December 8, 2023

Child Labour

Syllabus– General Studies 1 (Child Rights)


  • The pandemic and resulting lockdowns might have pushed a large number of children into child labour.
  • The true extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child labour is yet to be measured but all indications show that it would be significant as children are unable to attend school and parents are unable to find work.
  • However, not all the factors that contribute to child labour were created by the pandemic; most of them were pre-existing and have been exposed or amplified by it.

What is child labour?

International labour Organization defines Child Labour as- Work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or
  • 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.

Related Facts

  • 152 million children around the world are still in child labour, 73 million of them in hazardous work.
  • Census of India 2011 reports 10.1 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years, out of whom 8.1 million are in rural areas mainly engaged as cultivators (26%) and agricultural labourers (32.9%)
  • UNESCO estimates based on the 2011 Census record 1 million children as “out of school” (18.3% of total children in the age group of 6-13 years).
  • A Rapid Survey on Children (2013-14), jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Women and Child Developmentand UNICEF, found that less than half of children in the age group of 10-14 years have completed primary education.


Government Initiatives

  • Policy interventions such as the
    • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) 2005,
    • he Right to Education Act 2009 and
    • the Mid Day Meal Scheme have paved the way for children to be in schools along with guaranteed wage employment (unskilled) for rural families.
  • Concerted effort towards convergence of government schemes is also the focus of the implementation of the National Child Labour Project.
  • Ratifying International Labour Organization Conventions 138 and 182 in 2017, the Indian government further demonstrated its commitment to the elimination of child labour including those engaged in hazardous occupations.
  • The Ministry of Labour and Employment-operated online portalallows government officials, law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organisations to share information and coordinate on child labour cases at the national, State and local levels for effective enforcement of child labour laws.

While child labour has declined during the past decade globally, estimates indicate that the rate of reduction has slowed by two-thirds in the most recent four-year period.

Impact of Pandemic and Lockdowns

  • With closure of schools and challenges of distance learning, children may drop out leaving little scope for return unless affirmative and immediate actions are taken.
  • As many schools and educational institutions are moving to online platforms for continuation of learning, the ‘digital divide’ is a challenge that India has to reconcile within the next several years.
    • The NSS Report suggests that in 2017-18, only 24% of Indian households had access to an Internet facility, proportions were 15% among rural households and 42% among urban households.
    • The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020 survey highlights that a third of the total enrolled children received some kind of learning materials from their teachers during the reference period (October 2020) as digital mode of education was opted for.
  • Work performed may not appear to be immediately dangerous, but it may produce long-term and devastating consequences for their
    • Education and
    • skills acquisition, and hence
    • Their future possibilities to overcome the vicious circle of poverty, incomplete education and poor quality jobs.

Way Forward

  • Right level of commitment among all the relevant stakeholders and the right mix of policy and programmatic interventions are present.
  • It is through strategic partnerships and collaborations involving government, employers, trade unions, community-based organisations and child labour families that we could make a difference building back better and sooner.
  • As we reinforce the commitment to protect children from unacceptable forms of work, our focus to mitigate the aftermath of the pandemic also remains.
  • We need a strong alliance paving our way towards ending child labour in all its forms by 2025 as countries around the world have agreed to in Sustainable Development Goal 8.7.


All the stakeholders— governments, employers, unions, civil society organisations and even individuals — must rise and pledge to ‘Take Action against Child Labour’ as a part of the UN’s declaration of 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. Our actions today will determine the future of children tomorrow.

Question-Describe the impacts of pandemic and resulting lockdowns on child labour. Also suggest policy measures to prevent children from such situations.


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