• Legis Scriptor

Abuse of children in circuses

Authored by Muskan Jain

Keywords: Trafficking, exploitation, abuse.


Human trafficking isn't a modern phenomenon. For centuries in marketplaces, women, children and men have been kidnapped, sold and exchanged. Trafficking of human beings is one of the most lucrative activity and crimes against humanity.

Circus is one of the old forms of indigenous entertainment worldwide, with people playing a major role. The activities undertaken in those circuses therefore deprive the fundamental rights of the artists, particularly those of children. Most are smuggled out of some poor areas of Nepal and backward districts of India. They have little importance in the real world. Outside the circus campus there is no life. They are restricted to the circus environment, without the right of mobility and choice, when they join the circus. For the rest of their lives, they are stuck in the world of circus living an unmaintained and exhausted life away from the centre of society.


The pain of child circus artists is awful. They are victims of violence and harassment, who are forced to work in unhealthy conditions for very long hours. The children are completely bound by the circus, unable to express grievances, be released or escape, once the contract has been agreed by parents or agents. However, most kids are obedient and accept their new world and way of life as "the will or fate of their destiny." They developed an isolated and inward-looking attitude towards life that have to work hard for long hours, little time to relax and no encouragement from play or education.


The total number of girls (187 or 81.3%) reflects not only their search for their sexual desire in the circus but also their lower valuation than young men at home. The parents send their daughters more easily, as they expect that one day the daughter will be married and settle in a different home. Finally, a trafficked girl's income could cover her brother's education costs. Many children, some as young as age of 5years, enter the circus at a very young age. In the circuses, the bulk of children were from 10 to 14 years of age.

Findings of the child artists

· Geographical origin of Child performers

It was found that 49.1% percent of children's circus performers are from India. 47.8% are from Nepal and the remaining is unaware of their nationality.

Nepal is the world's 5th-poorest nation with 49 percent of the 1992 population ranked as 'absolute poor' by the World Development Report (1994). Illiteracy is also high among these families, who consider schooling to be far less important than work to gain family income. This combination of factors in Nepal therefore contributes to a wider search for jobs and India is a destination because both countries have a fully open border. Towns on both sides of the border are busy catering centres for people from both countries looking for work and company. It also provides a natural smuggling and prostitution market.

· Families in circuses

There is no alternative for kids who were born and raised within circus walls, but to continue this way of living. Nowadays, however, parents from these families are less likely to let their children become part of the circus, as they know the harsh lifestyle and limited opportunities. Rather, they are more likely to provide education so that they can establish a livelihood outside.

· Literacy level of child performers

The high level of Illiteracy is also due to the fact that parents who was illiterate and did not see much benefit in educating their children. It also represents the large number of girls in the circuses and some of them forced to enter circuses at school age. Management claims that it is undesirable because an educated child may be more problematic and unable to control.

· Gender-related issues and sexual exploitation

Girls are primarily used as gymnasts, cyclists, dancers and occasionally as jugglers and clowns. They claim they are discriminated against since they are segregated and they are subject to many limitations. They also have a different wage structure than other workers. All girls reported that their performance outfits are uncomfortable and embarrassing. However, they are told to wear them. During performances they have to tolerate the vulgar and offensive remarks and behaviour of the audience and are not allowed to complain.

Terrible issues faced by the children

· Insufficient space

Normally five to ten people are packed into one single tent and often even more people, so most child artists complain that space and privacy are inadequate.

· Meal

Depending on the management the amount and consistency of the food varies. Food is most often insufficient to satisfy young rising children's appetite

· Sleep Timings

Depending on the nature of the work done by child artists, sleep times are often unpredictable, but the pattern is usually often at midnight after the last show is over.

· Bad hygiene

Sanitation is typically the most dangerous condition in circuses. It also causes unhygienic conditions which can lead to diseases. All the artists are unfailingly dissatisfied with the issue of hygiene and sanitation.

· No Health Care Personnel

It can be said that life in the circus area is filthy and disgusting, with no accommodation and basic services, including insufficient sanitation, for the circus artists.

· Element of risk

The lives of the children have been threatened due to the risk factors of the circuits, especially those involved in such things as death ring, death well, sword objects, rope dance etc. Furthermore, some circuses are either unaware or ignore the necessary precautions to increase the risk involved.

· Remuneration

Apart from paying children poorly, the management of some circuses keep back children's earnings claiming that only their parents are paid when they visit them, something which rarely happens.

· Bounded by Contract

The child artists are sent to the circus for 3 to 10 years and when the contract is signed / agreed by the parents or guardians of the children, the young, uninformed children are bound to the management of the circus and are unable to distance themselves from the circus.

Landmark case: Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India[1]

The Bachpan Bachao Andolan Movement, Indian Movement, petitioner filed a petition in support of severe abuses and exploitation of children who are unlawfully held in circuses in accordance with Article 32 of the Constitution.

The children are being trafficked from the poor areas of Nepal and India and are required to stay and behave in circuses where sexual, physical and emotional violence are often committed and kept under inhuman conditions. The interests of these children are not covered by the labour and welfare laws and government agencies have failed to tackle child trafficking. The Petitioner submitted that this Court in the case of N.R. Nair and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. (2001) 6 SCC 84[2]preserved the rights of animals to perform after recognizing their suffering in these circuses. The circus condition is not different, if not worse, for children.

The petition requested the Court to issue various orders or instructions against the State including: creating reasonable standards for persons in circuses; conducting circus raids to free children and investigating serious violations of their rights; identifying special forces at border to prevent cross-border trafficking in children, criminalization of intra-State trafficking, slavery, imposed restrictions, sexual abuse and child abuse; encouraging the Child Protection Committee to provide compensation to children who have been rescued from the circus under the Juvenile justice Act of 2000; prevent the employment of children under the age of 18 from entering the circus.


A child that's missing is void. This void is not only a gap in the family but a gap in society as well. The fulfilment of this blank is essential for the survival of society as government bodies have made various efforts.

One such effort was the order given by the Supreme Court in the case Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India. It has the power to solve so many problems, but is it still a solution only on papers. At best, the implementation of this order is weak. The lack of sensitivity and ignorance reflected by the stakeholders is alarming. This issue need to be discussed jointly. But that’s what is lacking to resolve the problem. There is lack of coordination and no clear of action among the members. Children are the survivors who are still missing, despite the procedure which unite them with their families.


Foot Notes-

[1] [2],UNION%20OF%20INDIA%20AND%20ORS.&text=This%20Notification%20was%20challenged%20by,excluded%20from%20the%20said%20Notification.