Violation of Child Rights during COVID-19 and Child Labour in India

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Does the violation of Child Rights lead to Child Labour problem? Violation of Child Rights is a topic of great concern in every country of the world since the Industrial Revolution, Globalization, and Privatization etc. Under these entire situations, Child Rights are denied and these factors have led to the creation of such circumstances where millions of children worldwide are denied of their basic rights irrespective of their age, gender, birthplace, race, religion etc. Out of total population, in India, children account for more than one-third but their interests are never given priority. And their rights are violated every single day. Above all these reasons, presently COVID-19 is another compelling factor which is denying the rights of the Child Rights and paving the way for the rise in the number of Child Labour Problem, especially in India. Several Rights of the Child have been recognized by the Constitution, Legislation and various committees. India is the first country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children in 1992 emphasizing that all children are born with fundamental rights. This paper is going to discuss the Rights of the Child, and analyze how Covid-19 Pandemic is the reason for increasing the number of Child Labour Problem in India. According to the International Moral Code of Right and Wrong Behavior, 'human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthrights of all human beings'.


Children are the precious gift to humanity and Childhood is an important and impressionable stage of human life. Children grow everyday and cannot wait for tomorrow. The life of a child should consist full of joy and peace, learning, playing, and growing. Hence child rights must be ensured. Child rights are those rights that an individual possesses by being a child. The journey towards achieving child rights is a journey to not only help children survive but also thrive and transform into the best versions of themselves. But in reality, this is not the case. Basic rights of millions of children are denied and their childhoods are stolen from them by abuse, exploitation, or slavery. Therefore, Child labour is a violation of child rights hindering their development, potentially leading to lifelong psychological or physical damage.

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Child Labour in India

In India, child labour is a chronic socio-economic phenomenon, despite Constitutional, Legislative, Legal measures etc. As per the 2011 Population Census, Children in the age group of 0-14 constituted about 360 million and accounted for 35.3 per cent of the total population. Children in the 5-14 age groups constituted about 251 million and are 24.6 per cent of the total population. Of these, 4.35 million were categorized as main workers and 5.76 million as marginal workers. Sixty-two per cent of child labourers were concentrated in agriculture, forestry and fishing, followed by industries and services.

By Census of India projections, the proportion of children (0 to 14) has further come down to 32.1 per cent during 2011. Elementary school-age children (5 to 14) in the total population constituted 241.7 million accounting for 21.7 per cent of the total population. The reduction in the proportion of children is attributed to the drastic reduction in the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in many of the major states, especially in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat. On the other hand, TFR remains high in some of the major states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. It is seen that the Proportion of children in the population has implications for the incidence of child labour.

According to Census of India, 2011, there were 12.26 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years as compared to 11.3 million in 1991 revealing an increasing trend in absolute numbers though the work participation rates of children (5-14) have come down from 5.4 per cent during 2001 to 5 per cent during 2011.

WPR for different age groups among children, the trend is different. The WPR for children in 5 to 9 age group has marginally increased from less than 1 per cent during 2001 to 1.4 per cent during 2011. In the case of 10-14 years age group children, the decline is only marginal from 10.4 per cent from 2001 to 8.7 per cent during 2011. This indicates that a considerable of children in between the age group 10 to 14 years are in the labour force despite the decline in the proportion of children in the total population.

As per the census data, the trend in the magnitude of child labour is not uniform across the country. There is across the board decline in the incidence of child labour in the Southern and Western Indian States and UTs between 2001 and 2011. However, there has been an increasing trend in the Eastern and North Indian States and UTs. There is an increase in the absolute magnitude of child labour between 2001 and 2011 in the states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The state of Andhra Pradesh is having the largest child labour force in the country. Andhra Pradesh is the second-largest state in terms of magnitude by 2011 Census.

Child Rights in Post-Independence Period

In the Constitution of India, there are several articles incorporated and dedicated to children, viz.:- Article 14 The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law within the territory of India. Article 15 The State shall not discriminate against any making any special provisions for women and children. Article 21 No person shall be deprived of his/her personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Article 21 A the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6-14 years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine. Article 23 Traffic in human beings and the beggar and other forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable under the law. Article 24 A child under the age of 14 years should not be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. Article 45 The State shall provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years. Article 243G read with Schedule 11 provide for the institutionalization of child care by seeking to entrust programmes of Women and Child Development to Panchayat (Item 25 of Schedule 11), apart from education (item 17 of Schedule 11), family welfare (item 25 of Schedule 11), health and sanitation (item 23 of Schedule 11) and other items with a bearing on the welfare of children.

Directive Principles of State Policy

The general provisions under Article, 38, 42, 43, 45 and 47 of Directive Principles of State Policy, although do not deal directly with child welfare but provides a strategy for indirectly promoting the welfare of children. Article-42 and 43 says to provide favourable human conditions of work and hold out a promise that the State shall endeavour to secure, by suitable legislation, economic organization or in any other way to provide for all workers, a living wage with specified conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full employment of leisure and social and culture opportunities. This includes child labourers in the widest sense. Article-46 provides the provisions for promotion, with special care of the educational and economic interest of SC and STs and other weaker sections of the society. Article-47 emphasizes raising the standard of living of people by the State. These also include children in their purview. While estimating the progress and implementation of these provisions, it is noteworthy that child labour is increasing day by day.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

This convention is the most widely ratified convention and every country in the world, except for two, have signed and agreed to abide by it. The Convention recognizes that children, as a special and vulnerable group in society, should have a set of basic rights and protections that ensure their access to education, health care and legal, civil and social services that protect them from harm exploitation and abuse. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children – that India ratified in 1992 – all children are born with fundamental rights.

Article 19: Protection to the children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation. Article 27: Recognizes the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for social development. Article 28 & 29: The right to education. Article 31: The right to play. Article 32: Protection to the child from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s health, education, or harmful to the child's mental, physical, moral, spiritual, or social development. And a right to achieve these dreams.

Violation of Child Rights during COVID-19 Pandemic

As per ILO estimates currently 152 million children are engaged in child labour, out of which India accounts for close to 7.3 per cent and at global level child labour had been gradually coming down in the past two decades, but the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse that trend. The International Labour Organization and UNICEF had warned that millions of children would be forced into child labour as family incomes dropped worldwide and the pandemic could undo the gains achieved in the past 20 years to decrease child labour by 94 million. When stringent lockdown measures were announced in March to contain the pandemic, apart from innumerable problems, there is a violation of child rights and this is paving the way to the aggravation of the child labour problem in India. Due to Covid-19, the schools were closed down, labour laws were relaxed and migration of adult workers, child labour and exploitation of children rose exponentially.

Closure of schools

Encouraging children to go to school through various legislative and constitutional acts is considered an important preventive measure against child labour. But as schools are closed for the foreseeable future, children are forced to stay at home, which increases their risk of getting pushed into the labour market. Families who have lost the income source force the children be engaged in home-based or agricultural work. Out-of-school children are at greater risk of becoming the victims of trafficking, begging, debt bondage and other indecent and exploitative work conditions. The Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking protection for children who were at risk of becoming “hapless victims of human trafficking, in the wake of, and as an aftermath of, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant extended lockdown”.

COVID Lockdown Stopped Mid-Day Meals for Children. In India, Government schools provide mid-day meals to 120 million school-going children. Approximately 95 million children under 6 years of age are receiving supplementary nutrition at Anganwadi centres (AWC) across the country. Due to the closure of not only schools but also AWCs, millions of children have been deprived of the source of nutrition. Already 40 per cent of children in India are malnourished; the COVID pandemic is further exacerbating malnutrition.

Relaxation of labour laws

During the lockdown, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Assam made relaxations to the Factories Act, 1948. The relaxations consist of the extension of a factory worker's daily shift from eight to 12 hours a day, six-day week, limited time for rest, reduction in inspections and monitoring by authorities, grievance redress mechanisms are restricted and limited collective bargaining through labour unions. Many of these 11 States have a high burden of child and adolescent labour and therefore there might witness a rising demand for the children in small scale businesses, home-based enterprises and the agricultural sector. Since child labour is cheap and “cost-effective”- such relaxations might encourage the employers to exploit these changes to hire children as they have lower bargaining power and are mostly unable to press for their rights. As per a survey undertaken by the ILO in 2007 in the northern regions of India, the wage differences between employing a child versus employing an adult varied significantly. While an adult was paid ninety-five rupees whereas a child was paid only forty-three rupees for the same work, the survey revealed.

Migrant Labourers

One of the most jarring effects of Covid-19 in India is said to have left 120 million without employment as of May 2020. Many of these job cuts have happened to the more marginalized communities without adequate social security nets, like migrant labourers. According to the World Bank, in India, 12 million people have a chance of slipping below the poverty line due to pandemic-related job losses. Poverty is correlated with child labour. According to child rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, it is feared that nearly six crore children will be pushed down the poverty line as a result of the current crisis across the nation. Of these children, a considerable portion of children will join the child workforce. United Nations Children’s Fund and ILO's joint report estimates that a 1 percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 percentage point increase in child labour. Furthermore, previous financial vulnerability compelling parents to send their children to work.

Measures to be taken by the Government to combat Child Labour during Covid-19

  • Governments should target economic assistance, including cash transfers, to the low-income communities that will be hit first and hardest, to help poor and other vulnerable families to meet their basic needs without resorting to child labour or child marriage.
  • Governments should guarantee the right of every child to an adequate standard of living following international human rights law.
  • Governments should expand food-distribution programs for vulnerable families, including by distributing free lunches from schools.
  • Governments should suspend cut-offs to utilities, most especially to water and wastewater services, for failure to pay and reconnect households previously disconnected to uphold the right of access to water.
  • Governments should enforce child labour laws and laws against child marriage and should increase information sharing on referral and other support services available for children at risk of exploitation, including child labour and child marriage.


There is the urgency for the state governments to take immediate and accelerated efforts to address this issue, otherwise India including the World countries lose the battle of eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025, a commitment under the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Government of India responded with an economic stimulus package called the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan as well as several state-level policy changes to revitalize the economy. Apart from various measure and steps to strengthen the migrants and their children, to ensure education even during pandemic situation bring down the impact of COVID -19 on child labour in India.


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