Gujarat’s Diamond Industry and Child Labour: The Legal Scenario

By Sonal Goel, Nirma University

 Editor’s Note: India is unfortunately home to the largest number of child laborers in the world. Brassware, glass and bangle industry, handloom and textiles, diamond cuttings etc. are the different industries in India where child labor is very high. Approximately 85% of the world’s diamonds (57% by value) are cut in Gujarat. Small scale diamond mining is often conducted without training or expertise and is usually an unregulated activity. As children are considered as easy source of cheap labor, they are regularly employed in diamond mining industry. Life is full of hardship for them, they work for long hours and compared to adults, are more vulnerable to injuries and accidents. Therefore, behind the glittering world of India’s diamond cutting industry lays the grime of exploitation and child labor.


“Democracy and its three pillars : liberty, equality and fraternity- enshrined in the Constitution of India are relatively meaningless in view of the fact that 120 to 140 million children are working in this country- of these 55 million children between the ages of six and fourteen are languishing in servitude”[1]

India is unfortunately home to the largest number of child laborers in the world. Child labor is economical and social exploitation of children. It deprives a child of his basic rights, such as right to education and learning and also has an adverse effect on his all round personality. Children themselves do not choose to work at an early age; they are compelled by certain familial and social circumstances. These compulsions are socio economic compulsions, such as poverty, unemployment of adult family members, etc. Although they are not paid well, yet they are major contributors to family income. Economic conditions have necessitated child labor. The evil of child labor has been prevalent in India since the time immemorial when the children used to help their parents with household work.

In 1985, it was for the first time that the issue of Child labor came in public attention in India. Earlier, government had appointed some committees to look into the matter of child labor but since these committees were not given importance, no effective solution could be gained. The occasion was for the debate of drafting a Bill when a Bangalore based NGO argued that the main cause of child labor is poverty and attempts should be made to improve the conditions.  The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation Act) came into existence in the latter half of 1986.  In 1992, India became the first country to join the International Program on elimination of Child Labor which is a global program launched by the International Labor Organization in December , 1991. At national level, India has implemented this program and there is a National Steering Committee of which Labor Secretary is the Chairman.

Broadly, there are four kinds of Child Labor. Firstly, children who work in factories, workshops and mines. Secondly,children who are under bondage to their employees, whether in agriculture or industry. Third category is of working and street children. Those who live on and off the streets are to be found in the service sector of semi urban and urban India. Lastly, Children who work as part of family labor in all contexts of agriculture, industry, home based work and the like.

There are various reasons because of which children enter into employment at an early age. The most important is poverty. Economic needs of the household compel the child to work. Also, children are transported from urban to rural areas where there is a need for them.

Brassware, glass and bangle industry, handloom and textiles, diamond cuttings etc. are the different industries in India where child labor is very high. India is home to world’s largest diamond cluster i.e., Gujarat, since approximately 85% of the world’s diamond (57% by value) are cut and polished in Gujarat. Low wages, good infrastructures and international networks of Gujratis help in strengthening the diamond market in India, particularly Gujarat. Out of $ 16.3 bn export value, India’s largest export cluster includes gems and jewelry. Out of this cluster, 80% comprises cutting and polishing of diamonds. To sustain this economic growth and competitiveness, a good labor market is required. Children are employed because of cheap labor, which helps in reduction of Cost of Production resulting in higher profits.

Undoubtedly, Diamonds are exquisite gems, they are fascinating, and both in their ability to catch light and fetch high prices but people working in Diamond Industry are exposed to numerous health hazards and risks. Children are exposed to malaria, dysentery, sexual diseases and also subjected to poor work conditions. For decades, the international diamond market provided huge profits for the industries which process, mind and market precious stones like Diamonds. Unfortunately, the workers who cut and polish diamonds receive poverty wages and thousands of Children who work full time in such industries are denied education and good living standards. Since 1960’s there has been steady increase in the demand of diamonds which has let to steady growth of children into the industry.

The future of a community is in the well being of its children. It is imperative for the health of a nation to protect its children from child labor because it can lead to mental, physical disorders, lack of educational and spiritual developments. There is an urgent need to save children from clutches of social injustice and educational deprivation so that they can have a normal, healthy and happy growth.

The present paper analyses the scenario of Child Labor in Diamond Industry of India, the violation of laws and effects of child.

The research has been conducted through secondary sources like as various Acts, Rules and regulations, Judgments, Articles, Published Reports, Books and Journals. The research methodology is doctrinal study which involves analysis of legal principals, concepts or doctrines, their logical order and systemizing of legal propositions.

Global Dimension of Child Labor

Child labor happens in the poor world only, while the vast majority of working children are found in developing countries. Children routinely work in all countries. Child labor will never be eliminated until poverty disappears. The poorest, most disadvantaged sections of the society supply the vast majority of child laborers. Child labor exploitation is common both in the developed and the developing countries, though the extent varies according to the region.

Children work in all countries. “In Germany, Britain, the United States, Sweden and the Netherlands they have taken up the cause of child servitude seriously and pressure on their governments and parliaments for the enactment of suitable legislation banning the import of products by the children”.[2]

In East Asia, the sale and trafficking of children for labor exploitation is still rampant both locally and across borders. Eighty per cent of all Pakistani carpets are made by children under age 15. Few of them make the legally required minimum wage; many are sickened by the wool dust.

In Africa, the exploitation of child labor was reported in 1993. The girl child is a victim of exploitative domestic services. At times, there is a link with the remnants of slavery, such as the sale of children for forced labor, particularly from certain ethnic groups.[3]

The National Child Labor Committee- an American nongovernmental organization- has reported the plight of America’s working children in the textile, cigarette and other industries. Child labor was one of the most important issues addressed by the International Community, resulting in the International Labor Organization (ILO) 1919 minimum age convention.[4] In the United Kingdom, between 15 and 26 per cent of 11 years old children and between 36 and 66 per cent of 15 year old children are working.[5]

“Many countries make a distinction between the light and hazardous work, with minimum age for the former generally being 12, for the latter usually varying between 16 and 18. The International Labor Organization (ILO) minimum age convention also broadly adopts this approach, allowing light work at age 12 or 13 but hazardous works not before 18”.[6] World poverty cannot be eliminated by the end of the decade. But hazardous child labor and the grave violation of the rights of the children involved can be.

Two hundred million children under the age 15 have to earn their own livelihoods, the International Labor Organization says in its annual report. But the number could be three to four times higher according to an International Labor Organization expert.

Child Labor in India

The economic exploitation of children in India has always been an area of concern. In rural areas it is a fact that the child who does not attend a formal school is a working child. Collection of water and fuel, household chores and taking care of younger siblings all constitute important job in a child’s life. There are 11 crore employed children in India.[7]

There are broadly four kinds of child labor. First are those children who work in factories, workshops and mines. They are usually to be found in semi-urban and urban areas in both the unorganized and organized sectors. Second are those children who are under bondage to their employers, whether in agriculture or industry. The third categories of working children are the street children. Those who live on and off the streets and are to be found in the service sector of semi-urban and urban India. Children who work as part of family labor in all the contexts of agriculture, industry, home-based work and the like belong to the fourth category. These are not exclusive categories; they are often combined in different ways.

“Democracy and its three pillars: liberty, equality and fraternity – enshrined in the Constitution of India are relatively meaningless in view of the fact that 120 to 140 million children are working in this country. Of these, 55 million children between the ages of six and fourteen are languishing in servitude”.[8]

Child Labor in Diamond Industry

In India and Africa, diamond industries have been widely reported and criticized for using child labor in diamond mines and polishing procedures in poor conditions.  Many Indian cutting workshops employ children illegally. 8 year olds work with dangerous cutting wheels and breathe in black diamond dust. Indian Government listed this industry as one of its most hazardous. In 1990s, six year old children were found cutting diamonds. Many of these were also found trapped in debt bondage.

Cut diamonds have provided India with its major export for more than a decade. Low waged India was the powerhouse that drove the profits of the diamond industry sky high in 1990s. About 500 million diamonds were cut in India in 1992.[9]

As for living conditions created by low wages, in September 1994, the world’s press had reported a horrific outbreak of bubonic plague in these diamond cutting workshops. This made tens of thousands of workers flee the overcrowded streets of Surat, where half of the world’s gem diamonds were cut by some half a million workers.

By 2001, 85% by weight of the world gem diamond were cut and polished in India. It imported that year some 120 million carats of uncut diamonds worth a declared $3.8 billion and sold 29 million carats of cut diamond worth $ 5.2 billion. By 2002, the Indian industry employed nearly a million people and by far India’s largest single exporter.

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions claimed that child labor was prospering in diamond industry in Western India where the majority of world’s diamond are cut and polished while workers are paid only a fraction of stones they cut. In 1980s-90s, the economic growth in Western India was associated with an increase in number of child workers. These child workers do simple repetitive task that do not require long years of training or experience in low paying hazardous working conditions including drudgery, termination of school education.

Small scale diamond mining is usually an unregulated activity. Labor standard, minimum wage laws, if exist are rarely enforced. Small scale diamond mining is often conducted without training or expertise. Because children are considered as easy source of cheap labor, they are regularly employed in diamond mining industry. Life is full of hardship for children employed in mining industry. Children work for long hours. Compared to adults, they are more vulnerable to injuries and accidents. Behind the glittering world of India’s diamond cutting industry lies the grime of exploitation and child labor. The low wages and easy availability of labor that it keeps the industry profitable.

Gujarat: The Diamond Cluster of India

Gujarat’s location and history help explain why it has developed a diamond cluster, even though there is virtually no local demand for diamonds. Gujaratis have a lengthy history of trading with Africa. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Gujaratis went to work as laborers in South and East Africa and stayed to become traders.[10] Later waves of emigrants included professionals such as doctors, lawyers and engineers. Many Gujaratis were forced to leave Africa in the 1970s (they were forcefully expropriated and evicted from Uganda, for instance) and settled in Canada, the UK, USA and Australia. These frequent moves have allowed Gujaratis to develop transnational networks, through which they are present at all stages of the diamond value chain: from mining the stone in Africa to its final sale in London or New York. The state’s proximity to Mumbai, with its large port and airport, has also contributed to its success: Surat, the centre of the diamond cluster, is located in the south-east of Gujarat, only a few hours from Mumbai. Surat is an industrial city with 3.5 million inhabitants that is a major hub for textiles, as well as diamond cutting and polishing.[11] Gujarat has following factors:

  • Best roads, ports and power in India
  • Close to Mumbai for air freight & trading
  • Ties with expatriates in Africa
  • Good universities
  • Perceived as better governed than the Indian average
  • First Indian state to create SEZs: 18 notified to central government by 2008, with plan to create 33 in total (2 operating, including Surat Jewellery Park)
  • Higher income and faster growth than Indian average
  • Long-term increase in demand for low-quality diamonds, especially from China
  • Strong clusters of Diamond processing (cutting and polishing), Textiles and apparel (chief cluster in Surat), Petrochemicals, Food and beverage processing and Machinery and equipment.

India’s states have considerable freedom to shape their economic destiny, especially since the beginning of the economic reforms in the 1980s. They have substantial tax and spending powers and control many product and labor market regulations. Clark and Wolcott (2003) characterize India as “one polity, many countries” when they point out the divergent growth. Gujarat has taken advantage of this freedom to follow pro-business policies, led by its charismatic leaders like Narendra Modi.[12]

Existing Programmes For Rehabilitation Of Child Labor

Legal Framework

As per Article 24 of the Constitution, no child below the age of 14 years is to be employed in any factory, mine or any hazardous employment. Further, Article 39 requires the States to direct its policy towards ensuring that the tender age of children is not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength. Recently, with the insertion of Article 21A, the State has been entrusted with the task of providing free and compulsory education to all the children in the age group of 6-14 years. Consistent with the Constitutional provisions, Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was enacted in 1986, which seeks to prohibit employment of children below 14 years in hazardous occupations and processes and regulates the working conditions in other employments. In the last 5 years, the number of hazardous processes listed in the schedule of the Act has increased from 18 to 57 and occupations from 7 to 13.

National Child Labor Programme

A National Policy on Child Labor was announced in 1987 which emphasised the need for strict enforcement measures in areas of high child labor concentration. In order to translate the above policy into action, the Government of India initiated the National Child Labor Project Scheme in 1988 to rehabilitate the working children starting with 12 child labor endemic districts of the country. Under the Scheme, working children are identified through child labor survey, withdrawn from work and put into the special schools, so as to provide them with enabling environment to join mainstream education system. In these Special Schools, besides formal education, they are provided stipend @ Rs.100/- per month, nutrition, vocational training and regular health checkups. In addition, efforts are also made to target the families of these children so as to cover them under various developmental and income/employment generation programmes of the Government. The Scheme also envisages awareness generation campaigns against the evils of child labor and enforcement of child labor laws. It is seen that the level of enforcement in the States of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra & West Bengal is encouraging, whereas that in UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh & Orissa it is very low. However, so far only 3,74,255 children have been mainstreamed under the Scheme.

International Programme For Elimination Of Child Labor (Ipec)

ILO launched IPEC Programme in 1991 to contribute to the effective abolition of child labor in the world. India was the first country to sign MOU in 1992. The INDUS Project envisages direct interventions in the identified 21 districts spread across five states for identification and rehabilitation of child labor. The strategy under the project is to complement and build up on the existing government initiatives.

Review of Present Approach – Some Issues

The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 prohibits child labor in certain occupations and processes alone and their conditions of work are regulated in the rest. The law does not prohibit child labor if rendered for one’s own family in those areas of occupation that has been considered as hazardous. Likewise, it has no purview over regulating the conditions of work if children are engaged to work by the family. The law has also completely left out children working in agriculture. The first step is to clearly enunciate a policy that ‘no child must work-and every child attends a full time formal school’ is not negotiable and that it is a goal that is possible to achieve6. The NCLP programme which is a consequence of the Child Labor (Prohibition &Regulation) Act, 1986 focuses on the release and rehabilitation of only such children who are employed in those industries as notified in the Act. It has so far been able to mainstream only about 3.75 lakh children. Children continue to be recruited to work in the ‘’hazardous” sector. Many girl children are being left out of getting the benefit of the NCLP program. It is found that a new set of children have taken the place of those who have been withdrawn from work. Further it has been seen that for many practitioners on the ground it is impractical to refuse children from the same neighbourhood or the family, who are in work and out of school because they do not fall under the definition of child labor. If there has to be an end to child labor then the focus must be on total abolition of child labor and in addressing the rights of the universe of children who are out of school.

Recommendations for Abolition Of Child Labor

In most societies where child labor has been eradicated, multi-pronged strategies were used. Stringent laws were passed which made child labor illegal. In addition the educational system was strengthened so that children removed from work could go to school.

Amendment to The Child Labor (Prohibition And Regulation) Act 1986

Enforcement of the law is a key strategy. But in the case of the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, there are a number of loopholes, which makes the law ineffective. The Child Labor Act must be non-negotiable and the word “Regulation” should be removed from its title so that child labor abolition becomes non-negotiable. In the same spirit the penal provisions must same spirit the penal provisions must be enhanced, employment of child labor must be deemed as a cognisable offence and the enforcement machinery strengthened several times over so that the message is clear that child labor will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

A New National Child Labor Eradication Policy

Several changes have occurred since the drafting of the National Child Eradication Labor Policy in 1987. A re-examination of all the laws and policies pertaining to working children is critical. There must be consistency in the constitutional and legal provisions pertaining to children’s rights especially their right to education and wellbeing.

Causes of Child Labor

The various causes for child labor include poverty, migration, gender discrimination and criminality.

Poverty-The exploitation of child labor has been due to the poverty of the households. Economic needs of the households push the children to work. As children are cheaper, employers prefer them.

Migration-Thanks to the developments in transport and means of communication, children are transported from rural areas to urban centers where there is a need for them.

Gender Discrimination-In India boys are preferred in the households to girls. As a result, the girl child is denied access to educational and occupational opportunities, particularly in the poorer section of society. Traditionally in our society man is looked upon as the bread winner and woman as the home maker. Tradition has ignored the education of women, and has not visualized training the girl children for any thing more than the routine domestic chores and the responsibility of child bearing.

Socio-Cultural Disparities-Socio-cultural disparities have also contributed to child labor. Children from particular racial or social groups are lured to the well endowed groups in power for exploitation. Children are being sold from certain social groups.

Criminality There has been child labor in India from time immemorial. Criminal syndicates and individuals manipulate children to sell drugs, to steal and to commit other offences. It is linked to corruption within the national systems and the law enforcing authorities colliding with criminal elements. The exploitation of child labor is the product of such deficiencies and related vested interests.


Workplace condition in diamond industries are generally bad, being congested and poorly lit and ventilated, and over half of the industry’s workforce suffer from work-related ailments such as kidney dysfunction, tuberculosis, lung disease, stomach problems, wheezing, pains in their joints and eye sores. These are all ailments which could be prevented if measures were taken to control occupational health hazards. Due to the difficulties in organising unions in the industry in order to improve wages and conditions, many parents are forced to send their children to work in order for the family to survive.

The working conditions in this industry are poor, and children suffer from damaged finger tops, caused by blistering, followed by constantly dipping their hands in dirty water as part of the process. They also suffer from, backache due to sitting in the same cramped position for 8 – 1 0 hours each day, and fever from keeping their hand continually in cold water.


Child labor is a crime that should be totally eliminated. However, it is necessary to realize that it cannot be eradicated overnight. It is true that child laborers help their families to get an additional income through their hard work. This does not mean that they should be allowed to work always. Hence, the parents are to be compelled to send their children to schools. Compulsory primary education with good quality should also be provided to solve this social evil. The major cause for the existence of child labor is poverty. Therefore, the abolition of child labor is not favored by the parents of child laborers. Abolition of child labor will reduce family income. The Government spends thousands of crores in ‘poverty alleviation’, but only a meager amount reaches the targeted groups. Hence, effective measures are to be taken to see that the child laborers’ families get the benefits of poverty alleviation programmes due to them.


Books Referred

  • Neera Burns, Born to work: Child Labor in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  • S.K.Khanna, Children and the Human Rights, Commonwealth Publishers, 1st Edition 1998
  • Kantilal Chhotalal, Diamonds : From Mines to Markets, Mumbai : The Gem and Jwellery Exsport Promotion Council 1990
  • Kiran Desai , Nikhil Raj of V V Giri National Labor Institute ‘ Child Labor in diamond industry of Surat Issues 2001-2019’ of NLI Research Studies
  • The Department of Labor’s 2001 findings on the worst forms of child labor : Trade and Development Act of 2000 by U S Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs
  • , Janine P. Robert, Glitter and Greed : The Secret World of the Diamond Empire; Publishers : The Disinformation Company , 2003

Websites Referred

Edited by Kanchi Kaushik

[1] S. K. Khanna , Children and Human Rights, Commonwealth Publishers , 1st Edition 1988, p. 55

[2] ILO (1998) Statistics on Working Children and Hazardous Child Labor in Brief, Geneva April 1998,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Neera Burns, Born to work: Child Labor in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1998, p.59

[5] Ibid p. 61

[6] Ibid p. 69

[7] Antaradas, The Hindu, NGO Holds Signature Campaign Against Child Labor, April 29, 2006, p.4.

[8] S.K.Khanna, Children and the Human Rights, Commonwealth Publishers, 1st Edition 1998, p.42

[9] Kantilal Chhotalal, Diamonds : From Mines to Markets, Mumbai : The Gem and Jwellery Exsport Promotion Council 1990, p 91.


[11] Surat was profiled in the New York Times at


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