India's Supreme Court orders travelling circuses to stop employing children and has instructed the government to conduct raids on all preforming companies to rescue minors.
The court edict followed a petition lodged by a children's rights group that has lobbied for full implementation of Indian child labour laws, which are regularly flouted by circuses.
Children are often trained to perform high-wire acrobatic acts, juggling stunts and other attractions for audiences in India, where circus companies move from town to town throughout the year.
"The court has ordered the government to rescue all children below 14 years of age and also instructed them to formulate a rehabilitation policy for the minors," said Colin Gonsalves, a lawyer for the Save the Childhood Movement, which brought the case.
Circus professionals say that training performers from a young age is crucial to developing skills.
They point to European circuses that are allowed to sign up children if one parent accompanies them and full education is provided.
"One can only perform acrobatics if rigorous training is imparted at an early age. Children are needed for the job and you cannot train adults for it," N.V. Chandran, a trainer at the Gujarat-based Gemini Circus, told AFP.
Circuses have suffered a drop in popularity in India as televisions, cinemas and video players have spread into rural areas.