World Day Against Child Labour: Compensation Eludes Many Victims in India

Photo: Varun Tandon

Khemlal, from Chhattisgarh, had spent most of his life traveling to various villages and towns in India. He had been to Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu, and Kashmir.

His parents were seasonal brick kiln workers, which meant he was born into bonded labour, without knowing then what it meant.

Born in a brick kiln, Khemlal started working when he was 13. His relentless quest for a better life made him study whenever he could, in between shifts. In 2004, Khemlal and all those working at his kiln were “rescued” from the harsh punishments meted out by the factory owner and asked to go home.

Years later, when Khemlal failed his engineering entrance and took up volunteer work with an NGO, he understood what bonded labour meant and realized that when they were rescued in 2004, by law, they should have received victim compensation.

But due to a lack of proper due diligence, they were no longer eligible for it.

Examples like Khemlal’s are not rare even though there is no consolidated data on how many trafficking victims miss out on compensation. This despite the fact that many State Governments and Union Territories have notified their victim compensation under Section 357A of the Code for Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

To supplement these schemes, Ministry of Home Affairs had released Rs 200 crores as a one-time grant to State Governments and Union Territories in 2016-17 under the Central Victim Compensation Fund from Nirbhaya Fund. The allotted funds can be used by the States and Union Territories to compensate victims of various crimes, including abuse of minor, assault, human trafficking, etc. (

According to ‘Fact Sheet: Child labour in India’ of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), “As per Census 2011, the total child population in India in the age group (5-14) years is 259.6 million. Of these, 10.1 million (3.9% of total child population) are working, either as ‘main worker’ or as ‘marginal worker’. In addition, more than 42.7 million children in India are out of school.”


Though the study noted that the incidence of child labour in India decreased by 2.6 million between 2001 and 2011, it found the decline more visible in rural areas. The number of child workers increased in urban areas, indicating the growing demand for child workers in menial jobs, it added.

By all accounts, these numbers would have seen some significant changes, especially during the pandemic. The United Nations has described the pandemic as an accelerator of trafficking.

June 12 – celebrated as the World Day against Child Labour – may be a good time to take a look at the plight of trafficking victims in India. Many like Khemlal miss out on victim compensation and others, especially those that are victims of sex trafficking, also often end up stigmatized for life.

A survey conducted by Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) indicated that in 2021 child labour had increased by 180 percent compared to 2020 in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu (

ILO has established June 12 as World Day against Child Labour in 2002 to raise awareness about the plight of children engaged in child labour. This day is also intended to serve as a catalyst for advocating for stronger laws, policies, and regulations that would protect children from exploitation.

Each year, the day aims to bring together governments, civil society organizations, workers’ organizations, and employers to highlight the difficulties faced by child labourers and the ways in which their rehabilitation and education can be encouraged.

As per the 2020 estimates by ILO, a majority of children globally are engaged in agricultural and informal sectors. These estimates indicate that the number of children engaged in labour stood at 160 million at the beginning of 2020, with 63 million girls and 97 million boys accounted for.

The “2022 Trafficking in Persons Report: India” by the US Department of State ( says, “Despite some estimates of eight million Indians in bonded labor, the Ministry of Labor and Employment’s annual report stated that the government had identified and released 313,962 since 1976. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh states accounted for the majority of bonded labor victims identified in 2020, with 1,291, 289, and 1,026 victims identified respectively, overall accounting for 92 percent of the country’s total identification of bonded labor victims.”

To end* with Khemlal’s story, he is today associated with the Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT), a national platform by and for survivors of human trafficking.

He is now working hard to ensure that his fate does not befall others like him. Through this association, they now use their voice as survivors’ leaders to advocate for stringent anti-human trafficking rules and laws in India.

ILFAT has been pushing for the passage of the Trafficking in Persons Bill and also pushing for anti-human trafficking units (AHTU) across the country, ensuring victim compensation and putting together the requisite network for community-based rehabilitation of victims.

Author of the article Jayanta Bhattacharya is a Delhi-based journalist who has covered East and South Asia extensively for well over three decades. He has covered the Afghan conflict on-ground since 1991 and still closely follows ‘The Great Game’. He also writes on political matters, and farmers’ and human interest issues.