Media advertisements and hoardings will tell people that they could be jailed for employing children under 14 as domestic helpers, and in roadside eateries and restaurants when a ban comes into effect on October 10.

M L Dhar, a labour ministry spokesman, said: "The idea is to let people know that it is a punishable offence so that people do not hire children."

The government says there are an estimated 12 million child workers in India. Activists say the real number is up to 60 million.

Prison term
 
The government announced the child labour ban in August under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act 1986.

Under the act, employing children is illegal in jobs which the government defines as hazardous such as those in fireworks and glass factories.

The new rules broaden the definition of "hazardous" to include employment as domestic helps and in the hospitality sector.

Penalties range from a prison term of up to two years and, or, a fine between 10,000 rupees and 20,000 rupees ($212 and $424).

Parents have no choice

Apart from the government campaign, activists said they would involve hundreds of former child workers and school children in door-to-door campaigns and street plays to warn people against hiring children.

Bhuwan Ribhu, from the non-profit organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood), said: "We will encourage people to inform us or the police if they find children employed in households and restaurants."

Ribhu says his organisation has rescued more than 75,000 child workers in the past 25 years.

Many Indian families employ child servants, who are usually called "chothu" or little boy or "chothi," which is little girl, rather than by their names.

The media often report physical and sometimes sexual abuse of child servants.

Dhar said the problem of child labour fell under state jurisdiction and that state governments had been told to act on complaints.

He said: "It's a socio-economic problem. Poor parents have no choice but to send their children to work."

However, activists said they doubted that state governments would be vigorous in pursuing prosecutions.