• Yukti Choudhary

On Trafficking, Child Labour and Modern Slavery

When one reads the word “trafficked”, readers often consider it to be synonymous to “trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation”. Visuals of women in brothels predominate the thoughts of people when they hear the word “trafficking”.

Ironically, not much is read into the word “trafficking” through the lens of child labour. In India, millions of children are forced into labour every year, against their will. They are trafficked from one corner of the country to another to work in brick kilns, garment factories, tea stalls, as domestic workers and in the mining industry. These children form a very integral part of the global supply chain, without even knowing the meaning of the word “supply chain”. When children as young as six are deprived of their right to education and instead made to work long hours, knowledge of world affairs and of responsible business practices are of least interest to them. All they can possibly hope for is decent food at the end of the day, with no physical abuse by the employer.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines Child Labour as any work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development[i]. India has approximately 10.1 million child labourers, out of which 5.6 million are boys and 4.5 million are girls, as per the Census of 2011[ii]. However, It is difficult to exactly measure the number of child labour in the global supply chain in India. As per the estimates of the UN, amongst those in child labour, the percentage in global supply chain is the highest in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia at 26%[iii].

iStockphoto; Source: M.Rajkumar, What Does India’s Law Say on Child Labour? How to File Complaints? Published on June 12, 2020 available at retrieved on January 17,2021

Human Trafficking maybe be broadly defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.[iv] This exploitation includes forced child labour and practices similar that may be termed as “modern slavery”.

In the recent past, the gargantuan tentacles of child labour have been exposed. To cite a few examples, the role of child labour in the mining of mica has been brought to light. Children had been working in mica mines in Koderma; and three of them died due to the perilous nature of the job. It has been claimed that the mine owners paid blood-money to the family of the victims to cover the deaths of these young children[v]. Children as young as 8 years have been found working in a garment factory in the Delhi- the national capital of India, where they were made to work for 22 hours a day with one meal a day and were brutalized with hammers and cutters incase of lapse in work[vi]. In the brick-kilns of Tamil Nadu, the stories of child labour being held captive and being made to work overtime with physical abuse is a common story[vii].

Child Labour continues to haunt the nation even after numerous Constitutional provisions, Statutes and Schemes have been enacted by the Government to eradicate child labour and trafficking in the country. The Constitution of India, 1950[viii] along with the Right to Education Act, 2009 mandates free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14 yrs. Children below the age of fourteen years are prohibited from working in dangerous factories which may cause them physical or long term mental harm[ix]. The Directive Principles of State Policy further make it a duty of the parent or guardian of a child to provide opportunities for education of their child between the age of 6 to 14 years. Further, the Child Labour Amendment (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2016 regulates the employment of children and does not allow children below the age of 14 to work except as a child artist and in a family business Additionally, India has ratified ILO Convention 138 on Minimum Age, ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), UN CRC Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict, UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons[x].

Image Source: World Day Against Child Labour: An Overview of the Current situation in India published on June 12, 2019 retrieved on January 17, 2021

The major reasons for the prevalence of trafficking and child labour are poverty, ill-literacy, professional needs (small fingers for bangle making etc) and debt bondage. Surpringly, in India, most of the trafficked children belong to lower castes, tribal populations and minority communities. They are more vulnerable and easily fall into the trap of the traffickers. Once trafficked, locating children becomes a tedious task as most of the children are trafficked to other states within the country and in such cases jurisdictional issues take up too much bureaucratic time. Time is critical and it provides a tip-off to the organized mafia of the trafficking world, who ensure that they go scot-free and the trafficked children can never find a way back home. Child labour not only causes physical harm to children, but also leaves feep psychological scars forever.

Many international companies which source their raw materials from other developing or under-developed countries have developed a Code of Conduct for the Suppliers. In this post-UNGP world, these Codes give due respect to human rights at workplace and emphasis on the prohibition of child labour. However, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Firstly, in most cases, the age of children for their classification as “child labour” is not mentioned. In such a case, the domestic laws of Supplier countries are applicable, which usually tend to be lax. The political economy of supply chain capitalism is the foundation for procurement of raw materials from the developing world. Secondly, there is no regular or mandatory audit for the suppliers. Lastly, sub-contracting within the Supply chains poses a bigger risk, as supplier liabilities begin to get blurred and traceability becomes a major challenge.

Perhaps, the world should consider making it mandatory for companies to open up their supply chains to scrutiny by independent third parties for due diligence. Steps are being taken in this direction, but much remains to be achieved. Many legislations in the US, UK and the EU have been enacted to address modern slavery in supply chains. The recent French Due Diligence Law has laid the foundation of a due diligence requirement; and many nations are now debating the creation of a similar law. Let’s hope 2021 brings about more laws that can establish corporate accountability for human rights violations for suppliers and sub-contractors in the global supply chain. While framing such laws, they should make attempts to include provisions to address child labour and define it as clearly as possible.

[i] Child Labour is defined by the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No.138), and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No.182), and by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. [ii] UNICEF, Child labour and Exploitation available at,and%204.5%20million%20are%20girls as retrieved on January 17,2021 [iii] Ending child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains: International Labour Organization, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, International Organization for Migration and United Nations Children’s Fund, 2019 [iv] Ending child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains: International Labour Organization, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, International Organization for Migration and United Nations Children’s Fund, 2019 pg 2 [v] R. Srivastava, Global spotlight on illegal mica mines drives Indian villagers to hide deaths, published on November 20, 2019 available at as retrieved on January 17, 2021 [vi] F. Haider, Beaten with hammers, without rest: 26 boys rescued from jeans factory in Delhi published on February 7, 2017 available at as retrieved on January 17, 2021 [vii] P.Abraham, From Bondage to Freedom: a Child Labourer’s Story of Resilience, published on June 12, 2019 available at as retrieved on January 17, 2021 [viii] Article 21(A), Constitution of India [ix] Article 24, Constitution of India [x] US Separtment of Labor, Child Labour and Forced Labour Reports: India 2019, available at as retrieved on January 17, 2021