Child labour is the practice of having children engage in economic activity, on part or full-time basis. The practice deprives children of their childhood, and is harmful to their physical and mental development. Poverty, lack of good schools and growth of informal economy are considered as the important causes of child labour in India.
The 1998 national census of India estimated the total number of child labour, aged 5–14, to be at 12.6 million, out of a total child population of 253 million in 5-14 age group. A 2009-2010 nationwide survey found child labour prevalence had reduced to 4.98 million children (or less than 2% of children in 5-14 age group). The 2011 national census of India found the total number of child labour, aged 5–14, to be at 4.35 million, and the total child population to be 259.64 million in that age group. The child labour problem is not unique to India; worldwide, about 217 million children work, many full-time.
In 2001, an estimated 1% of all child workers, or about 120,000 children in India were in a hazardous job. UNICEF estimates that India with its larger population, has the highest number of labourers in the world under 14 years of age, while sub-saharan African countries have the highest percentage of children who are deployed as child labour. International Labour Organisation estimates that agriculture at 60 percent is the largest employer of child labour in the world, while United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates 70% of child labour is deployed in agriculture and related activities. Outside of agriculture, child labour is observed in almost all informal sectors of the Indian economy.
Companies including Gap, Primark, Monsanto have been criticised for child labour in their products. The companies claim they have strict policies against selling products made by underage children, but there are many links in a supply chain making it difficult to oversee them all. In 2011, after three years of Primark's effort, BBC acknowledged that its award-winning investigative journalism report of Indian child labour use by Primark was a fake. BBC apologized to Primark, to Indian suppliers and all its viewers.
Article 24 of India's constitution prohibits child labour. Additionally, various laws and the Indian Penal Code, such as the Juvenile Justice (care and protection) of Children Act-2000, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Abolition) Act-1986 provide a basis in law to identify, prosecute and stop child labour in India.