Contemporary Slavery in India: Child Slavery

By Sandra Yu Min Lee

Published Date: 2021 / 08 / 22


[Photo Credit: Financial Times]

India ranks among the highest in the world regarding the prevalence of contemporary slavery. For every thousand people, there are 6.1 victims, with approximately 8 million people enslaved in various circumstances and work settings. The most current available report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) pinpoints that in 2016, there were 15,379 people who were trafficked for the purpose of forced labour, sexual exploitation, and other forms modern slavery, of whom 9,034 victims were ages below 18. This number of children trafficked accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the number of people trafficked in India over the course of one year (2018 Global Slavery Index).
Causes of child slavery are numerous, and include poverty and illiteracy of children’s parents, the family’s social and economic circumstances, a lack of awareness about the harmful effects of child labour, and lack of access to basic and meaningful quality education and skills training (UNICEF). However, poverty and desperation create the groundwork for these causes. Most families in India have numbers of children that exceed that which is financially viable. To top it off, the issue is augmented by low income, which makes these families eventually resort to selling their children as a solution (Humanium).
Over recent years, child slavery in India has undergone changes in its visibility and form. India has enforced legislation, buyers are becoming more aware of child exploitation, and the country is drawn with attention and pressure internationally regarding the abundance of children exposed to slavery. As a result, child slavery is becoming more invisible and shifting from the setting of factories to home-based workforces, such as business owners’ homes (UNICEF). Therefore, this issue is yet to be tackled with a practical and fruitful solution, which may be provided through the implementation of structural rehabilitation for the victims, including education and medical care.
In 2018, the Indian government reinforced its law against child labour and established the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill (SOS Children’s Villages). This criminalizes and increases the severity of penalties for certain forms of trafficking that are classified as ‘aggravated’, including that which is purposed for forced labour, inducing early sexual maturity, and begging (PRS Legislative Research). Furthermore, the Indian government also made amendments to the Child and Adolescent Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act in 2006 and 2016, and distributed a new data collection form that requires state governments to annually report to the National Crime Records Bureau specific details of human trafficking cases that occur at the district level (Tax & Corporate Laws of India). However, the government has not released comprehensive data for the 2017 or 2018 reporting periods (US Department of Labor).
While they have alleviated India’s issue of modern slavery, particularly human trafficking, these laws only aid the population of children enslaved to a certain degree. Although the Child and Adolescent Labor Act prohibit children under the age of 14 from working in domestic settings or restaurants and hotels, 15 to 17-year-olds still remain susceptible to labour, as they are only restricted from ‘dangerous’ work. Moreover, if the work is part of a family business, all children are legally allowed to work after school hours (Bare Acts Live). Additionally, some business leaders, such as mine owners, own substantial influence, and these companies refrain from eradicating cheap labour within the processes of operating their business (SOS Children’s Villages). Although the laws enforced by the Indian government aim to improve the number of vulnerable and missing children, the exceptions the laws have ruled out still result in an extensive number of victims, as certain teenagers remain exposed to slavery.

The Root of the Problem: Child Traffickers
Some children who suffer from poverty and the brutality of their families in the countryside flee in order to pursue a better life in a larger city. These children are particularly prone to being trafficked, as they are targeted by traffickers waiting for them at train stations. Traffickers often coerce their victims by promising them with a stable job and income. When they successfully sell the children to employers, they receive a commission of up to 1,000 rupees or roughly 13 US dollars for every child (ABC News).
A child trafficker, who identifies himself as Krishna, works in the streets of Bangalore, which primarily attracts children from the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. He has worked in this business for roughly five years and “immediately notices if a child is strong enough”. Krishna says he is able to identify “which child matches which employer”, and adds, “I help the children...they come here and want work and I find them employment” (Spiegel). He further explains that his work has become more difficult over recent years, as there are more competitors working in the business. He claims with pride that he is one of the best at his job: trafficking children and sending boys to hotels and repair shops, and girls to tailors or his colleagues who cater to private buyers (ABC News). Krishna’s claims show that child traffickers’ perception of themselves is vastly different from that which takes the suffering of victims into consideration, as they see themselves as more of placement agencies, rather than people who lure and ensnare people into exploitation.

Measures Being Taken
Since the issue of modern slavery was first recognized internationally, there have been numerous NGOs that have set out with a mission to reduce, if not eradicate the number of victims. This aim has intensified especially in recent years. For example, the Global Fund for Children (GFC) launched a five-year initiative in 2018 with local organizations in India that provide direct support and services to children who were trafficked or exposed to hazardous labour. Although they have been supporting these organizations for more than 20 years, they have initiated this plan in order to take an upgraded approach in tackling child slavery (Global Fund for Children). Landscape analysis and mapping help them understand the trends and gaps in anti-slavery and anti-trafficking efforts. Additionally, based on their findings, they develop local networks in areas where extensive numbers of trafficking cases are recorded to provide not only service to the victims but also conduct prevention work (Charity Navigator).
Another NGO is BOSCO, which is an organization in Karnataka that fights against violations of children’s rights, including child trafficking. BOSCO provides counseling, shelter, and vocational training for vulnerable children, and also partners with the Childline India Foundation to operate Child Helplines in Bangalore for abused or runaway children (Pulitzer Center). Similar to BOSCO, Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF), an NGO based in Hyderabad, intends to provide education for victims, as they consider it as a vital tool for breaking the cycle of labour and abuse. In order to reach their aim successfully, MVF has established several residential bridge course camps targeted at children who have not had sufficient education to be placed in government schools. The camps prepare them by teaching them the basics required for normal schooling (Pulitzer Center). From these initiatives taken by different NGOs, it can be inferred that while many organizations support children whose rights have already been violated through means of child trafficking, measures with which child slavery could be prevented beforehand are not performed as well and commonly by NGOs.
The violated rights of trafficked children negatively impact a critical time in their lifetime, which can damage them both psychologically and physically. Even if some are liberated from enslavement, the gaps in their education will prevent them from successfully integrating into society and earning a stable job and income. Due to these heavy circumstances victims are put in, child slavery is a cycle, which is why it should be dealt with proper after-care, if not successfully prevented beforehand.

Works Cited ‍
Backhaus, Anne. “Daughters for Sale: India's Child Slavery Scourge.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 13 Oct. 2013,
Backhaus, Anne. “Daughters for Sale: India's Child Slavery Scourge - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International.” SPIEGEL ONLINE, SPIEGEL ONLINE, 20 Sept. 2013,
“Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.” Https://, Tax & Corporate Law of India,
“Child Labour in India.” SOS Children's Villages Canada, SOS Children's Villages Canada,
“Combatting Child Trafficking in India.” Global Fund for Children, 20 Nov. 2019,
“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - India.” U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs,
“India: Global Slavery Index.” India | Global Slavery Index,
“Indian Legislation Protects Children from Exploitation:” UNICEF, UNICEF,
Olivier. “Child Trafficking in India: Give Voice to the Voiceless.” Humanium, 6 Apr. 2018,

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