Child Labour- An Analysis

Sri Samir Kumar Nanda

As we know Child labour is one of the most violated human rights issue .Therefore the whole world is fighting against this cruelty. Since years thousands of children are deprived of their essential qualities of childhood and are forced as cheap substitutes for adults. Child labour being a complex phenomenon cannot be dealt in an isolated manner.


History of child labour states that industrial revolution saw children working factories, mines, and even having his own small business like selling food, flowers and doing much unusual kind of jobs. Some children started being tourist guides, some set up a small shop of their own and some opened up restaurants in their backyards and worked as waiters too. Some children however chose to be actors and singers.

Although, child labour was not new to the world, it is believed that during 1780 and 1840, there was a massive increase in child exploitation. During the Industrial revolution, it was very common to find children working in factories. In 1788, more than 60% of workers in textile mills of England and Scotland were children. Many laws were passed to eradicate child labour, but hardly succeeded.


Maximum Child Labours are found in Asia Pacific Region . Minimum 26% of child population of age group 5-14 in the world is engaged as child labour.


Extent of child labour in the world is as follows:-





Age –Group ( Years)

Economically Active

Child Labour

In Hazardous Occupation



317 million

218 million

126 million



190.7 million

165.8 million

74.4 million

From the above tables we can imagine the status of child labour in the global level. In the Table-1 the Sl. No.2 comes in the category of child labour as the age group is within 5-14.As per Sl.No2 of the said table it is cleared that out of 190.7 million children which are economically active in the whole world 165.8 million are child labour which includes 74.4 million under hazardous occupations.


Maximum number of child labours are being engaged in work in India. Rehabilitation of such children is a challenge for our country. As per the Census of India, 2001, the number of child labour in our country has been estimated as 12,591,667.If we compare 1971 onwards, the phenomenon of child labour has shown an increasing trend. Child labour in India is much more of a rural phenomenon than urban. There are 90.87 per cent of the working children in the rural areas and 9.13 per cent working children in the urban areas. Govt. of India has been spending 3.5% of the total budget in the field of mass education & poverty alleviation. Although as per the report of the World Bank 75% of the Indians are below poverty line yet Govt. of India report says that only 25% are below poverty line.





The extent of child labour identified in different Census reports.








26% increased



25% decreased



12% increased

Table-2 indicates the number of child labour identified in India in different Census. If we compare the report of different Census mentioned in the above table we will find that the percentage of child labour has been increased to 26% in 1981 in comparison to 1971.Again, the percentage of child labour has been decreased to 25% in 1991 in comparison to 1981 and again increased up to 12% in 2001 in comparison to 1991. If we compare census of 1971 with that of 2001,we can see the percentage increased in 2001 up to 17.08%. So we come to a conclusion that, the percentage of child labour has been increased in all the census except in 1991. So, the number of child labour in our country is increasing and increasing instead of decreasing.


Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has given directions to find out the number of children engaged in hazardous occupations in the year 1997.As per the survey 2,15,222 number of child labours were identified in Odisha. However, as per the 2001 Census of India 3, 77,594 child labours were found in the State of Odisha. The economic exploitation of children in Odisha has always been an area of concern. Most children work in highly exploitative conditions and all are deprived of even the most minimal educational facilities.
















43% increased

36% decreased

17% decreased

Above table (Table-3) describes about the number of child labours identified in Odisha in the four different Census. We can observe that the percentage of number of child labour has increased 43% in the year 1981 in comparison to 1971 Census whereas the percentage has decreased up to 36% in the 1991 census in comparison to 1981 and 17% decreased in 2001 in comparison to 1991.If we compare the census report of 1971 and 2001 than we find the percentage has decreased 23%.

Western Odisha

In Western Odisha 79% of its population depends on agriculture and nearly 48% live below the poverty line. It is obvious that children are compelled to work in hazardous occupations and became vulnerable to occupational hazardous & diseases. The health of child labour is a matter of least concerned among the employers indulged in economic exploitations. The child labourers who work in insanitation conditions for long hours remained vulnerable and become disease prone and in many cases when they got diseases they are send back to their respective homes of the parents.


PLACE 1991 1997 2001 2005
10 DISTRICTS OF WESTERN ODISHA 139526 58131 109276 149299
TREND -58% +88% +37%

The above table(Table:-4)indicates the number of child labours identified in the 10 Districts of Western Odisha during the 1991 & 2001 Census and 1997 & 2005 District Level Child labour Survey. If we observe the trend of the above figures ,we will see that, the percentage of child labour only decreased once 58 % in the year 1997 in comparison to 1991. But during the rest of the survey there is an increasing trend. In the 2001 census percentage increased up to 88% than in 1997 survey ,in 2005 survey the figure again increased to 37%.If we compare the figures of 1991 census and 2005 survey we also get that the % percentage increased up to 7% in 2005.

Child Labour-An Abominable Practice

Sri Samir Kumar Nanda


No civilized and equitable society can tolerate the denial of their rights to its children and lay claim to being called just ‘child labour’, thus is a shur on all of us and our sensitivity.

Child labour is a pernicious practice, a denial of the joy of childhood and access to social opportunities (like education) which eventually impairs the personality and creativity of children, the evolution and growth of a full being, within the broad ambit of child labour, the plight and predicament of girl children is worse. Such a practice which is abhorrent to our social conscience should, therefore, be eradicated from our social-economic milieu.


The UN defines child labour as “any work that is likely to interfere with the child’s education, or is harmful to its physical, mental, spiritual, moral & social development”. All work is not ‘labour’ only work that is exploitative is labour.

As per the definition sec-2(ii) of the Child Labour(P & R) Act,1986,child means a person who has not completed his 14th year of age.



With the advent of modern industrialism there came a tendency among the employers to have quick profits at low costs. Hence, in almost all countries there is employment of children in large numbers in both hazardous & non-hazardous occupations & processes. Employing child labour is a beneficial proposition as it reduces the cost of production. Added to this, another important advantage is easy availability, easy monitoring & control.

Position in the World

According to the International Labour Organisation Report, a shocking 125 million children toil in hazardous employment such as in the production of glass, brass, locks, fireworks, matches, carpets & bidis in industrial units scattered across much of Asia(61%),Africa(32%0 & Latin America(7%0.However,as per the report in the world around 250 million child labours are engaged in different employments like hazardous works, prostitution & bonded labour in almost all developed countries.

Child labour is a worldwide phenomenon and is growing everywhere. The UNICEF State of the World Children Report,1997 indicates that even highly developed countries like the UK & the US have a large no. of children as work force. According to the US General Accounting Office, the state of this problem in the US is also very depressing, there was 250% increase in child labour during 1983-90 in the US.

Child labour accounts for 5.2% of the total labour force in India, as against 17.3% in Turkey,20.7% in Thailand,19.5% in Bangladesh,18.8% in Brazil,16.6% in Pakistan,12.4% in Indonesia,11.5% in Mexico,8.2% in Egypt,6.6% in Argentina & 4.4% in Sri Lanka.


Position in India

In India, with industrialization a large number of children came to be employed in hazardous works and their employment still continues in certain industries in spite of certain legal provisions as regards their age, hour of work etc.

Child labour has been an issue since the pre-independence days. With the rapid industrialization the problem has further aggravated.

The numbers of working children in 35 States & UT in the country as per the census report are as follows:-


Census Year No. of Child Labour identified
1971 10753985
1981 13640870
1991 11285349
2001 12591667


Magnitude of child labour identified by different sources:-


Sources Year No. of child labour identified
ILO 1975 15.10 million
  1996 23.17 million
National Sample Survey Organisation, India 1987-88 17.60 million
  1993-94 13.50 million
Planning Commission 1983 17.36 million.
Operation Research Group, Baroda 1983 44 million.

 Position in Odisha

The number of child labour in Orissa according to the Census of India are as follows:-


Census Year No. of Child Labour identified
1971 492477
1981 702293
1991 452394
2001 377594


The child labour survey conducted in the year 1997 as per the directives of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has the following startling revelations:-

22543 hazardous establishments/occupations/processes include households were surveyed out of which 13,083 were found to be employing 23,761 child labour comprising 15,356 child labour engaged in the past and 8405 engaged at present.Besides,2,32,168 non-hazardous establishments/occupations/processes including households were surveyed 1,61,728 units were found to have engaged 1,91,461 child labour out of which 1,64,783 are engaged at present and 26,678 were engaged in the past. Total of 2,15,222 child labour were found including both hazardous & non-hazardous occupations and processes as per the report.


Health Condition

In Odisha 79% of its population depends on agriculture and nearly 48% live below the poverty line it is obvious that children are compelled to work in hazardous occupations and became vulnerable to occupational hazardous & diseases. The Health of child labour is a matter of least concerned among the employers for indulged in economic exploitations. The child labourers who work in insanitation conditions for long hours remained vulnerable and become disease prone and in many cases when they got diseases they are send back to their respective homes of the parents.


Educational Conditions

The problems of child labours are in plentitude. The economical & educational status of their parents compel them to engage themselves in hard physical work. Though there is ample opportunities for their schooling, yet the parents hesitate to provide them schooling facility on the plea that the major income of the child may discontinue which will affect their daily leavings.

Economic conditions

Child labour is the outcome of so many factors. On the one hand because of the poverty the family members, especially, the parents, children go to work. On the other hand due to the backwardness and labour intensive technology in the country, there is search for cheap labour which is available in the form of child labour. The major portion of the families in our State consisted of daily wage earners. The average annual income of family vary between Rs.2619 and Rs.20,867/-.

Steps Taken by the Government:-


Year Steps taken by the Govt.
1979 The problem of child labour received special emphasis following the submission of the Gurupadswamy Committee report on child labour.
1986 Govt. of India formulated a comprehensive law leading with the Child Labour(P&R) Act,1986.
1987 Govt. of India adopted the National Child Labour Policy.
1992 Govt. have launched a Rs.2.77 crore Child Labour & Support Project.
1994 Govt. of India set up the National Authority for the Elimination of Child Labour.
1994 The National Child Labour Projects started in the country including Orissa.


Proposed Solutions for the elimination of Child labour problem:-

(i) Door to door survey should be carried out in the country by some responsible agencies in a regular interval.

(ii) All the on-going poverty alleviation and developmental programmes are to be addressed to such families in order to improve their socio-economic status.

(iii) The purpose of awareness generation should be to sensitize parents about the evils of child labour the importance of education & to facilitate them to seek assistance under various poverty alleviation programme.

(iv) Combining legislation & its enforcement.

(v) The total scheme should be made free from the interference of political members and media person.

(vi) The problem of determination of age should be rectified.

(vii) The Inspectors under the Act should be empowered fully without any interference.

(viii) The Govt. officials should be instructed to treat the Project as missionary scheme. They should make free the Project from their respective states rules, circulars.



The social evil is being perpetuated by parents, the industrialists, the law implementers and to a certain extent the child labourers themselves.

Unfortunately, the law-makers pass laws and the executive makes policy-statements. But, they do very little to ensure the execution of the laws which they have themselves passed or piloted. The outcome of these is the continuous spurt in child labour. The Govt. should integrate child development with the majors programme of human development, poverty & child labour are inextricably interwoven, that one cannot be eliminated without eliminating other.

Source:- (1) Labour Welfare & Personnel Management

By R.C.Saxena.

(2) V.V.Giri National Labour Institute, Noida.

(3) Competition Master

(4) Census of India Report.

(5) Ministry of Labour & Employment ,Govt. of India.