From the time of its independence, India has committed itself to be against child labour. Article 24 of the Indian constitution clearly states that “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment” (Constitution of India cited in Jain 1985, 218). Article 39 (e) directs State policy such “that the health and strength of workers . . . and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength” (Constitution of India cited in Human Rights Watch 1996, 29).
These two articles show that India has always had the goal of taking care of its children and ensuring the safety of workers. The Bonded Labour System Act of 1976 fulfills the Indian Constitution’s directive of ending forced labour. The Act “frees all bonded labourers, cancels any outstanding debts against them, prohibits the creation of new bondage agreements, and orders the economic rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers by the state” (Human Rights Watch 1996, 30). In regard to child labour, the Indian government implemented the Child Labour Act in 1986. The purpose of this act is to “prohibit the employment of children who have not completed their 14th year in specified hazardous occupations and processes” (Narayan 1988, 146). ILO convention No. 138 suggests that the minimum age for employment should not be less than fifteen years, and thus the Child Labour Act of 1986 does not meet this target (Subrahmanya 1987, 105).
A recent advance in government policy occurred in August of 1994, when then- Prime Minister Narasimha Rao announced his proposal of an Elimination of Child Labour Programme. This program pledges to end child labour for two million children in hazardous industries as defined in the Child Labour Act of 1986, by the year 2000. The program revolves around an incentive for children to quit their work and enter non-formal schooling: a one hundred rupee payment as well as one meal a day for attending school (Human Rights Watch 1996, 119-120). Where the funds for this program will come from is unknown. The government needs eight and a half billion dollars for the program over five years, and yet “about 4 percent of the fiveyear estimated cost was allocated for child labour elimination programs in 1995-1996” (Human Rights Watch 1996, 120).
All of the policies that the Indian government has in place are in accordance with the Constitution of India, and all support the eradication of Child Labour. The problem of child labour
still remains even though all of these policies are existent.
Enforcement is the key aspect that is lacking in the government’s efforts. No enforcement data for child labour laws are available: “A glaring sign of neglect of their duties by officials charged with enforcing child labor laws is the failure to collect, maintain, and disseminate accurate statistics regarding enforcement efforts” (Human Rights Watch 1996, 131). Although the lack of data does not mean enforcement is nonexistent, the number of child labourer and their work participation rates show that enforcement, if existent, is ineffective.