 Census, in the age group 5-14 years, 10.1 million of 259.6 million constituted working children.
    • Even though there was a decline in the number of working children to 3.9% in 2011 from 5% in 2001, the decline rate is grossly insufficient to meet target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to end child labour in all forms by 2025.


  • India needs to embark on new and innovative approaches in its fight against child labour.
  • The ratification of the core conventions on child labour gives rise to a range of priorities such as –
    • strengthening policy and legislative enforcement, and
    • building the capacities of government, workers’ and employers’ organisations as well as other partners at national, State and community levels.
  • It is worthy of mention that India had taken important steps to eliminate child labour even before ratifying these conventions.
  • In addition, there are a few more important steps that the country can take in this direction.
    • India should invest in enhancing its body of knowledge on child labour, emphasising quantitative information.
    • While there are many common factors across the spectrum, each sector and each demographical segment will have its own set of factors and drivers that push children into the labour market.
    • These have to be addressed. Such factors and drivers can only be identified and analysed through proper research, surveys and assessments.

Way forward

  • SDG: Eliminating child labour is firmly placed within Goal 8 of the SDGs.
    • A stronger nexus between the discourse on SDGs and the discourse on eliminating child labour can take the advantage of complementarities and synergies of a wide range of actors engaged in both areas of work.
  • Private sector: The growing interest of the private sector is a great opportunity that has to be further utilised, particularly to leverage key influencers in domestic and multinational supply chains.
    • It is also a matter of competitive advantage for multi-nationals to ensure that child labour is effectively eliminated in their supply chains.
    • A sector-wide culture of child labour-free businesses has to be nurtured.
  • As the world of work is transforming and new actors are emerging, one cannot underestimate the importance of creating a sound and vibrant platform to bring together these actors.
  • The fight against child labour is not just the responsibility of one, it is the responsibility of all.

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