It has been 30 years since the Child Labour (Prohibition and regulation) Act, 1986 was passed. The recently Cabinet approved Child Labour Amendment Bill, 2012 continues further down its path of tightening prohibition and regulation with some exemptions. The Gurupadaswamy Committee, which informed the Child Labour Law in the 80s, asserted: “Extreme poverty, lack of opportunity for gainful employment and intermittancy of income and low standards of living are the main reasons for the wide prevalence of child labour”. The Law was supposed to combine prohibition and regulation alongside a multiple policy approach to end hazardous child work.

Yet, as a community of practitioners, thirty years down the road we continue to see a large number of children undertaking work which is dangerous for them. In the name of ‘rescue’ our children are being subjected to extreme trauma and institutionalised with little or no option but to return to the same or more dangerous work on release. Figures from the Census, claimed to be dropping, tell us an incomplete truth of the number of children engaging in work. Education is being suggested as the simplistic solution to the ‘problem of child labour’ yet the Bill addresses in no manner the fact that the experience of institutionalized education for marginalized children has been far from positive.

Much has happened and changed since 1986. A larger more nuanced conversation around child work and rights has been building up internationally and nationally. To open these debates in the context of India and to begin a fresh conversation on a child labour law which is child rights centric and informed by children’s experiences, latest research and understanding of child work, join us on our campaign – Are you anti #childlabour or #antichild?

On this page we are uploading documents and links which we think will are relevant to the current conversation on child labour. As our online campaign builds we will continue adding resources here. Find below:







The Concerned for Working Children speaks

Since 1985, The Concerned for Working Children has been asking that the issue of child labour be approached from the perspective of the children. Why do they engage in hazardous work? What are the imperatives of being induced to do such work? What are their experiences and understanding of work from their unique contexts? How can we create a law that addresses their needs?


Below are the important responses shared by us on the Amendment Bill:

– Press Release – Need of the hour: A repeal and re-enactment of the Child Labour Law

– Child labour law amendment: Much work to be done (Economic Times, 15 May 2015)

– Child Labour Hatao or Child Labour Chupao? (CWC Newsletter, April 2015)

– Blanket ban on child labour will hit right to livelihood (Deccan Herald, 4 September 2012)

– A total ban on children (CWC Paper by Nandana Reddy, 2012)



Critically written articles on child work from other sources



  • A case against child labour prohibitions (Benjamin Powell, CATO Institute, Economic Development Bulletin, 29 July 2014)

Brief: Powell explores the distaste of the western world with good made using child labour. He urges a deeper understanding of how simplistic knee-jerk reactions based on moral revulsion actually end up harming the children we hope to help. There is need for a more contextualised understanding of children’s work. He uses the example of Bangladesh to explain.

CWC agrees with the problematising of the situation shared in the paper but is cautious that CATO is a free-market based think tank and hence its response to the situations such as those seen in Bangaldesh is bound to be very different from ours. We share this paper more with the view of studying specifically how child labour is tied in with the larger socio-political conditions of the country, its people and that a mere ban doesn’t address deeper issues.


  • Global standards miss the nuance in child labour (Alula Parkhurst, The conversation, 13 may 2015)

Brief: The article studies the nuances of child work. “There is both benefit and harm in most work depending on conditions, aptitude and training of children. So rather than classifying particular activities as harmful, we should recognise that the same work can entail both benefits and harm that should be assessed at the local level”. The research referred to in this article has been compiled into a book, Children’s Work and Labour in East Africa: Social Context and Implications for Policy, edited by Alula Pankhurst, Michael Bourdillon and Gina Crivello, to be released shortly. 


  • Prashant Bharadwaj & Leah K  Lakdawala (September, 2013), Perverse consequences of well intentioned regulation: Evidence from India’s child labour ban.

Abstract: While bans against child labor are a common policy tool, there is very little empirical evidence validating their effectiveness. Most of the existing literature evaluating the impact of child labor bans has been theoretical. In this paper we examine empirically the consequences of India’s landmark legislation against child labor, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. Using data from employment surveys conducted before and after the ban, and using age restrictions that determined whom the ban applied to, we show that child wages decrease and child labor increases after the ban. The increase appears to come mainly from families where the head is less educated, suggesting poverty as a key determinant of why families use child labor. These results are consistent with a theoretical model building on the seminal work of Basu and Van (1998) and Basu (2005), where families use child labor to reach subsistence constraints and where child wages decrease in response to bans, leading poor families to utilize more child labor.



  • India has three times more child labourers than what is reported in the census – Childline India (Business Today, 20 May 2015)

Excerpt: “The Census definition is based on child labour being defined as under 14 children primarily occupied in working and not at school. The figure indicated by Census is not a true reflection of the scale of child labour in India. This is because: Census does not indicate children who may be reported as school going but are actually working on agricultural farms; Census does not report children doing work as domestic servants; Census does not cover children working with parents/relatives in family-owned cottage sector-even if they are registered in schools; Census is a door-to-door household survey and does not take into account children registered as going to school but who are actually engaged in work. Similarly, children who have run away or been trafficked and who find themselves living on streets of large urban cities are not enumerated. Our estimates of child labour in the country would close to about three times the figure reported in Census.”


  • Invisible Hands (Business Today, May 2015)

An invisible workforce is making in India for the world. An inside account of how child labour is conveniently kept under wraps in the country. Describes how the ban seems to have little effect and instead invisibilises child work. Shares many instances of hazardous work which the law is unable to respond to.


  • Legislating social change – The Hindu Business Line (18 May 2015)

Excerpt: “While all these criticisms are valid, they do not pay enough attention to the fundamental aspect of the child labour problem: the economic imperative. Several studies have established that a majority of families use child labour in order to reach subsistence levels. A 2013 study of the impact of India’s landmark child labour law by Prashant Bharadwaj, Leah K Lakdawala, and Nicholas Li for the US National Bureau of Economic Research (Perverse Consequences of Well Intentioned Regulation: Evidence from India’s Child Labor Ban) found that after the ban, child labour increased, school enrolment fell, and family welfare, measured by household expenditure, consumption, calorie intake and asset holdings, actually fell after the ban went into effect. In other words, the earlier law made the situation worse, so tightening it poses the risk of worsening the situation further.”



CWCs Documentaries on children’s opinion on child labour


This is the narrative of a little shepherd boy that urges one to question the state of rural poor in India and the policies that have been put in place to “better” their conditions.

Taking Destiny in their Hands is a film by Kavita Ratna, Director Advocacy of The Concerned for Working Children. It is a film of hope and a call for clarity as it documents the relevance of the International Movement for Working Children and the central themes that it addresses. It gives viewers a rare opportunity to listen to children’s analyses of global problems, their strategies to overcome them and their call to adults and policy-makers to give them due credit as social actors.

Brave Young World shows the children’s perspective of the meaning participation of children. The movie shows the children’s eagerness and need to be part of the decision making processes concerning their lives and how they are able to do this in a eloquent and sensitive matter. The Concerned for Working Children facilitated the children, by collectivising them and negotiating for political spaces for the children, so that children can be part of the decisions that are about their lives. This movie gives its viewers a chance to see the process of children’s participation at local, regional and international level.


From the Pages of Working Children’s History

This sections does a short listing of the milestones from the International Working Group on Child Labour (IWGCL) and the International Movement of Working Children (IMWC) alongside listing important documents and sites for further readings.


a. The International Working Group on Child Labour is founded!

In 1992, the International Working Group on Child Labour (IWGCL) was established, with Nandana Reddy as it’s chairperson. The IWGCL aimed at bringing the issue of child work centre stage, creating the space for specific strategies for the eradication of exploitative child work to be discussed and the facilitation of the inception of a worldwide movement which brought together working children, NGO’s and other major actors.

“Children need support to bring an end to child labour and to express themselves. Our previous experience has been that when children began to speak, grown ups get up and leave. I would like to ask to those here at this meeting to have patience when children speak and listen to them until they finish. You should tell as many people and children, including those who go to school, about our situation.”

– Ramu Satwadi (Aged 15, Bhima Sangha Member)


b. Kundapura, December 1996: The International Movement of Working Children meet for the first time

In 1996, the International Working Group on Child Labour (IWGCL), in partnership with Bhima Sangha and the Concerned for Working Children, facilitated the first international meeting for working children in Kundapura (Karnataka, India). Working children’s representatives from 33 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America came together to discuss the issues working children faced. Although the children came from completely different contexts, they all experienced the invisibility of working children in the child labour debate and spoke up on the absence of preventive measures, which excluded poverty as reason why children worked. The children expressed how they were part of the solution, not the problem.

Nandana Reddy, Chairperson of the IWGCL and founder executive director of The Concerned for Working Children, initiated and led the first international consultation of working children in order to articulate the issues working children face. The consultation with children was important in order to ensure that their experiences were recognised and utilised to evaluate child labour strategies from their standpoint. The consultation also for the first time brought together: working children, NGO’s, resource persons, governments, intergovernmental agencies and international organisation, to talk about the issues working children face. The meeting provided the children a space to talk about their concerns and demands and organise themselves as one group to fight for their rights.

 The Kundapura Declaration – December 1996

On 9th of December 1996, the working children representing 33 countries came together to present their demands under the unified banner of the International Movement of Working Children for the first time. They wished to reach out to both national and international stakeholders such as the ILO, Save the Children Norway & UK, Terre des Hommes, UNICEF and governments like those of Netherlands, India etc.

The ten points that were presented were:

– We want recognition for our initiatives, suggestions and organization processes.

– We are against the boycott of products made by children.

– We want respect and safety for our work.

– We want an education with methods adequate to our situation.

– We want professional training suited for our context.

– We want to have access to good health system.

– We want to be consulted for any decision that affects us, whether local, national or international.

– We want a fight to be initiated against the reasons that are at the origin of our situation and first of all poverty.

– We want more initiatives in rural areas so that children don’t have to go to the city.

– We are against the exploitation of our labour, but we are in favour of a dignifying job with a schedule suited for our education and spare time.

These points later came to be known as the Kundapura Declaration of the International Movement of Working Children.


c. Amsterdam Conference (Feb, 1997): IMWC goes to the ILO!

The Kundapura meeting ensured that the International Movement of Working Children (IMWC) gained legitimacy and recognition as an important voice in the conversation on child labour. At the Kundapura meeting the children expressed their desire to be invited to the ILO Conference to be held in Amsterdam. Delegates of the Government of Netherlands and the ILO/IPEC extended them this invitation. The conference was historic as the first global attempt from external parties to organise children on an international platform where children could present themselves, and bargain for their rights as one global collective.

Minister Pronk, Dutch Ministry of Development Co-operation:

“We should not discuss child labour without involving the children themselves in the decision-making processes. An adult sitting behind a desk cannot for a moment imagine what it is like to be an undernourished, overworked child, stretched beyond the limits of its physical strength. We need inside information and this can only be gained by involving the children themselves. Children are, moreover, perfectly capable of assessing their own situation and coming up with solutions. That is why we are delighted to have working children from Asia, Africa and Latin America in our midst to share with us their views on child labour.”

Amsterdam Conference (Feb, 1997): IMWC speaks on Combating the Most Intolerable Forms of Child Labour

The International Working Group on Child Labour (IWGCL) facilitated the participation of the children by negotiating for a space in the adult dominated arena and by preparing and training the children how they could participate in this space. Hence, at the meeting the children were able to voice their issues eloquently.

Lakshmi Basrur of Bhima Sangha India stated: ‘There is no point offering us quality education if you deny us work. Our families’ survival depends on our working. The day should come when children need not work. Till then, they should have access to dignified work and good-quality but appropriate education, as well as time for leisure.’

It was the first time governments and employers listened to the working children directly. The strongly articulated and argued statements by children forced adults to consider the child labour debate from their perspective especially with regard to the language being used.


d. ILO Conference (May 1997, Sweden) – To go or not to go?

The International Movement of Working Children (IMWC) was invited to the ILO conference in Sweden but the invitation was shortly withdrawn for unexplained ‘technical’ reasons. While the Amsterdam Conference was a big step in furthering the participation of children in the global arena, the withdrawal of the invitation was a regressive step back. It illustrated how strongly the children had challenged the status quo and how the powerful presence of children made other lobbies and stakeholders nervous. Adult stakeholders, like the trade unions, started to resist the participation of the IMWC in the child labour debate.

Nandana Reddy, the chairperson of the IWGCL, was invited to the conference and decided to use the forum to make the points the children who could not attend had wanted to make, ensuring that even though the children were not there, their thoughts were still heard.

When an IWGCL member participating in a regional meeting raised the issue of the absence of child representatives, the host minister pulled out his prepared speech and stated that ‘international spaces are not appropriate for children, but that the children would be invited to regional meetings’. In Amsterdam the international space had begun to open up for children, it seemed that this opening was slowly being throttled by other interests. However, after this meeting a couple of country and regional ILO conferences were held yet working children were not invited.


List of relevant readings on the above history:

Have we asked the children?

This discussion paper of the International Working Group on Child Labour explores how children can be included in the child labour debate, which is theirs by right according to the CRC. The paper argues how understanding of children’s work is defined by adults, without taking into account the realities children live in and how they perceive those realities. Laws and policies from an adult perspective, without the children’s views, failed to be holistic and child-centred. The International Working Group on Child Labour argues how children should be seen as protagonists who, once organised and collectivised, can demand and establish their rights both as children and workers.


The International Movement of Working Children

Nandana Reddy writes from her experiences as the chairperson of the International Working Group on Child Labour about the International Movement of Working Children. Reddy discusses how the international movement was able to participate in a meaningful way, which made the debate more nuanced and contextual. The paper narrates the story, the beginning and end, of the international movement where it explores how dominant discourses on child labour, pushed by powerful stakeholders, affected to possibility of working children to participate in the child labour debate.



Basic resources

Lists the history, law and other relevant and related documents/ articles related to child labour in India.

  • When you look into a child’s eyes you expect to see hope, trust and innocence; but when you see these signs of childhood are replaced by betrayal, hunger, fear & suspicion, we need to take a serious stock of ourselves and the society we have created.

    - Nandana Reddy | CWC

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