do we have or not have child labour in indiaThe Logical Indian
Do we have or not have Child Labour in India, 2022?
No Data on Child Labours: Government to Parliamentary Committes (PAC) on Child Labours/Workers


Arun C Mehta
Formerly Professor & Head of the EMIS Department
NIEPA, New Delhi


It is come known that the Government has recently informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PAC) that it has no data on Child Labour in the Country. We may or may not have data on child labour but definitely, we do have child labour across the Country which can be seen in most of the metros and large cities selling Chinese products in the busy crossing throughout the day irrespective of weather whether it is cold, summer or rainy season.

But it is a different matter that with the changing weather and festivals and from Republic to Independence Day, the items these children selling used to change and after a gap of few days, usually they come out with new products. So it does not matter whether we have data on child labour or not but yes we do have child labour workers across the country which was well reflected in the 2011 Census. Take your vehicle and move on to any highway along with the roadside Dhaba you would observe that helper Chhotu (child helper)  serves in each of the eating jaunts, mopping tables, serving food and cleaning the used utensils.

Hope you too have observed this not far from your residence in your neighbourhood that the child is working in most of the auto repairing shops which are routine and has become part of our day-to-day life. Even in sabzi-mandis, Chhotus can be seen carrying a vegetable basket on their head full of goods weight of which is often more than he could manage. Even, school-age children can be seen performing their art to earn money on most of the road crossings which is more true for metros.

Dishearting to know that many of the street children do live under the flyovers and near underpasses a few of whom are told to have been born there only.  With all these activities one gets the impression that yes, we do not have formal data on child workers but it has been observed that we do have child workers around us. These children are termed as having never been to school or dropped out or out-of-school children. But such children whether or not considered child workers/labours? For this purpose let us have a glance at the accepted definition of a child worker/labour/working children.

As per the International Labour organisation (, The term “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”. Further, it refers to work that: – “is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or – interferes with a child’s ability to attend and participate in school fully by obliging them to leave school prematurely, or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.” Are the children selling or begging on roads and other locations terms as child workers? As per ILO definition, the answer is certainly yes.

Apart from the Census of India managed by the Office of the Registrar General of India which collects and disseminates extensive data both all-India and state-specific on child workers once a decade, the Child Labour Project which was being managed by the  V. V. Giri National Labour Institute under the Ministry of Labour used to collect extensive data on child labour once in a year but the same was discontinued at the time of launching one of the mega centrally sponsored programmes of the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Ministry of Education, namely the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan in 2018 but hardly any attempt is visible to made on data collection on child worker.

As a Centrally Sponsored Scheme, the NCLP was initiated in 1988 initially in 12 districts of the Country having a large number of working children to rehabilitate them and the project could reach as high as 271 such projects by the 11th Five Year Plan. During the 10th FYP, as many as 150 NCLPs were sanctioned which is incidentally the highest number since its inception in the year 1988. The NCLPs was entirely funded by the Government of India through the Ministry of Labour & Employment and like other Centrally Sponsored Schemes, such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan were released to the State Implementation Society.

The aim was to identify children in the age group of 5-8 years working in hazardous occupations and to mainstream them to the formal educational system through SSA and of 9 to 14 years age group to be rehabilitated through the NCLP schools established under the project by the State Project Society. It is said that as many as six thousand special schools were opened under the NCLP through which around one million children were mainstreamed which is not a mean achievement by any standard.

The Media reports (See Delhi Edition of The Hindu of 12th July 2022) suggests that because of a lack of budgetary provisions, the NLCP was abandoned abruptly and supposed to have been merged with the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan and as such the Government has informed the PAC that it does not have records on the child labour in the Country.

It is unfortunate that when the Country strives to attain a 100 per cent GER at school education by the year 2030 which is reemphasised in both the NEP 2020 and SDG 4.0 Education in the absence of data on working children it is not known the basis on which the planners while planning for universal enrolment use which set of data. It is generally believed that those who are out of the education system are out-of-school children many of whom may be working children.

No effort has been made in the recent past to know the quantum of working children in the Country. What is their percentage of the total out-of-school children? Why do children work at the cost of education? Is it because of poverty or because children are not interested in education or simply it is because children drop out of the system because of repetitive failures and also because they need to take care of their siblings all of which are reflected in the NSSO 75th Round? One of the other reasons for children not attending schools found in the NSSO 75th Round is because children are engaged in economic activities.

Despite reasons for non-enrollment known (such as poverty, engagement in economic activities, not being interested in education etc.) no special efforts have been initiated to check, despite a good number of research studies being conducted on dropouts and still being conducted. The point is not to know the quantum of the dropout but to initiate activities to check the dropout. It is heartening to know that the dropout rate in the recent past has declined significantly from a high of 5.62 per cent in 2012-13 at the primary level to 0.08 per cent in 2020-21; the year for which the latest UDISE+ data is available. Many states have reported zero or almost negligible dropout rates at this level of education which needs further scrutiny.

Media reports suggest that NCLP was discontinued at the time of launching Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan and it was envisaged that the same would henceforth be tackled through the SSA but the Data Capture Format of UDISE+ based on which district annual plan and budget is supposed to be based upon do not have any provision to collect information on working children rather it is not possible to collect the same from the administrative surveys for which information need to be collected from the households. In the absence of information even from the Ministry of Child and Women Development, the Census of India is the only source which provides information about working children which would next be available when the data of the 2021 Census is available.

do we have or not have child labour in india

do we have or not have child labour in india

It is also a matter of concern that the total population and its sex composition are generally available at the lightning speed but other details required for the education sector are released after a gap of 4 to 5 years and the intermediary years’ indicators are computed based on the projected population which in the past found to be quite off the track. In recent years, not only has the child population been projected but the time lag in enrolment data is slowly but surely been on the increase; at one point of the time school education plans were been formulated based on the same year data but now there is at least a lag of at least two years.

For example, the latest 2022-23 school education plans under the aegis of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan were formulated based on the 2020-21 year data and in a few states were even based on 2019-20 UDISE+ data. Why has suddenly the time lag in educational statistics started to increase and why no one is bothered about the same in the absence of which even indices computed by the NITI Aayog such as SEQI, PGI, SDG etc. all are based on outdated data and the outcome of such exercises are of little use while formulating the plan for the current year?

Persons of 3 to 35 years Currently Not Attending Education because of their Engagement in Economic Activities: 2017-18




Rural Areas Urban Areas All Areas Percentage
Male Female Male Female Male Female
% of Ever Enrolled 34.9


4.4 41.5 7.3 36.9 5.3
% of Never-enrolled Enrolled 4.8 1.2 3.2 1.2 4.5 1.2

Source: Key Indicators Social Consumption on Education, 2017-18, NSSO 75 Round (July 2019), Government of India.

As has been mentioned above that in the absence of the data from the official sources on child workers, NSSO is the only other source which provides reasons for currently not attending education one of which is because of engagement in economic activities but the same is not separately available for the school going age groups but is made available for persons of 3 to 35 years and is made available for the rural and urban as well as male and female population and is latest available for the year 2017-18 collected through its 75th Round on Social Consumption on Education.

However, persons of 6 to 10 and 11 to 13 years, the school-age population those currently not attending has also been made available for the same year which indicates that the percentage not attending of age 11 to 13 is much higher than the same in the case of 6 to 10 years population which indicate that those currently not attending education as presented above many of those of this age group are not attending because of their engagement in the economic activities.

On the other hand, a good number of people of age 3 to   35 years are not attending because of financial constraints. Further, NSSO 75th Round reveals that as many as 3.3 per cent of males and 3.7 per cent of females of the age group 11-13 years were found currently not attending and the same in the rural areas is quite higher than the same in the urban areas all which might have serious implications for India to move towards universal school enrolment in 2030.

                            Persons of 3 to 35 years Currently Not Attending Education: 2017-18




Rural Areas Urban Areas All Areas
Male Female Male Female Male Female
6-10 Years 0.5 1.0 0.5 0.7 0.5 0.9
11-13 Years 3.9 4.5 1.7 1.5 3.3 3.7

Source: Key Indicators Social Consumption on Education, 2017-18, NSSO 75 Round (July 2019),              Government of India.

In the absence of the data on the child workers from the central agencies, the PAC approached a host of the states as well as other ministries such as Women and Child Development and the Home Ministry all of which informed us that they do not maintain data on child workers even a few NGOs those who were approached do not have an adequate assessment of the same but indicate that the number of child workers might have increased because of the COVID pandemic all which indicate that there is no option but to wait for the outcome of the 2021 Census.

All this goes despite the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 through which nobody can engage the child in economic activities. It is a wonder how if someone wants to rehabilitate a child even the basic information about their number is not available. In the light of the complete absence of data on child labour, the 2011 Census is the only authentic source of information but has become outdated and is of limited use.

In this note estimates of child labour based on the 2011 Census are made available both all-India and state-wise.

2011 Census: Number and Percentage of Child Labour, All-India & State-specific

The percentage of child labour to total 6-13 years population is computed based on the Census of India 2011, C-13 APPENDIX-B, Single year-age Returns by Residence, Sex  &  Work and complied by the Education Section of the UNICEF, New Delhi which the Education For All in India thankfully acknowledge. The estimates are made available both at the all-India and state level separately in the case of males and females and classified as main and marginal workers as well as cultivators, agricultural labours and HHIs. The information is also available separately available for the rural as well as for the urban areas.

Download EXCEL Sheet: Number and Percentage of Child Labour, All-India & State-specific, 2011 Census

Policy of the Government on the issue of Child Labour 1987

Census of India 2001 & 2011

Percentage of Child Workers: 2011 Census, All India

Category Total 6-13 years Child Population %age Child Workers Total Workers
2011 2021*
Persons 20,83,24,939 18,83,92,000 3.48 72,48,250
Males 10,88,28,693 9,87,40,000 3.65 39,68,036
Females 9,94,96,246 8,96,52,000 3.30 32,80,214
Rural Areas 15,31,31,404 3.76 57,64,260
Urban Areas 5,51,93,535 3.69 14,83,990
SC 3,69,30,288 3.40 12,54,586
ST 2,05,49,018 5.95 12,21,867

*Expert Committee  projected population.

A glance at the percentage of child workers in the total 6 to 13 years population reveals that as many as 3.48 per cent of the total population in this age group was classed as child workers which includes both the main and the marginal workers. Though the percentage looks low in absolute terms the number of child workers in 2011 was as high as 208.32 million of which the male constitute 52.24 per cent and the girls, 47.76 per cent. Even if the percentage of the child population in 2021 remains at the 2011 level i.e. 3.48 per cent, in absolute terms the country may see a decline in the number of child workers because of the decline in the child population which is based on the Report of the Expert Committee on Population Projections,  Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Report of the Expert Group on Population Projections (June 2020).

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Recent publications of Arun C Mehta, Formerly Professor & Head of the EMIS Department, NIEPA, New Delhi