While unfamiliar to most U.S. audiences, India’s entertainment industry is, and has always been, booming! “Bollywood” (so named for the cross between Hollywood and Bombay, now called Mumbai) is the home to many child stars. Like artists in the U.S., they start in serials, competition dance shows, and films, with many achieving massive fame as adult actors and celebrities. In fact, India is home to the largest film industry in the world — yes, larger than Hollywood — producing about 2000 movies a year. The industry is worth about $24 billion US dollars, with children making up 30% of the audience. Disney (their streamer is known as Hotstar), Hulu, Nickelodeon, Netflix, Amazon and Apple all have a presence in India.
According to a study by CRY (Child Rights and You, one of India’s top non-governmental organizations), the number of children working in all sectors in India tops 10 million. But finding out how many professional actors there are has been tougher, because the Indian census asks for the worker’s profession if they have worked 180 days in the year. Since most child actors don’t hit the mark of working 180 days, they would not have been counted. Still, those children in the census who DID work 180 days or more as actors, numbers between 6,000 and 12,000. About 9,000 children were listed on agency online casting portals.
Regulations governing child actors in India have been in constantly updated since 1986. The most sweeping guidelines were passed by the NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) in July 31, 2022 (summarized and linked below). In the past, there has been little in the way of enforcement. This time the government issued assuranced, stating that national and state commissions have committed to tight enforcement. The television industry is so vast that it is difficult to find who holds jurisdiction.
-restrictions apply to children 14 years and younger
-applies to child artists in films, television, reality shows, social media and for the first time, OTT (over the top, aka streaming services) platforms
-parents must be present and supervising their child during their work shift, no child may travel without a parent
-everyone who works with the child must present a medical clearance and police verification (appears to be background checks).
-no child can work for more than 27 consecutive days, and no more than 6 hours in a day, with a 3 hour turnaround. No overtime between 7:00pm and 8:00am
-trust fund withholding is 20%, which must be deposited into a national bank in the name of the child, blocked until their are 18. Children under 18 are not allowed to have their own bank accounts in India, so pay is encouraged to be in the form of bonds and school tuition
-there must be clear written contracts, done in advance
-no nudity for adults or children in a scene, no smoking or drinking alcohol. In addition there are numerous guidelines about content that restrict what children can portray. For example, children cannot be put in distressing situations just to get an emotional reaction and they cannot be asked to say dialogue that is either inappropriate for their age or that might cause them distress. They should not be shown in any sort of “delinquent activity” or “anti-social behavior”
-for reality shows, they cannot be competition based. Interestingly, their guidelines say, “No child should be exposed to insult, ridicule or discouragement, harsh comments or any behavior that could affect his/her emotional health…the remarks made by the judges on reality shows/talent hunt shows should be encouraging. A child’s sensitivity should be borne in mind while evaluating his/her performance in reality shows.”
-education is mandatory in India for children ages 6 – 14 years old. They do not have school on set, but they must work kids around their school schedule –on school holidays and weekly days off. The number of instructional days or hours in an academic year should be maintained.
India Resource Links:
CINTAA is the trade union for actors in India
NCPCR, National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights (Government of India)
CRY: Understanding and Addressing Child Labour Today (additional links within) by Child Rights and You
News and Info:
Guidelines for Child Artistes: Stakeholders Want Strict Compliance, NCPCR Chief Gives Assurance by PTI for New Indian Express
A First: Norms to to Protect Rights of Kids Working on OTT Platforms by Esha Roy for The Indian Express
NCPCR Issues Draft Guidelines for Protection of Child Artistes in Entertainment Industry Economic Times of India
NCPCR Issues Draft Guidelines; Warns of Penal Provisions for Violations Republic World
Here’s What Makes Bollywood Movies So Special by Elena Nicolaou for Oprah Magazine, July 30 2020
Remember These Famous Child Actors? Times of India
India’s Highest Paid Child Actors NetTV4U
Children’s Day 2021: Bollywood Films Where Child Actors Shed Light on Pertinent Issues by Kriti Nayyar for Republic World