Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and Others

(1997) 10 SCC 549
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Carpet industries in Uttar Pradesh employed children, under the age of 14, where they were “being treated as slaves” and were “subjected to physical torture.” This writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court under Article 32 as a public interest matter. The Court immediately commissioned a report to determine whether children under the age of 14 were employed in the carpet industry. Subsequently the Court appointed a committee to report (the Report) on the exploitation of children in the carpet industry.

The Report found that the children were being treated as slaves and were subjected to violence and physical torture. Furthermore, the report found that approximately 42% of the carpet industry’s workforce comprised of children below the age of 14, of which almost all were between 6 and 11 year of age, and belonged to “scheduled casts and scheduled tribes.” The matter before the court was whether the Government of Uttar Pradesh, by not preventing such employment and by not improving the condition of children in general, violated Article 24 of the Constitution which prohibits employment of children below the age of fourteen in factories, mines or in any other hazardous activity.

<p>The Court noted that due to poverty and child labour “children were being subjected to deprivation of their meaningful right to life, leisure, food, shelter, medical aid and education.” It further noted that this deprivation has an adverse effect on the efficacy of democracy and rule of law.</p>

<p>The Court invoked India’s obligations under international law, most notably under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (the Convention) but acknowledged that India had ratified the Convention on the promise of progressive implementation.</p>

<p>With regard to India’s obligations under the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution, the Court, held that it was “incumbent upon the State to provide facilities and opportunity as enjoined under Article 39(e) and (f) of the Constitution and to prevent exploitation of their childhood due to indigence and vagary.” It held that compulsory education of children was one of the principal means and primary duty of the State towards eliminating social tensions.</p>

<p>Recognizing that child labour could not be banned in one sweep, the Court held that together with phasing out child labour, alternatives for the child should be evolved including providing education, health care, nutrient food, shelter and other means of livelihood with self-respect and dignity of person.”</p>

<p>The Court directed the Government of India to establish policies, in consultation with state governments, to progressively stop employment of children under the age of 14. Referring to the scheme laid down in M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors ((1996) 6 SCC 756), the Court stated that the policies should provide for:</p>

  1. “Compulsory education to all children either by the industries itself or in co-ordination with it by the State Government to the children employed in the factories, mine or any other industry, organized or unorganized labour with such timings as is convenient to impart compulsory education, facilities for secondary, vocational profession and higher education;
  2. Apart from education, periodical health check-up;
  3. Nutrient food etc.;
  4. Entrust the responsibilities for implementation of the principles.”

<p>It directed other states to implement the welfare measures mentioned in the order as well.</p>

“[A] Constitution Bench has held education up to the of14 years to be a fundamental right; right to health has been held to be a fundamental right; right to potable water has been held to be a fundamental right; meaningful right to life has been held to be a fundamental right. The child is equally entitled to all these fundamental rights. It would, therefore, be incumbent upon the State to provide facilities and opportunity as enjoined under Article 39(e) and (f) of the Constitution and to prevent exploitation of their childhood due to indigence and vagary.” Page 8.

“[W]hile exploitation of the child must be progressively banned, other simultaneously alternatives to the child should be evolved including providing education, health care, nutrient food, shelter and other means of livelihood with self-respect and dignity of person. Immediate ban of child labour would be both unrealistic and counter-productive. Ban of employment of children must begin from most hazardous and intolerable activities like slavery, bonded labour, trafficking, prostitution, pornography and dangerous forms of labour and the like.” Page 9.

“Compulsory education, therefore, to these children is one of the principal means and primary duty of the State for stability of the democracy, social integration and to eliminate social tensions.” Page 9.

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