Abuse of Children in Circus

Circus has been the most traditional form of entertainment source in India. Being a child, almost all of us were excited to go there to watch clowns, animals and children performing stunts. However, the happy faces of children we see carry heavy pain inside themselves. Forced to work at such an early age, they face harassment, exploitation, physical and verbal abuse. These children are trapped in unending tunnel of being controlled and beaten by the circus owners compelling them to live tiresome and irritating lives. This article deals with the situation of children working in circuses and what are the current legal situations regarding it.


The term circus is derived from Latin word that generally means a rounded or oval hall with seats where entertainers give their performances. The occupation of circus has faced drastic changes after the banning the use of wild animals and children below 14 years of age. In a country where poverty is an unending problem, these children are compelled to get stuck in the vicious circle of brutality. However, laws have been drafted in order to protect the children from exploitation but how these laws have been implemented is something to think about. All the credits related to lawmaking against these abuses goes to non-governmental organizations which made it successful by filing petitions constantly. At present, barely one dozen or less circus companies are remaining who have been working effortlessly to keep the tradition alive in India.

Situations of Children Working in Circus before 2011

In the case of Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India[1], the government prohibited employment of children below 14 years in Circus. As per the petitioner, the children faced serious abuse and some were forcefully detained. In some cases, they were also kept away from their families under very cruel conditions. Instances of physical, emotional and verbal abuses were also seen. Basic necessities like food and water were not available to these children sometimes. Many of the children were trafficked to perform in the circuses; most of them were from poverty stricken areas. They had no freedom of mobility and choice and were confined only in the campus.

Examples of Sexual abuse were also seen with the females working there. In 1996, 18 girls were rescued from a circus in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh. During trainings, the children were heartlessly beaten and if complained of inadequate food or other facilities, they were maltreated by managers. No labour rights or welfare laws were drafted for protection their protection. The most shocking fact was there was no direct legislation vested with enough powers to take measures for children who are trafficked here. Neither the police department nor Labour Department was prepared to take steps against trafficking of girls from outside countries, especially Nepal.

In the case of N.R. Nair v. Union of India[2], rights of animals who were made to perform in these circuses were upheld. In this case, it was restricted to use animals like bears, monkeys, tigers, etc. After this judgement animals were prohibited in circuses. However, the conditions of abuse against children were not less. In a research, it was seen that almost all circuses had similar living conditions, there were separate tents for girls and boys. However, five to ten children were stuffed in one tent creating a problem of insufficient space. Also, the food given to them was insufficient to satisfy the appetite. Besides all this, the problem of improper sanitation and healthcare were witnessed.

Rights of Children that were being violated

The activities that were being done behind the curtains violated the Juvenile Justice Act and all International Human and Child Rights Treaties and Conventions  where India is signatory. The detailed study includes the violation of rights that are:

  • Constitutional Rights– The employment of children in circus violated fundamental rights like Article 21[3] i.e. Right to life and Personal Liberty, Article 21-A i.e. Right to Free andCompulsory Education and Article 23[4] dealing in Prohibition of beggar as given in Part 3 of Indian Constitution.
  • Existing labour laws and legitimacy of contract were also taken into account.
  • The Child Labour Act, 1986– It included guidelines under Section 7[5] regarding employment of children under certain conditions that were being breached. Also, Section 8 stated that child will be given holiday once in a week. Section 12[6] provides health and safety regulationsthat were not followed as children were working on dangerous things.
  • The United Nations Convention of Rights of the Child– As per Article 3 of The United Nations Convention of Rights of the Child, the state must ensure protection and care that is necessary for child’s well being. Article 6 focused on ensuring the survival and development of child, Article 9 instructed not to separate a child from parents against his/her will, etc. Article 11 says that state parties must take proper measures to combat the illicit transfer and non- return of children abroad. As per Article 13 and Article 19, child should have right to freedom of expression protection against any kind of violence.
  • Juvenile Justice Act– The Amendment of The Juvenile Justice Act in 2006 was special legislation that defined children as a person upto 18 years.

None of these rights were implemented in Indian context before 2011.

Issue of Guidelines

The Supreme Court of India in the landmark case of Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India[7] issued guidelines in year 2011, banning the employment of children in circuses. The Union Government issued directions to prevail suitable notifications to prohibit the employment of children in circuses within two months from the date of the order in order to implement the fundamental right of the children under Article 21A of the Constitution of India. Also it was said to conduct raids simultaneously in all the circuses to free these children. Besides, a check on fundamental rights implementation for them must also be taken care.  The children that were rescued must be kept in Care and Protection Homes until and unless they reach 18 years of age. If the parents of these children were ready to take children back to their homes, the officials were directed to do the same after proper verification. It was told to frame proper schemes of rehabilitation of the rescued children from circus. The Secretary of Ministry of Human Resources Development, Department of Women and Child Development were directed to file a comprehensive affidavit of compliance within ten weeks. As per the bench headed by Justice Dalveer Bhandari, more than one-third of India’s Population is aged below 18 years of age and being the future of country, it is necessary that we must protect and educate this population for development of country. The bench also pointed out the increased trafficking of women and children causing urgent need to frame proper laws.


After the decisions of banning animals and afterwards children, the industry of circus has faced a negative downfall. In a country where poverty is at heights, these children are compelled to work tirelessly and toil whole day and night in order to survive. In most cases, they were trafficked from countries like Nepal and were forced to work here experience continuous physical- verbal abuse. They didn’t have access to basic necessities. Most of the girls were sexually abused. Among all these, the banning of use of children came as changing factor. This decision was celebrated all over the country. However, for a long time, these laws were not taken seriously and violation was seen. The circus owners continued to use children for their personal benefits. However, with the time implementation of laws destroyed this practice. The circus industry is on the verge of end now.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Is use of children banned in Circus?
  2. What were the conditions of children working in circus before year 2011?
  3. Which organization was the one who took steps for rights of these children?
  4. What is the case related to the situation and in which year judgement was given?
  5. What was the judgement given by supreme court and how successful it is to bring a change in situations of country’s children?


  1. By The Esther Benjamins Trust, The South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude and The Nepal Child Welfare Foundation,  A Report on the Use and Abuse of Children in Circuses in India,  (March 2003), [online].

Available at: https://childhub.org/en/system/tdf/library/attachments/the_esther_benjamins_trust_2003_use_and_abuse_of_children_i_3.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=16290

  • By D. Bhandari, Case study on Bachpan Bachao Andolan vs Union Of India & Ors , (April 18, 2011), [online]

Available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1849142/

  • By The Hindu, Supreme Court bans employment of children in circuses, (April 18, 2011), [online]

Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Supreme-Court-bans-employment-of-children-in-circuses/article14688154.ece

  • Sarita Hidam, Circus!! Behind the Curtain, (July 4, 2020), [online]

Available at: http://www.e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=leisure.Essays.Circus_Behind_the_Curtain

  • By Dominique Jando, The Indian Circus, ( August 17, 2017), [online]

Available at: http://www.circopedia.org/The_Indian_Circus

[1] Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India and Ors. Writ Petition (C) No.51 OF 2006.  Available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1849142/

[2] N.R. Nair v. Union of India and Ors. Appeal (civil)  3609-3620 of 2001.  Available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/462988/

[3] Article 21 of Constitution of India, 1948.  Available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1199182/

[4] Article 23 of Constitution of India, 1949.  Available at:  https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1071750/

[5] Section 7 of The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.  Available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/714896/

[6] Section 12 of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. Available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/787675/

[7] Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India and Ors. Writ Petition (C) No.51 OF 2006.  Available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1849142/

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