Research findings

India has had interventions on justice for children first through the National Children’s Act, 1960. This was followed by the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 and presently the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, as amended in 2006. The Juvenile Justice Law in India deals with children in need of care and protection as well as with children in conflict with the law. In 2006, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) proposed the adoption of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS). In 2009, the scheme was approved by the central government which began providing children with protection and a safe environment to develop and flourish. The purpose of the scheme is to provide for children in difficult circumstances, as well as to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities children face in various situations and actions that lead to abuse, neglect, exploitation, abandonment and separation of children1.

The basis of determined and concerted action on child labour has to be legislation. Therefore, we will look at some of the national and international conventions and prominent legislations that have made significant impact on the rights of the child.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)2 is a human rights treaty setting out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The Convention defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under a state’s own domestic legislation. Nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law.

The Cabinet in its meeting in August 2012 finally made employment of children below the age of 14 a cognisable offence by adopting a proposal to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, to put a total ban on employment of children below 14 years in any industry, hazardous or non-hazardous.

The amendment cleared at the meeting presided by the Prime Minister also approved a blanket ban on employing children below 18 years in hazardous industries like mining. Until then, children under the age of 14 years were prohibited from employment only in hazardous industry.

This also enabled India to ratify ILO Convention3 138 (minimum age for entry to employment) and Convention 182 (prohibition of employment of persons below 18 years in hazardous occupations).

It was also decided that the overall responsibility for implementation of the Act would be vested with the district magistrate and the monitoring and inspection was to be done by the labour department in the state concerned.

In spite of this ratification children continue to work under hazardous conditions in India, for instance in the gem industry in Jaipur, glass factories in Firozabad and the lock industry in Aligarh4 The Constitution of India enjoins (Article 24) that children below the age of 14 years shall not be employed to work in any factory or mine or be engaged in any other hazardous employment. Moreover, one of the Directive Principles of State Policy (Article 39(c) and (0) provides that the tender age of children should not be abused, that citizens should not be forced by economic necessity to enter a vocation unsuited to their age or strength, and that childhood and youth be protected against moral and material abandonment. Importantly, Article 45 of the Constitution directs the state to endeavour to provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years.

Child labourers include children prematurely leading adult lives, working long hours for low wages under conditions damaging to their health and to their physical and mental development. They are sometimes separated from their families, frequently deprived of meaningful education and training opportunities that could open up for them a better future. When a child is engaged in wage earning, to support himself/herself or the family, and it directly or indirectly interferes with the growth and development of the child, it is child labour. This includes work in any sector – formal and non-formal, organised and unorganised, within and outside the family. Even family labour that deprives the child of his/her right to education, recreation, physical, mental and emotional health is considered child labour5.

Child labour is the result of a combination of factors: poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, unemployment of parents, non-availability and non-accessibility to schools and school drop-outs due to irrelevant school curriculum. The employers also exploit children because they are cheap labour and because of their inability to fight against exploitation. The ineffective implementation and enforcement of legislations pertaining to child labour also contributes significantly to child labour.

Deprivation of all child rights is a major consequence of child labour. Long working hours under stressful, hazardous conditions impairs the child’s physical and psychological health. It undermines the child’s dignity and selfesteem and deprives him/her of a healthy happy childhood. The lack of education creates an unskilled adult labour force with poor employment opportunities. Thus, child labour creates a vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment, underemployment and low wages.

‘Children in India 2012 – A Statistical Appraisal’6 analyses the conditions of children regarding child survival, child development and child protection. There is considerable increase in the absolute number of child labour. The very young children (aged 5-7 years), both boys and girls, are mainly involved in unpaid work for someone who is not a member of their household. The older boys, aged 12-14, are mainly engaged in paid work or family work, whereas girls in this age group are involved mainly in household chores or family work. Rural children aged 5-14 years are more likely to be engaged in work than their urban counterparts. It was seen that the number of children engaged in work activities decreases steadily with parents’ increasing education and increasing wealth.

In 2012, the Women and Child Development (WCD) ministry revised the National Policy for Children7 for the first time since it was adopted in 1974. The draft policy defines any individual below the age of 18 years as a child. The key priorities as listed in the policy are survival, health, nutrition, development, education, protection and participation. According to ministry officials, the policy would guide and inform all laws, policies, plans and programmes affecting children and all other actions of national, state and local governments in relation to the population below 18 years. As per the draft policy, it is claimed that the state would take special protection measures to secure the rights and entitlements of children in difficult circumstances, in particular but not limited to, children affected by migration, displacement, communal or sectarian violence, civil unrest, disasters etc.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NRCB), a large number of children are trafficked for sex trade and other kinds of exploitation that include domestic labour, industrial labour, agricultural labour, begging, organ trade and child marriage. Trafficking in children is on the rise, and nearly 60 per cent of the victims of trafficking are below 18 years8. According to the NHRC report on trafficking in women and children, the population of women and children in sex work in India is between 70,000 and 1 million. Of these, 30 per cent are 20 years old. Nearly 15 per cent began sex work when they were below 15 and 25 per cent entered between 15 and 18 years. Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) of children refers to using a child for sexual activities for the material or monetary gains of an adult. Those who profit from this commercial exploitation could include parents, family members, community members, procurers/agents, pimps, brothel owners and others9.

Poverty and ignorance are the primary reasons for this worldwide phenomenon. Families exploit their children to contribute to the household income. There are some communities where religious and cultural systems, like the Devdasi, Jogini or the Bedia tribes of Rajasthan legitimise the sexual exploitation of young girls and ultimately many of them get into prostitution/sex work. Rapid growth of tourism has led to the expansion of the child sex industry. In India, there are increasing numbers of instances of CSE of children at popular tourist destinations where they become victims of paedophiles. Child pornography, audio-visual material using children in sexually abusive manners, is another form of CSE of children. Physical, psychological and emotional abuse traumatises the child, and leads to societal or family rejection and ostracism. Trafficking of children for domestic work, adoption, child labour and other abusive situations is also a serious concern.

In 2011,10 Maharashtra accounted for 74 per cent of the total 27 cases of ‘buying of girls for prostitution’ and West Bengal accounted for 77 per cent of the total 113 cases of ‘selling of girls for prostitution’. A total of 113 cases under prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 were reported in the country out of which the highest were reported in West Bengal (25), followed by Maharashtra (19), Andhra Pradesh (15), Gujarat (13) and Karnataka (12).

Considering all crimes against children, the crime rate (ratio of number of crimes to population) has marginally increased from 2.3 per cent in 2009 to 2.7 per cent in 2011. The rate was highest in Delhi (25.4) followed by Andaman and Nicobar Islands (20.3), Chandigarh (7) and Chhattisgarh (7), Madhya Pradesh (6) and Goa (5.1)

According to the Statistical Appraisal, Children in India, 2011, 69 per cent of cases of human trafficking were cases booked under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956, though there is a decline of 2.6 per cent in 2011 compared to 2010. Andhra Pradesh accounted for 20.4 per cent and Tamil Nadu accounted for 17.2 per cent of cases under this category, in 2011. An increase of 122.2 per cent has been observed in cases of ‘importation of girls’ during 2010-11, and 56 per cent of these cases reported in 2011 are from Madhya Pradesh.

Child trafficking is akin to slavery, the worst form of exploitation of any human being. The solution lies in a multi-sectoral approach with a child rights perspective and law alone cannot eradicate it. It requires the coming together of government and non-governmental organisations, pressure groups and civil society organisations as well as international bodies to work against it. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion around juvenile crime and the age of the ’child‘. Of the six men accused of raping and brutally assaulting a 23-year old woman in Delhi in December 2012, one turned out to be a juvenile, making him ineligible to be tried with the others. This has raised a debate around what needs to be done to check the rising number of crimes committed by teenagers.

Juvenile crime rose 40 per cent between 2001 and 2010, according to the NCRB. The increase in violence and crimes against women by young offenders has also increased. Rapes by juveniles have more than doubled in the same period, murder is up by a third and kidnappings of women and girls have grown nearly five times. These figures have prompted a drive to give trial judges the discretion to try juveniles as adults, or to define youths over 16 years old as adults when it comes to serious crimes.

A study done by the Department of Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College, Delhi, and Prayas observation home for boys highlighted “a strong positive association between drug use and crime in adolescence.” Based on interviews with the staff of an observation home in Delhi, researchers found that the prevalence of any drug use among the boys before coming to the observation home was between 60 and 70 per cent.

Addictions can be to medicines, over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, beverages, cigarettes, food additives, adhesives, correction fluid, petrol/diesel solution, shoe polish and industrial chemicals. The potent fumes of certain solvents hit a part of the child’s brain where it suppresses hunger, cold and loneliness. Children are particularly prone to be lured into addictions by undesirable societal elements and to be manipulated for drug trafficking by organised drug groups.

However, India’s only government drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centre for juveniles became operational in Delhi in 2011 after rejoinders from Delhi High Court. This implies that there is an urgent need to understand and explore the link between drug abuse and crime among children in distress. Efforts towards prevention of addiction and curing those already addicted will be the right step towards curbing crime among juveniles in India. The increasing trend in incidence of Juvenile Crimes (under IPC) is a matter of grave concern, though the percentage of juvenile crimes to total crimes was around 1 per cent between 2001 to 2011. Juvenile IPC crimes in 2011 increased by 10.5 per cent over 2010 as 22,740 IPC crimes by juveniles were registered during 2010, increasing to 25,125 cases in 2011. Most juvenile crimes fell under ‘Theft’ (21.17 per cent), Hurt (16.3 per cent) and Burglary (10.38 per cent) in 201111.

Some of the factors that lead to juvenile crime are: 12

Poverty: Poverty deprives children of socio-cultural and economic opportunities for growth and development. Poverty related circumstances. like severe hunger, illness, addictions or parental neglect. aggravate the situation. Such children are at greater risk than others of being inducted into crime.

Family: Criminal acts of family members influence children and sometimes they themselves induct children into offences Lack of appropriate guidance and discipline: Inconsistent discipline, parental indifference or abusive parenting can lead to a poor self image and personality problems, making children vulnerable to negative influences outside the home.

The home situation: Disintegration of ’families at risk‘, severe family crisis, migration, and urbanisation have all weakened the positive and nurturing influence of family on the child. Tension and emotional disturbances and abuse at home may drive children away from the home and make them vulnerable to criminal influences.

Victims of abuse: Research indicates a correlation between child abuse and subsequent delinquency. School dropouts: Not attending school regularly results in truancy, indulging in unhealthy leisure activities and committing petty crimes to earn a living.

Exposure to media: Exposure to media violence not only increases physical aggressiveness in children but also makes them more accepting of violence.

Peer influence: In adolescence, experimenting with drugs, gambling, drinking, inappropriate sexual behaviour, desire for quick money, and involvement in youth gangs often lead to violence and crime.

Lack of age-appropriate sex education: This often leads to sexual abuse and molestation and even rape by young children.

Gang culture: A gang culture can be observed especially among street children where the street gang is the substitute family and the child gets bullied into the anti- social activities of the gang in return for survival, protection or favour.

Children in need of care and protection are children who are in especially difficult circumstances and need to be protected by adults from all kinds of neglect, abuse or exploitation. It is the responsibility of adults to ensure ’To Every Child a Childhood.’


This issue has is being addressed by various NGOs which have taken considerable interest in the issue of children and are proactive in their efforts to intervene on the issue of runaway, lost and trafficked children. The experiences of these organisations vary but it is commonly felt that it is difficult to coordinate, share data or speed up information relay.

The role of the police department is crucial. Since both missing and found children cases have to be reported to the police, they have access to a lot of information on missing children. However, on the part of state and central agencies, one sees very little proactive action to locate the missing children by looking at these databases across states.19 When a child goes missing, no FIR is filed as there is no cognisable offence committed. Hence, only an entry is made into the general station diary at the concerned police office. Information of the missing child is forwarded up to the chief of police, and local police officers generate awareness through the media. The police headquarters of each state has a missing persons bureau. A database of missing persons is maintained by the missing persons wing at the NCRB in New Delhi.

Children living on platforms and on the street are an extremely vulnerable group as they are forced to live without protection, supervision and care from concerned adults. These children are found on railway platforms, at bus stops, on pavements, at traffic lights and in religious places. The street children are primarily working children who in order to make a living have no alternative but to beg, rag pick, shoe shine, and work as porters, work at food stalls and hotels, pick garbage and empty plastic water bottles from trains. They may have families but the nature and degree of their contact varies from returning home daily, to returning only a few times annually. Others live on the streets and it is off the street that they seek food, shelter, livelihood and companionship. They have family ties, which are limited and very infrequent. The abandoned and destitute street children have no ties whatsoever with their families. They are abandoned because of poverty, mental or physical handicap, and, in some cases, gender discrimination.

As discussed above, dysfunctional families, poverty, exploitation, domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect, alcoholism and drug abuse compel children to leave home and live on the streets. They are constantly exposed to the dangers of the city life and are vulnerable to exploitation, violence and various forms of abuse. In the absence of access to basic resources that are required for healthy growth and development, their right to education, proper nutrition, clothing, shelter and medical care are grossly violated.

The situation of children living in railway stations is of grave concern as they are often overlooked. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) held several consultations with representatives of railway administration, railway protection force (RPF), government railway police (GRP) and civil society organisations and also conducted field visits to understand the predicament of these children. It found that as transit, source and destination locations, railway stations in India were a breeding ground for child labour and child trafficking and exploitation. To address the rights of these children, NCPCR13 made the following suggestions and recommendations. They amount to a multi pronged strategy that includes several ministries and departments, and were presented in the document

Perspectives on Protection of Child Rights, August 2010:

  1. Establishing linkages between Juvenile Justice Act and the Railway Acts/RPF Act
  2. Mechanisms at railway stations for safeguarding children‘s rights:
    1. Child Protection Committees
    2. Child Welfare Committees
    3. Special Juvenile Police Unit
    4. Child Assistance Booths
  3. Short Stay Shelter Home for children at railway premises
  4. Maintenance of children’s record referred to voluntary organisations or competent authority by RPF and GRP
  5. Awareness of child rights among travelling public
  6. Training and orientation programme on child rights for railway employees
  7. Incorporating the Child Rights and JJ Act in syllabus for railway police trainings
  8. Partnership with voluntary organisations
  9. RPF Mitra Yojana or the ‘Friends of the RPF’
  10. Missing Children data
  11. Monitoring Mechanisms

Khushboo Jain (Petitioner), concerned with the plight of the children who arrive and stay at railway stations, filed a petition against the Ministry of Railways (The High Court of Delhi, at New Delhi. W.P.C (5365/2012)) to demand a system that cares for children in distress and assists them without procedural delays. According to Khushboo, “The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has a set of guidelines for railway children. The PIL demands that these be implemented”. The detailed order that was passed on 13 February 2013 has been included as Annex 3.

Runaway children and those living on the platforms and on the streets require greater attention from central and state government bodies as well as from NGOs and civil society organisations. A chronological analysis of the NGOs that have been working with children in distress may be understood on the basis of three phases of its development:

Phase One:

The discourse on street children gained prominence after the film Salaam Bombay in 1988. The formation of the Salaam Balak Trust also lead to the initiation of organisations like Don Bosco, Butterflies and Prayas. With these organisations the contact points at various railway stations in the city, drop-in centres and night shelters came up as temporary spaces that attempted to create a safe and secure environment for street children.

Phase Two:

In 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was the defining moment in favour of child rights. A comprehensive document, it made the ‘best interest of the child’ the central priority in all the matters impacting the child. CRC not only gave children their basic human, civil, economic, social, cultural and political rights; it also covered four main areas: survival, development, protection and participation of children. 1995–96 saw a general trend towards ‘activist’ engagement with child rights issues.

Phase Three:

With the Juvenile Justice Act in 2000 and its amendment in 2006, CHETNA, Sathi, NIWCYD and other NGOs with a focus on the vulnerabilities of runaway children made the protection and rehabilitation of the child their central focus. Most organisations believe that, ideally, children should live with their parents, and attempts are made to reunite the runaway child with its family. However, when this is not possible, an institutional approach is taken.

An analysis of approaches and strategies of working with runaway children showcase not just the great insight of the NGOs but also their commitment to the well-being of children in distress. In the following section we look at some
case examples.


  • 1 Please check Annex 1 for the complete document
  • 2 Please check Annex 1 for the complete document
  • 3 Please check Annex 1 for the complete document
  • 4 Please check Annex 1 for the complete document
  • 5 Bajpai, A. (2003): Child Rights in India. Law, Policy and Practice, Oxford University Press, New Delhi supported by UNICEF, New Delhi
  • 6 Children in India 2012 – A Statistical Appraisal’, Social Statistics Division Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation
  • 7 Please check Annex 1 for the section on Protection and Participation
  • 8
  • 9 Mehta, Neelima, Child Protection and Juvenile Justice System. Childline India Foundation. April, 2008
  • 10 Children in India 2012 – A Statistical Appraisal’, Social Statistics Division Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation
  • 11 Children in India 2012 – A Statistical Appraisal’, Social Statistics Division Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation
  • 12 Mehta, Neelima, Child Protection and Juvenile Justice System. Childline India Foundation. April, 2008
  • 13 Please check Annex 1 for the complete document