Child Rights in India
According to international law, a child means every human being below the age of 18 years. This is a universally accepted definition of a child and comes from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), an international legal instrument accepted and ratified by most countries.India has always recognised the category of persons below the age of 18 years as distinct legal entity. That is precisely why people can vote or get a driving license or enter into legal contracts only when they attain the age of 18 years. Marriage of a girl below the age of 18 years and a boy below 21 years is restrained under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929. Moreover, after ratifying the UNCRC in 1992, India changed its law on juvenile justice to ensure that every person below the age of 18 years, who is in need of care and protection, is entitled to receive it from the State.
What makes a person a ‘child’ is the person’s ‘age.’ Even if a person under the age of 18 years is married and has children of her/his own, she/he is recognised as a child according to international standards.
While all children need protection, because of their social, economic, or even geographical location, some children are more vulnerable than others and need special attention. These children are:
- Homeless children (pavement dwellers, displaced/evicted, refugees etc.)
- Migrant children.
- Street and runaway children.
- Orphaned or abandoned children.
- Working children.
- Child beggars.
- Children of prostitutes.
- Trafficked children.
- Children in jails/prisons.
- Children affected by conflict.
- Children affected by natural disasters.
- Children affected by HIV/AIDS.
- Children suffering from terminal diseases.
- Disabled children.
- Children belonging to the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes.
All people under the age of 18 are entitled to the standards and rights guaranteed by the laws that govern our country and the international legal instruments we have accepted by ratifying them.
The Constitution of India guarantees all children certain rights, which have been specially included for them. These include:
- Right to free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the 6-14 year age group (Article 21 A).
- Right to be protected from any hazardous employment till the age of 14 years (Article 24).
- Right to be protected from being abused and forced by economic necessity to enter occupations unsuited to their age or strength (Article 39(e)).
- Right to equal opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and guaranteed protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment (Article 39 (f)).
Besides these they also have rights as equal citizens of India, just as any other adult male or female:
- Right to equality (Article 14).
- Right against discrimination (Article 15).
- Right to personal liberty and due process of law (Article 21).
- Right to being protected from being trafficked and forced into bonded labour (Article 23).
- Right of weaker sections of the people to be protected from social injustice and all forms of exploitation (Article 46).
Research, documentation and interventions by government and the civil society groups in the past have clearly brought forth some of the following child protection issues and categories of children that deserve special protection:
- Gender Discrimination.
- Caste discrimination.
- Female foeticide.
- Domestic violence.
- Child sexual abuse.
- Child marriage.
- Child labour.
- Child prostitution.
- Child trafficking.
- Child sacrifice.
- Corporal Punishment in schools.
- Examination Pressure and Student Suicides.
- Natural disasters.
- War and conflict.
In the efforts to improve the implementation of the Juvenile Justice System in the country UNICEF is also supporting the government with the development of training materials for the Judiciary and various other functionaries of the system like the child welfare committee members, police and care-takers in the various institutions under the Act.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was set up in March 2007 under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, an Act of Parliament (December 2005). The Commission's Mandate is to ensure that all Laws, Policies, Programmes, and Administrative Mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Child is defined as a person in the 0 to 18 years age group.
The Commission visualises a rights-based perspective flowing into National Policies and Programmes, along with nuanced responses at the State, District and Block levels, taking care of specificities and strengths of each region. In order to touch every child, it seeks a deeper penetration to communities and households and expects that the ground experiences inform the support the field receives from all the authorities at the higher level. Thus the Commission sees an indispensable role for the State, sound institution-building processes, respect for