India's Supreme Court has ordered circuses to stop employing children and instructed the government to rescue and rehabilitate working minors.
Until a recently passed amendment, circuses were largely exempt from India's Child Labour Act which bans the employment of children under 14.
But circus owners ignored the ruling and the court is now enforcing the ban.
Circus professionals criticised the law, saying training from a young age is crucial for developing skills.
"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, " Mr NV Chandran, a trainer at the Gujarat-based Gemini Circus, told the AFP news agency.
The court's decision followed a petition lodged by the Indian children's rights group, Save the Childhood Movement.
Campaigners say children are made to perform dangerous stunts such as high-wire acrobatics, often without safety nets.
The court has ordered the government to conduct raids on circuses and return rescued children to their parents.
The child welfare department is to make arrangements for their care and education if parents are unable to provide for their children, the court has ruled.