Child Trafficking and Child Labor Continues to Plague India

By Siona Chibber, Communications Intern

Human trafficking among children in India has been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic. New Delhi alone has seen a 68% surge in trafficking cases since the global lockdown. Many of these cases go beyond abduction as children are used as labor. 

According to UNICEF, child labor leads to a damaged national economy, creates abusive environments for children, bars children from receiving proper education, and feeds into the continuous cycle of generational poverty. The pandemic pushed vulnerable families further into poverty and desperation for survival, exacerbating these situations.

For many families who have fallen into debt and poverty, child labor and child marriages have become a way to supplement their income. “What the families don’t know is how difficult it is for the children to come back once they board a bus to those sweatshops in the big cities,” said Dhananjay Tingal, executive director of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan movement.This has led to a crisis that has extended beyond the COVID lockdown. 

The Indian government has previously taken steps to address trafficking and labor issues through legislation and awareness campaigns. The Child Labor (Prohibition & Regulation) Act was created in 1986. It specified that child labor was only permitted in certain working conditions and outlined the repercussions that would follow should the working conditions remain unsuitable for minors. Presently, there is a list of specified dangerous working conditions, and forms of regulation on labor are continuously being expanded upon. Stricter legislation under this amendment is currently being worked on as well regarding conditions of work based on the age groups of the children. 

However, when looking at the ‘fine print’ of this legislation, there are loopholes that do not prohibit child labor for children 16-18 years old. Traffickers abuse those gaps so they can continue their exploitation without direct legal repercussions, allowing child labor and trafficking to continue in India. 

In 2016, the Juvenile Justice Act stated that children ages 16-18 can be tried for crimes, including those related to poor working conditions and illegal work. This amendment is criticized for shifting focus away from addressing the root cause of child labor and exploitation and instead punishing vulnerable children who are often victims themselves. Trying children as adults could have detrimental effects on their development and future prospects, exposing them to harsher penalties and hindering their rehabilitation. A more holistic approach is needed to address the underlying issues of poverty, exploitation, and lack of opportunities for children in India. 

Despite attempts at legal regulation, the challenges for poverty-stricken families in India remain prevalent. There is little to no enforcement, minimal reporting and documentation, and very little public awareness or knowledge about child labor, especially in remote and underprivileged areas. With a lack of investments from the government, red tape, restrictions on donations to non-profit organizations (NGOs), and overall corruption, the safety of children in India continues to be a major concern. 

Spreading awareness, advocating for education, and aiding in the mobilization of these underserved communities where child trafficking and child labor are eminent, are just a few ways government officials and other authority figures in the Indian subcontinent could successfully combat this issue. The ChildLine 1098 website shares further information on the harmful effects of child trafficking/child labor and provides a list of solutions for the Indian community to help eradicate this issue. Global Funds for Children has a page that lists out project partners and organizations they work alongside in India.  

Children deserve a well-rounded childhood and access to education. Trafficking and illegal labor do nothing but harm children and their ability to grow in a safe environment. 


Published on April 8, 2024


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