Even as a new law banning employment of children as household helps or in restaurants came into effect on Tuesday, a government-sponsored probe found that there are over 25,000 child labourers in the capital alone.
The probe conducted by the Labour Commission of Delhi government has found that among the worst affected areas are east Delhi, south Delhi and southwest Delhi with most of the children employed either in small units or as servants.
"We conducted the survey in different zari units and other small-scale industries recently. We estimate that there are over 25,000 children working in these units. They have been brought from different states to work," said Piyush Sharma, Delhi's Joint Labour Commissioner.
"One can see at a time over 50 children at work. They work for more than 14 hours a day for a pittance," Sharma said.
The Delhi government is planning to conduct raids and surprise checks on these units.
"We have asked our personnel in the nine different zones of the capital to start carrying out surprise checks from Tuesday," said Mangat Ram Singhal, Delhi labour minister.
The survey also reveals that many children from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal states were being brought to Delhi to work as child labourers and forced to live in inhuman conditions.
However, for those for whom the ban is actually meant, it was work as usual.
Twelve-year-old Sanjay went about cleaning cars in a posh east Delhi colony unaware that a law had come into effect that day banning children below 14 years from being employed as labour.
Sanjay, who is from Bihar, has been working for the past two years. His parents sent him to Delhi in search of work so that the money he would send could feed the eight family members.
"Initially, I did not get work as not many people were ready to employ me because I am a Muslim. But then I changed my name to find work," said Sanjay, whose real name is Mohammed Sagir Alam.
Social activists maintain the ban on child labour was meaningless as the government had neither notified the legislation to make it a law nor did it have any mechanism to enforce the ban.
"It is a good example of the insensitivity of the government. They have not notified the legislation, so the law cannot be enforced in the country," said Ashok Agarwal, child activist and lawyer.
"The government is misleading the people because they have not completed their side of the work, and I do not think that this ban would be a success without proper notification by the authorities," stated Agarwal.
Putting a question mark on the efforts made by the government to stop child labour, Agarwal said: "It is a hollow set up. What more can be expected from them?"
He claimed the union government had given three months time to notify the law in July this year, but it had not been done. The legislation, if implemented, will put a stop to children being employed as domestic workers or servants, he said.
Bhageshwari Dengle, executive director Plan India, said: "There is no way the government will be able to monitor if the law is being enforced or not. The government should ensure that all the children who are rescued and rehabilitated are sent to school regularly."
"Not many people are aware that such a law banning child labour is being enforced. We have been carrying out a nationwide programme to make people aware," he added.
The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, that came into effect Tuesday, will also stop children from being employed in dhabas (road side eateries), restaurants, hotels, motels, teashops, resorts, spas or other recreational centres.
An earlier law had made it illegal to employ children in hazardous jobs such as in fireworks units and glass factories.
A UNICEF report World's Children 2006 states that in India, which has the largest number of working children, 17 per cent are under the age of 15 and girls aged 12-15 are the preferred choice of 90 per cent households. India has an estimated 10 million children employed as labour.