Data from the NCRB reports indicates that the number of cases registered under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 increased till 2019 and then reduced. While 45% of these cases were reported from the Southern states, they make up for only 19% of the Child Labour in India as per 2011 Census.
Even though children in India in the age group of six to 14 years are guaranteed free and compulsory education by the Constitution and are to be provided mid-day meals, there are still millions who are victims of child labour. ‘Child labour’ is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. While poverty is both cause and consequence of child labour, it hinders a child’s access to education resulting in the further perpetuation of household poverty. Moreover, they even miss out on the opportunity to gain decent work in adulthood due to a lack of skills and education.
Over the years, India has come up with legal measures to curb the issue of child labour. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 prohibits the engagement of children in certain employments and for regulating the conditions of work of children in certain other employments. However, it did not prevent the engagement of children under 18 years in hazardous occupations and processes. Following the amendment to the 1986 Act in 2016, the legislation puts a complete ban on the employment of children below 14 years and also prohibits the employment of adolescents aged 14-18 years in hazardous occupations and processes. The amendment also imposes an imprisonment of six months to two years and/or a penalty of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 50,000 for violation. For repeated offence, the period of imprisonment can extend to 3 years.
Cases registered under the Act increased by 29% in 2021
The Crime in India Report released annually by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) provides statistics on the number of cases registered under the Child Labour Prohibition & Regulation Act, 1986 with the state/UT police departments in each calendar year.
A total of 2,991 cases have been registered under the Act between 2016 and 2021. As per the NCRB reports, the number of cases doubled in 2017 as compared to 2016, which may be because of the amendment made to the Act. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of cases increased by 67%. In 2020, the number dropped by 38% to pre-2019 levels before increasing by 29% in 2021. On average, two cases were registered every day in 2021. A plausible explanation for the drop in 2020 could be the pandemic and the resultant lockdown which may have reduced the reporting of such cases as studies highlight how child labour may have increased following the pandemic.
3 in 10 cases registered under the CLPR were in Telangana between 2016 and 2021
Of the 2,991 cases registered in the last six years, Telangana alone contributed to 29% of cases, followed by Madhya Pradesh accounting for 15% and Karnataka accounting for almost 12%. In other words, 56% of the cases registered under this act were from the 3 states. Including Rajasthan, Assam, Gujarat, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh, the 10 states were responsible for more than 90% of the cases reported in the six years under consideration. Another observation is that 45% of the cases were registered in the five South Indian states. On the other hand, the eight Empowered Action Group (EAG) states accounted for only 18% of the cases with Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh reporting less than 1%.
Cases registered in Maharashtra and Rajasthan have declined over the years
The trend in cases registered in states like Telangana, Bihar, Karnataka, and Gujarat is similar to that at the national level while states like Assam, Haryana, and Tamil Nadu reported the highest number of cases in 2021. Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh reported the highest number of cases in 2020. Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, and northeastern states except Assam have reported less than 7 cases each in the six years.
Between 2017 and 2020, the cases in Maharashtra dropped to almost one-fifth before increasing in 2021. Rajasthan also reported a decline in cases registered, from 99 in 2017 to 19 in 2021. Cases registered in Telangana increased from 6 in 2016 to 314 in 2019. In 2019, the state was responsible for 41% of the cases in the country which dropped to 37% in 2021. There was a rise in cases in Jharkhand between 2017 and 2020 before dropping to the least in 2021.
More than 10 million children were engaged in child labour as per the 2011 Census
The data from the NCRB report gives a picture of the cases registered under the Act alone. It should be noted that not all cases of child labour get reported at police stations. However, there is no other recent comprehensive data source for child labour in the country. The decennial Census is the only source of such data and the latest Census data available is that of 2011, more than a decade old. The Census 2021 has not yet begun.
As per the Census 2011, the total child population in India in the age group of five to 14 years was 259.6 million (or 25.9 crores) of which 10.13 million (1.01 crore making up about 3.9%) were engaged in child labour. This figure includes 8.1 million or 81 lakhs from rural areas and 2.02 million or 20.2 lakhs from urban areas. Compared to 2001, the number had dropped by over 25 lakhs in 2021.
The Census data further revealed that the number of children who worked for more than 6 months (main workers) in the age group of five to 14 years was the highest in Uttar Pradesh with 8.96 lakh children followed by Maharashtra (4.96 lakhs) and Bihar (4.52 lakhs). The 8 EAG states alone had 2.1 lakh working children in this age group making up nearly 50% of the total. On the contrary, southern states made up about 19%. These figures are contradictory to the NCRB’s findings and clearly indicate the skewed reporting across states.
National Child Labour Project is a Central Sector Scheme for rescuing and rehabilitating children engaged in child labour
The government is implementing National Child Labour Project (NCLP) under which children are withdrawn from work and put into Special Training Centres, where they are provided with bridge education, vocational training, mid-day meal, stipend, health-care facilities, etc. and finally mainstreamed to the formal education system. Further, awareness generation campaigns against the evils of child labour and enforcement of child labour laws through electronic and print media is also conducted under the scheme.
Under NCLP, in the five years between 2016-17 and 2020-21, a total of 2.42 lakh children have been rescued/withdrawn from work, rehabilitated and mainstreamed, according to data from Rajya Sabha. About half of these children were from West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh alone. Over the years, the number of children being rescued has also been increasing. Nonetheless, this number is only a small portion of that reported by the Census. That is, only a small portion of the children are being rescued while many continue to be victims. The majority of the victims are from marginalized sections of society.
Considering the grave nature of child labour, India needs to come up with more intensive measures and stringent rules to eliminate the practice. To clearly understand the magnitude and distribution of the practice, India needs comprehensive up-to-date data which can also help in using targeted interventions to tackle the problems. One thing that is evident is that India has a long way to go to achieve the target of eliminating child labour by 2025 which is one of the Sustainable Development Goals.