According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are around 12.9 million Indian children engaged in work between the ages of 7 to 17 years old. When children are employed or doing unpaid work, they are less likely to attend school or attend only intermittingly, trapping them in the cycle of poverty. Millions of Indian boys and girls are going to work every day in quarries and factories, or selling cigarettes on the street. The majority of these children are between 12 and 17 years old and work up to 16 hours a day to help their families make ends meet. But child labour in India can start even earlier with an estimated 10.1 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 years-old engaged in works.

As children get older, their involvement in employment also increases. In India, 20 percent of all children aged 15 to 17 years old are involved in hazardous industries and jobs. Measuring the exact scale of child labour in India is difficult as it is often hidden and under-reported. There are almost 18 million children between the ages of 7 to 17 years old who are considered “inactive” in India, neither in employment nor in school. These missing girls and boys in India are potentially subject to some of the worst forms of child labour.

The Indian Government enacted a law against child labour in 1993 prohibiting dangerous work or activities that could harm the mental, spiritual, moral or social development of girls and boys under the age of 18. In 2006 and again in 2016, the laws against child labour were tightened to ensure that children under the age of 14 were prohibited from working as domestic help or service staff in restaurants and hotels. However, child labour in family businesses remains acceptable.

To ensure the enforcement of these laws, the Indian government is currently developing another law which would increase the punishment for employers who use child labourers under the age of 14, changing the penalty from a fine to a prison sentence which would last several years.