Child Labour in India: Magnitude, Causes, Impacts and Solutions | UPSC

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  • Child labour refers to the employment of children in any form of work that deprives them of their childhood, potential, dignity, and is harmful to their physical and mental development.
  • It encompasses work that is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children, or work that interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely, or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

Magnitude of Child Labour in India

  • As per Census 2011, the total child population in India in the age group (5-14) years is 259.6 million. Of these, 10.1 million (3.9% of total child population) are working, either as ‘main worker’ or as ‘marginal worker’. In addition, more than 42.7 million children in India are out of school.
  • However, the good news is that the incidence of child labour has decreased in India by 2.6 million between 2001 and 2011.
  • Also, the decline was more visible in rural areas, while the number of child workers has increased in urban areas, indicating the growing demand for child workers in menial jobs.



Magnitude of Child Labour in India

Causes of Child Labour in India

Causes of Child Labour in India

  • Child labour in India persists due to a combination of complex and interconnected factors, including:

a) Poverty:

  • Poverty is one of the primary drivers of child labour. Families living in poverty often rely on the income their children can bring in to supplement household earnings.
  • In many cases, children are sent to work instead of attending school to help meet basic needs.

b) Lack of Access to Education:

  • Despite efforts to improve access to education, many children in India still face barriers such as inadequate infrastructure, lack of schools, and high associated costs.
  • Additionally, cultural attitudes and norms may prioritize boys’ education over girls’, leading to higher dropout rates among girls.

c) Social and Cultural Norms:

  • Traditional attitudes towards children’s roles and responsibilities contribute to the acceptance of child labour in many communities.
  • Children are often expected to contribute to household chores and income generation from a young age, perpetuating the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

d) Weak Legislative Enforcement:

  • Although India has laws in place to prohibit and regulate child labour, enforcement remains a challenge due to factors such as corruption, lack of resources, and the prevalence of the informal economy where child labour is common.
  • Additionally, some industries may exploit loopholes in regulations to employ children illegally.

e) Migration and Urbanization:

  • Rural-to-urban migration and internal migration from impoverished regions create vulnerable populations susceptible to exploitation.
  • Children from migrant families may end up working in urban industries, construction sites, or as domestic workers, often without proper legal protections or access to education.

f) Family Circumstances:

  • In some cases, family circumstances such as parental illness, disability, or death may force children into the workforce to support their families.
  • Orphaned or abandoned children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and may end up in hazardous or exploitative work environments.

g) Demand for Cheap Labour:

  • Industries seeking to minimize costs may exploit child labour to cut expenses and maximize profits.
  • Sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, textiles, and construction often employ children due to their willingness to work for lower wages and their perceived suitability for certain tasks.

Addressing child labour in India requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes while simultaneously providing support and alternatives for affected children and their families. This includes strengthening enforcement of existing laws, improving access to education, tackling poverty through social welfare programs, raising awareness about the importance of child rights, and promoting sustainable economic development.

Impacts of Child Labour in India

  • The impact of child labour in India is extensive and affects various aspects of society, the economy, and the well-being of children. Some of the key impacts include:

a) Education:

  • Child labour deprives children of their right to education. Many children are forced to drop out of school or are unable to attend school regularly due to their work responsibilities. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty as education is a crucial pathway out of poverty.

b) Health:

  • Children engaged in labour often work in hazardous conditions without proper safety measures. They are exposed to physical dangers such as accidents, injuries, and exposure to harmful substances. Long hours of work also contribute to physical exhaustion, malnutrition, and stunted growth.

c) Psychological Well-being:

  • Child labour can have long-lasting effects on the mental and emotional well-being of children. They may experience stress, anxiety, and depression due to the demands of work, separation from their families, and exposure to abuse and exploitation.

d) Inter-generational Poverty:

  • Children trapped in child labour are more likely to remain in poverty as adults. Without access to education and opportunities for skill development, they are unable to break the cycle of poverty and may perpetuate the cycle by passing it on to their own children.

e) Economic Impact:

  • While child labour may provide short-term economic benefits to families, it has long-term negative consequences for the economy. A poorly educated and unhealthy workforce reduces productivity and hinders economic growth. Moreover, child labour perpetuates low wages and a cycle of poverty, which undermines efforts to achieve sustainable development.

f) Social Development:

  • Child labour undermines efforts to achieve social development goals such as gender equality and social inclusion. Girls are disproportionately affected by child labour, often subjected to domestic work and other forms of exploitation. This limits their opportunities for personal development and economic empowerment.

g) Human Rights Violations:

  • Child labour is a violation of children’s fundamental rights, as enshrined in international conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It denies children their right to education, protection from harm, and the opportunity to enjoy a safe and nurturing childhood.

Addressing the impact of child labour in India requires a comprehensive approach that includes legislative reforms, enforcement of existing laws, investment in education and social welfare programs, poverty alleviation measures, and awareness-raising campaigns.

By prioritizing the rights and well-being of children, India can work towards eliminating child labour and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to grow, learn, and thrive in a safe and supportive environment.

International and National Provisions to curb the practice of Child Labour?

  • To address the global challenge of child labour, there are several international and national provisions aimed at curbing this practice. Here’s an overview:

a) International Provisions:

i) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC):

  • This treaty, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children. It emphasizes the right of children to be protected from economic exploitation and hazardous work.

ii) International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions:

  • The ILO has several conventions related to child labour, including:
  • ILO Convention No. 138: Sets the minimum age for admission to employment, with a recommendation for countries to progressively raise the minimum age.
  • ILO Convention No. 182: Addresses the worst forms of child labour, including slavery, trafficking, forced labor, and involvement in hazardous work.

iii) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • Goal 8.7 of the SDGs aims to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms.”

b) National Provisions in India:

i) The Constitution of India:

  • The Constitution prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 in hazardous industries and occupations under Article 24. It also directs the state to provide free and compulsory education to children aged 6 to 14 under Article 21A.

ii) Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986:

  • This legislation prohibits the employment of children in certain hazardous occupations and processes and regulates the working conditions in non-hazardous occupations.

iii) Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009:

  • The RTE Act mandates free and compulsory education for children aged 6 to 14 years. It aims to ensure that every child has access to quality education and is not engaged in child labor due to lack of schooling opportunities.

iv) National Policy on Child Labour, 1987:

  • This policy outlines the government’s commitment to eradicate child labor and rehabilitate children working in hazardous occupations. It emphasizes the importance of education, social protection, and poverty alleviation measures.

v) National Child Labour Project (NCLP):

  • Implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, NCLP aims to rehabilitate and mainstream child laborers into formal education and skill development programs. It provides non-formal education, vocational training, and stipends to children rescued from hazardous work.

vi) Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS):

  • ICDS provides a range of services, including nutrition, health, and early childhood education, to children under six years of age. By addressing the underlying causes of child labor such as malnutrition and lack of access to education, ICDS contributes to preventing child labor.

vii) National Human Rights Commission (NHRC):

  • NHRC plays a crucial role in monitoring and investigating violations of children’s rights, including child labor. It works to ensure the effective implementation of laws and policies related to child protection and welfare.
  • Despite these provisions, the eradication of child labor remains a complex challenge in India, requiring coordinated efforts from governments, civil society organizations, employers, and communities. Enforcement of existing laws, investment in education and social protection programs, poverty alleviation measures, and awareness-raising campaigns are essential to effectively combat child labor and ensure that every child enjoys their right to a safe and nurturing childhood.

Challenges in combating Child labour in India

  • Combating child labour in India is a complex and multifaceted challenge, with several interconnected factors contributing to its persistence. Some of the key challenges include:

a) Poverty and Economic Inequality:

  • Poverty is one of the primary drivers of child labour in India. Many families living below the poverty line rely on the income their children bring in to meet basic needs. Addressing child labour requires broader efforts to alleviate poverty, improve access to economic opportunities, and ensure social protection for vulnerable families.

b) Lack of Access to Education:

  • Despite efforts to improve access to education, many children in India still face barriers such as inadequate infrastructure, lack of transportation, and socio-cultural norms that prioritize boys’ education over girls’. Quality education is essential for preventing child labour and breaking the cycle of poverty.

c) Weak Enforcement of Laws:

  • While India has legislation in place to prohibit and regulate child labour, enforcement remains a significant challenge. Limited resources, corruption, and gaps in monitoring and inspection mechanisms contribute to a lack of accountability among employers who exploit child labour.

d) Informal Economy and Supply Chains:

  • Child labour is prevalent in India’s vast informal economy, including sectors such as agriculture, domestic work, and small-scale manufacturing. Global supply chains also play a role, as demand for cheap labor incentivizes subcontracting to smaller units where child labour may be prevalent.

e) Social and Cultural Norms:

  • Traditional attitudes towards children’s roles and responsibilities, as well as gender norms, contribute to the acceptance of child labour in some communities. Changing these attitudes requires targeted awareness-raising campaigns and community-based interventions that emphasize the importance of education and child rights.

f) Migration and Trafficking:

  • Internal migration and trafficking exacerbate the problem of child labour, as children from marginalized communities are often lured into exploitative work situations in urban areas or as part of trafficking networks. Addressing child labour requires coordinated efforts to combat trafficking, provide support to migrant families, and strengthen child protection systems.

g) Inadequate Social Protection:

  • Many children engaged in labour lack access to essential services such as healthcare, nutrition, and social welfare support. Strengthening social protection systems, including schemes targeting vulnerable families and child-specific interventions, is crucial for preventing and addressing child labour.

h) Lack of Data and Research:

  • Limited data on the prevalence and characteristics of child labour make it challenging to design targeted interventions and measure progress effectively. Improving data collection and research on child labour is essential for evidence-based policymaking and program implementation.

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-sectoral approach involving government agencies, civil society organizations, employers, and communities. Efforts should focus on strengthening legislative and enforcement mechanisms, expanding access to education and social protection, promoting alternative livelihood options for families, and raising awareness about children’s rights and the harmful effects of child labour. Collaboration at the local, national, and international levels is essential to effectively combat child labour and ensure that every child has the opportunity to grow, learn, and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment.

Conclusion and way forward

  • Moving forward, combating child labour in India requires a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach that addresses the root causes of the problem while implementing targeted interventions to protect children’s rights and well-being. Here are some key strategies for moving forward:

a) Strengthen Legislative Framework:

  • Enhance existing laws and policies related to child labour, including stricter enforcement mechanisms, increased penalties for violators, and greater coordination among government agencies at the national, state, and local levels.

b) Improve Access to Education:

  • Invest in expanding access to quality education for all children, with a particular focus on marginalized communities and vulnerable groups. This includes addressing barriers such as poverty, lack of infrastructure, and socio-cultural norms that hinder school attendance, especially for girls.

c) Enhance Social Protection:

  • Strengthen social protection systems to provide support and assistance to vulnerable families, including cash transfers, food assistance, healthcare services, and childcare support. Targeted interventions should prioritize families at risk of resorting to child labour due to economic hardship.

d) Promote Decent Work for Adults:

  • Create opportunities for decent work and livelihoods for adults, thereby reducing the economic necessity for children to work. This includes promoting entrepreneurship, skills development, and access to formal employment with fair wages and safe working conditions.

e) Combat Trafficking and Exploitation:

  • Strengthen efforts to combat human trafficking and exploitation, including through law enforcement, victim support services, and awareness-raising campaigns. Focus on preventing children from being trafficked and ensuring the safe return and rehabilitation of trafficking survivors.

f) Community Engagement and Awareness:

  • Engage communities, including parents, teachers, religious leaders, and local authorities, in efforts to raise awareness about the harms of child labour and promote positive attitudes towards education and children’s rights. Empower communities to take ownership of child protection initiatives and advocate for change.

g) Invest in Data and Research:

  • Improve data collection and research on the prevalence and characteristics of child labour to inform evidence-based policymaking and programmatic interventions. This includes conducting surveys, studies, and evaluations to better understand the root causes of child labour and monitor progress over time.

h) Promote Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):

  • Encourage businesses to adhere to ethical labor practices and corporate social responsibility standards, including eliminating child labour from their supply chains. This can be achieved through engagement, monitoring, and incentivizing responsible business conduct.

i) Empower Children:

  • Empower children to advocate for their rights and participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Provide platforms for children to express their views, access education and vocational training, and develop life skills to protect themselves from exploitation.

j) International Cooperation:

  • Collaborate with international organizations, donor agencies, and other countries to exchange best practices, resources, and technical expertise in combating child labour. Strengthen partnerships to address transnational issues such as trafficking and forced labor.

By implementing these strategies in a coordinated and sustained manner, India can make significant progress towards eradicating child labour and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to live free from exploitation, receive a quality education, and realize their full potential.

Practice Question for UPSC Mains

Q . What are the factors that perpetuate child labor in India, and what policy measures can effectively address this issue, considering its multifaceted nature? (Answer in 250 words)

Q . Child labour is both a cause and consequence of poverty. Comment. (Answer in 250 words)

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