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National Legislation and Policies Against Child Labour in India


The Constitution of India (26 January 1950), through various articles enshrined in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy, lays down that:

  • No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment (Article 24);
  • The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to 14 years. (Article 21 (A));
  • The State shall direct its policy towards securing that the health and strength of workers, men and women and the tender age of children are not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age and strength (Article 39-e);
  • Children shall be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth shall be protected against moral and material abandonment (Article 39-f);
  • The State shall endeavour to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years (Article 45).

Child labour is a matter on which both the Union Government and state governments can legislate. A number of legislative initiatives have been undertaken at both levels. The major national legislative developments include the following:

  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in 16 occupations and 65 processes that are hazardous to the children's lives and health. These occupations and processes are listed in the Schedule to the Act. In October 2006, the Government has included children working in the domestic sector as well as roadside eateries and motels under the prohibited list of hazardous occupations. More recently, in September 2008 diving as well as process involving excessive heat (e.g. working near a furnace) and cold; mechanical fishing; food processing; beverage industry; timber handling and loading; mechanical lumbering; warehousing; and processes involving exposure to free silica such as slate, pencil industry, stone grinding, slate stone mining, stone quarries as well as the agate industry were added to the list of prohibited occupations and processes;
  • The Factories Act, 1948: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years. An adolescent aged between 15 and 18 years can be employed in a factory only if he obtains a certificate of fitness from an authorized medical doctor. The Act also prescribes four and a half hours of work per day for children aged between 14 and 18 years and prohibits their working during night hours.
  • The Mines Act, 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine. Further, it states that apprentices above 16 may be allowed to work under proper supervision in a mine.
  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2000: This Act was last amended in 2002 in conformity with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child covers young persons below 18 years of age. Section 26 of this Act deals with the Exploitation of a Juvenile or Child Employee, and provides in relevant part, that whoever procures a juvenile or the child for the purpose of any hazardous employment and keeps him in bondage and withholds his earnings or uses such earning for his own purposes shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable for fine. In some States, including Karnataka and Maharashtra, this provision has been used effectively to bring to book many child labour employers who are otherwise not covered by any other law and to give relief and rehabilitation benefits to a large number of children.
  • The Minimum Wages Act, 1948: Prescribes minimum wages for all employees i n all estabilishments or to those working at home in certain sectors specified in the schedule of the Act. Central and State Governments can revise minimum wages specified in the schedule. Some consider this Act as an effective instrument to combat child labour in that it is being used in some States (such as Andhra Pradesh) as the basis on which to prosecute employers who are employing children and paying them lower wages.
  • The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009: Provides for free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. This legislation also envisages that 25 per cent of seats in every private school should be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups including diffirently abled children.( * )

An important judicial intervention in the action against child labour in India was the M.C. Mehta case (1996) in which The Supreme Court, directed the Union and state governments to identify all children working in hazardous processes and occupations, to withdraw them from work, and to provide them with quality education. The Court also directed that a Child Labour Rehabilitation-cum-Welfare Fund be set up using contributions from employers who contravene the Child Labour Act. Additionaly, in 1993, the Supreme Court in Unnikrishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh ruled that each child has the right to free education until he or she completes the age of 14 years. Artcle 21-A which was incorporated into the Constitution reflects this standard. In 2005, the M.V. Foundation, an NGO working on child rights brought a public interest litigation petition which argues that child labour up to the age of compulsory education is unconstitutional and is a negation of rights under Article 21-A which provides for compulsory education up to the age of 14. This case is still pending before the Supreme Court. Notably however, under this case the Court has asked the Government to file a status report on the implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government programme providing free and compulsory eduction to all children.

India is a signatory to the:

  • ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29);
  • ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105);
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Government policies and programmes

In pursuance of India's development goals and strategies, a National Child Labour Policy was adopted in 1987 following the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. The national policy reiterates the directive principle of state policy in India's Constitution. It resolves to focus general development programmes to benefit children wherever possible and have project based action plans in areas of high concentration of child labour engaged in wage/quasi-wage employment.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment has been implementing the national policy through the establishment of National Child Labour Projects (NCLPs) for the rehabilitation of child workers since 1988. Initially, these projects were industry specific and aimed at rehabilitating children working in traditional child labour endemic industries. A renewed commitment to fulfil the constitutional mandate resulted in enlarging the ambit of the NCLPs in 1994 to rehabilitate children working in hazardous occupations in child labour endemic districts.

The strategy for the NCLPs includes the establishment of special schools to provide non-formal education and pre-vocational skills training; promoting additional income and employment generation opportunities; raising public awareness, and conducting surveys and evaluations of child labour.

The experience gained by the Government in running the NCLPs over several years resulted in the continuation and expansion of the projects during the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1997/02). Around 100 NCLPs were launched across the country to rehabilitate children working in hazardous industries such as glass and bangles, brassware, locks, carpets, slate tiles, matches, fireworks, and gems. The Central Government made a budgetary allocation of Rs 2.5 billion (about US$57 million) for these projects during the Ninth Five-Year Plan. The Government of India has expanded the coverage of the NCLPs to an additional 150 districts and increase the budgetary allocation to over Rs 6 billion (about US$131 million) during the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2003/07). Children in the age group of 5 - 9 years were enrolled directly under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or the Education for All Movement commenced under the 10th Five Year Plan. Further, those in the age group of 9 - 14 were admitted to special schools under the NCLP schemes. Besides this, components of healthcare and vocational training were also augmented.

Most significantly in 2001 - 02 the Government launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or the Education for All Programme which is an effort to universalize elementary education. This programme aims to achieve the goal of universal elementary education of satisfactory quality by 2010.

Schemes for Children under the 10th Five Year plan include the Planning Commission's Integrated Programme for Street Children which aims to prevent the destitution of children and engineer their withdrawal from streets by providing facilities like shelter, nutrition, health care, education, recreation and protection against abuse and exploitation. Accordingly to the Government, during the 10th Five Year Plan, over 200,000 children benefitted from this.

Further, the Scheme for Working Children in Need of Care and Protection by the Ministry of Women and Child Development provides non-formal education, vocational training to working children to facilitate their entry into mainstream education. This scheme has been implemented through NGOs. According to the Government, around 7,000 children benefited from this programme from 2005 - 2007.

The strategy outlined for the 11th Five Year plan (2007 - 12) includes expanding the NCLP scheme to ensure universal enrolment of children in the 6 - 14 age group to cover those in the hard-to-reach segment. It also includes substantial improvements in the quality and standard of education and teacher training. Another notable Government initiative under the 11th plan is to amend all laws to recognize everyone under the age of 18 as children and to take appropriate measures to protect their rights accordingly.( ** ).

In September 2009, IPEC launched a Convergence Project against Child Labour which covers 5 States - Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The project will demonstrate effective convergence-based models for elimination and prevention of child labour including trafficking/migration of children in each state.

Contribution by national institutions

A number of national institutions such as the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute (VVGNLI) and the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) and some state level institutes have played an important role in the areas of training and capacity building of government functionaries, factory inspectors, officials of panchayati raj institutions, NCLP project directors, and heads of NGOs. These institutions have also made a significant contribution in the areas of research and surveys, awareness raising and sensitization, thus bringing the discussions on this issue to the forefront.

* - To view the full text of these laws visit

** - The 11th Five Year Plan, Volume II, available at

Last update: 16 September 2009 ^ top