M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu & Others
Supreme Court of India
December 10, 1996
Article 32: Child Labour
Constitution of India: Articles 24, 32, 37, 39, 41, 45 and 47
Section 67 of Factories Act, Section 24 of Plantation Labour Act, Section 109 of Merchant Shipping Act, Section 45 of Mines Act, Section 21 of Motor Transport Workers Act, Section 3 of Apprentices Act, Section 24 of Beedi and Cigar Workers Conditions of Employment Act, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act and the Shops and Commercial Establishment Acts
An activist lawyer filed a petition with the court claiming that the fundamental rights of children were being grossly violated in contravention of Article 24 of the Constitution of India, which provides that “[n]o child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.” The Court noted that child labour is a “big problem” in India, and examined the history of child labour laws in India, including a decision by the court in 1991 in which it gave certain directions as to how the quality of life of children employed in factories in Sivakasi could be improved.
Issue and Resolution:
Child labour. The court ordered that employers illegally employing children must pay Rs. 20,000 into a fund known as the “Child Labour Rehabilitation-cum-Welfare Fund” to be used only for the benefit of that child. The court also ordered the government to either (a) provide employment for an adult member of every family with a child who is employed in a factory or mine or other hazardous work or, if not possible to provide an adult family member with a job, (b) contribute Rs. 5,000 to the Child Labour Rehabilitation-cum-Welfare Fund for each child employed in a factory or mine or other hazardous employment. Adults who are offered jobs in this way would also have a duty to ensure that their children entered full-time education and did not continue to work.
Under the national Constitution and international instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Indian government is required to ensure that children do not engage in hazardous work. Looking to the causes of child labour, poverty is the basic reason that compels parents to employ their children, and unless alternative income is assured to families, these children will continue to work. Because the fines imposed on employers would not be enough to prevent a poor parent from having to put their child to work, the government owes these parents a duty of assistance to help remove their children from hazardous employment.
Excerpts Citing CRC and Other Relevant Human Rights Instruments:
15. It would be apposite to apprise ourselves also about our commitment to world community. For the case at hand it would be enough to note that India has accepted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was concluded by the UN General Assembly on 20th November, 1989. This Convention affirms that children's right require special protection and it aims, not only to provide such protection, but also to ensure the continuous improvement in the situation of children all over the world, as well as their development and education in conditions of peace and security. Thus, the Convention not only protects the child's civil and political right, but also extends protection to child's economic, social, cultural and humanitarian rights.
16. The Government of India deposited its instrument of accession tot he above-mentioned conventions on December 11, 1992 with the United Nation's Secretary-General. That instrument contains the following declaration "While fully subscribing to the objectives and purposes of the Convention, realising that certain of the rights of the child, namely those pertaining to the economic, social and cultural rights can only be progressively implemented in the developing countries, subject to the extent of available resources and within the framework of international co-operation; recognising that the child has to be protected from exploitation of all forms including economic exploitation; nothing that for several reasons children of different ages do work in India; having prescribed minimum ages for employment in hazardous occupations and in certain other areas; having made regulatory provisions regarding hours and conditions of employment; and being aware that it is not practical immediately to prescribe minimum ages for admission to each and every area of employment in India-the Government of India undertakes to take measures to progressively implement the provisions of Article 32, particularly paragraph 2(a), in accordance with its national legislation and relevant international instruments to which it is a State Party."
17. Article 32 of which mention has been made in the instrument of accession reads as below :
"1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:
(a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment'
(b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
(c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article."
The previous case on child labor discussed by the Court is M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors, 1991 AIR 417 1990 SCR Supl. (2) 518 1991 SCC (1) 283 JT 1990 (4) 263 1990 SCALE (2)947, available in full online at http://www.rishabhdara.com/sc/view.php?case=10103.
CRIN believes this decision is consistent with the CRC as all governments that have ratified the Convention have a duty under Article 32 to protect children from hazardous labor. The Court was also wise to look at the factors that contribute to child labor; any practical solution to extensive economic exploitation of children must involve far more than a simple prohibition on the employment of children.
M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors  RD-SC 1576 (10 December 1996)
Link to Full Judgment:
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