Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India & Ors. (1997) 10 SCC 549
The Supreme Court of India, in this public interest litigation case, directed the State of Uttar Pradesh to eliminate the carpet industry’s use of child labor, issue welfare directives prohibiting child labor under the age of 14 and provide children access to education and health facilities in an effort to abolish child labor.
This public interest litigation case (PIL) was filed via Article 32 of the Indian Constitution directly before the Supreme Court of India and petitioned the Court to direct the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP) to take steps to end child labor. Thereafter a Court-appointed committee reported the enormity of child exploitation in UP’s carpet industry, finding that many children were kidnapped from Bihar, that the industry largely employed minor children under 14 years, and that many experienced physical abuse.
In its judgment, the Court discussed the importance of protecting children’s rights to education, health, and development in ensuring India’s progress as a democracy. While recognizing that child labor could not be abolished immediately due to economic necessity, the Court found that pragmatic steps could be taken to protect and promote the rights of children in the poverty-stricken and vulnerable populations of Indian society. In support of its conclusion, the Court referred to various fundamental rights and directive principles of the Indian Constitution including, Article 21 (the right to life and personal liberty), Article 24 (prohibits employment of children younger than 14 in factories, mines, or other hazardous industries), Article 39 (e) (prohibits forcing citizens into vocations unsuited for their age or strength), Article 39(f) (describes the State’s duties to protect children from exploitation and to ensure children the opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner), and Article 45 (mandates the State to provide free compulsory education for all children below 14 years). The Court also noted India’s obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide free primary education for all children in the country, and to protect children against economic exploitation. The measures ordered to abolish child labor set out in an earlier case, M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors. [[(1996) 6 SCC 756] were referenced by the Court and incorporated in orders to the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The orders included, directing the States to take steps to frame policies to progressively eliminate the employment of children below the age of 14; provide compulsory education to all children employed in factories, mining, and other industries; ensure that the children receive nutrient-rich foods; and administer periodic health check-ups.
In its judgment, the Court required that periodic reports of progress regarding the implementation of the decision be submitted to the Registry of the Court. In addition, as regards enforcement, a supplemental, if not consequential outcome of this case, along with other relevant public interest litigation cases, was that that National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2006 framed the NCPCR rules constituting the National Child Rights Commission. This Commission was entrusted with assessing compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the child and thus by extension monitoring the provision of free primary education for all children in the country and the protection of children against economic exploitation.
Bandhua Mukti Morcha
This case along with other public interest litigation cases on the issue of child labor, and a range of child labor eradication campaigns have been successful in raising awareness about the issue of child labor and placing the issue prominently on the government’s agenda. Law and policy is moving in the direction of formal abolition of child labor and different initiatives especially in the area of education are being undertaken towards eradicating child labor. One effect has been that the use of child labor in the carpet industry has been reduced. However, millions of children still continue to be exploited in the labor market in India and there is an urgent need for stronger and more effective protections for the rights of children.
(Updated June 2015)