The global trend towards the removal of child labour began in the nineteenth century and continues into the twenty-first century, yet estimates of children working in India range up to 100 million. Though the Indian government prohibits employment of children in factories, there is no law to prohibit employment of children in family households, cottage industries and family owned agricultural fields or family businesses, and large numbers of children miss school to look after cattle, collect firewood or work infields, restaurants or quarries. The framers of the Constitution of India were aware of their responsibility towards children and a number of provisions were made to protect children. This article focuses on legislation since 1938, prohibiting the labour of children aged below fifteen years. Defects in the legislation and weak enforcement machinery have meant that children working in family-owned industries and agricultural fields continue to escape attention. The small earning of a child have been seen as a means of survival for a large number of families in India. The article is primarily a historical piece, tracing this regulatory failure through five decades of independence and freedom in which lives of children, born free but bonded for life in the largest democracy in the world. This paper will provide the basis for assessing the degree of change for children, as India becomes one of the world's fastest growing economies.