The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow. A country’s progress has numerous dimensions such as economic, social, political, etc. to it. The common thread that links all of these is the fact that the reins of all these factors must be handed over to the children of today. It can be unequivocally stated that the future of any country is in the hands of the young population. Therefore there must be specific rules in place to oversee the development of children into potential human resources.
India is home to the largest number of children in the world. As per Census 2011, India, with a population of 121.1 Cr, has 16.45 Cr children in the age group 0-6 years and 37.24 Cr in the age group 0-14 years, which constitute 13.59% and 30.76% of the total population respectively. Accordingly, various governments have passed legislation to protect children’s rights and interests in line with international conventions.
Perhaps the most striking question is concerning the definition of child in the legal sense. Who is a child in the face of law is a question that has puzzled lawmakers. To whom should the benefits extend to? Where must the line be drawn? Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, which was ratified by India in 1992, defines a child as a person who is under the age of 18 unless stated otherwise by domestic legislation. As mentioned above, India has numerous laws with the objective of safeguarding child rights, each with a different definition, which leaves room for ambiguity as to a general meaning.
For example, according to the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, section 2(c), a “child” means a male or female child of the age of six to fourteen years. However, according to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, Section 2 (a), a “child” is a person who has not completed 21 years of age, in the case of males and 18 years in the case of females. The definition of who a child is in the legal sense is thus legislation – specific.
The UNCRC,1989, and its predecessor, the Geneva Declaration of 1924, envisages a wide array of rights that pertain to the child. In a world that witnesses frequent and horrific acts of child-related violence and abuse, these rights lay down the basic framework for the governments to build upon in domestic legislation. Some of the rights that should be guaranteed to the children all over the globe include:-
- Right to an Identity
- Right to Health
- Right to Education
- Right to Family Life
- Right to an Opinion
- Right against Exploitation
- Right to be protected against Violence
The rights of children that are protected by various legislations in India reflect the above.
The Constitution of India has numerous provisions dedicated to the purpose of protecting the rights of children. Part III of the Constitution guarantees to its citizens’ certain fundamental rights, which are inclusive of certain rights guaranteed explicitly to children. Examples include Article 24, which expressly prohibits child labour in hazardous industries and Article 21A, which mandates the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children below the age of fourteen. Similarly, Article 15(2) permits the State to make special provisions for children. Apart from the specific rights, a child is entitled to all the other fundamental rights by virtue of being a citizen.
The Constitution also has specific child-friendly provisions in Part IVA, known as the Directive Principles of State Policy. These include Article 39(e) which prohibits the abuse of tender children, Article 39(f) which mandates that children must be provided with adequate opportunities for their holistic development, Article 45 which requires the State to provide early childhood care and education until the age of 6, Article 47 which requires the State to ensure nutritional benefits for children and Article 51(k) which requires parents or guardians to provide educational opportunities to their children or wards to name a few. Though these rights are not enforceable against the State, they serve to form the backbone of various domestic legislations framed with a similar objective.
Some of the most prominent legislation enacted to guard the child’s rights in India are discussed below.
- The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act,2012
An Act to protect children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and also to establish Special Courts for the trial of such offences. This Act was introduced in accordance with the UNCRC.
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006
This Act seeks to eradicate the social evil of child marriage, which unfortunately is still in existence in India. Child marriages are a blatant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and also in violation of the articles of the UNCRC.
- The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,2015
An Act relating to children found to conflict with law and children in need of care and protection. This is sought to be achieved by catering to their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social reintegration, and by the adoption of child-friendly approaches in the adjudication of matters in the best interest of the child and for their rehabilitation.
- The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
An Act to guarantee free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years.
- The Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act,2005
An Act to provide for the establishment of National and State Commissions for the protection of child rights along with Children’s Courts.
The Indian Penal Code also contains numerous sections which deal with the interest at hand. These include:-
- Foeticide (Section 315 and 316 )
- Abetment of Suicide of Child (Section 305 )
- Exposure and Abandonment (section 317 )
- Kidnapping & Abduction (Section 363, 363A, 364,364A, 365, 366, 367, 368 & 369).
- Procuration of Minor Girls (section 366-A )
- Importation of Girls from Foreign Country(Section 366-B )
- Human Trafficking (Sec 370 and 370A )
- Selling of Minors for Prostitution (Section 372 )
- Buying of Minors for Prostitution (Section 373 )
The Courts have also pronounced significant decisions that have widely shaped the system of laws governing child rights in India. Examples include the case of M.C Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu which attacks the rampant child labour in the town of Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu where children were engaged in hazardous conditions of employment in the fireworks industry. In this case, it was observed by the Supreme Court, that Article 21A of India’s Constitution had been grossly violated. In Unni Krishnan and Others v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others the Supreme Court directed that Article 45 of the Constitution which directs the State to provide primary education to all children below the age of 6, be given the status of a fundamental right. Vishal Jeet v. Union of India addresses the problems of child prostitution. Laxmikant Pandey vs. Union of India, focuses on the problems concerning the adoption of children while Shiela Barse vs. Union of Indiaaddressed the concerning issue of child trafficking. The above discussed are just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the case laws on child rights. It would be without fault to say that the Courts have done a commendable job in dealing with child rights issues.
An analysis of the existing legal provisions in the country provides a conclusive and optimistic picture. One rarely finds a chink in this armour. However, one cannot accord a 100 % success rate for these legislations from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation statistics. According to a recent study of Census 2011, despite laws existing to combat child labour the proportion of child labourers in the age group of 5 – 9 years is 2.00, and the corresponding figure for the age group 10-14 is 5.76.
The crime rate against children in India has witnessed a steady increase over the years. The number of such crimes reported increased from 89423 in 2016 to 94172 in 2017, and finally, it increased to 106958 in 2018. This is a clear indication of the various child protection laws of being only on paper. The rest of the statistics presented by the Ministry also present a dismal picture regarding the condition of children in India. Therefore the need of the hour is to ensure that the laws envisaging protection of child rights are implemented and enforced properly. Only then can we secure a better future for our successors.
 Children In India 2018 – A Statistical Appraisal, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation,http://www.mospi.gov.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/Children%20in%20India%202018%20%E2%80%93%20A%20Statistical%20Appraisal_26oct18.pdf
 M.C Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu, JT 1990 SC 263.
 Unni Krishnan and Others v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others, 1993 (1) SC 645.
 Vishal Jeet v. Union of India, 1990 (3) SCC 318.
 Laxmikant Pandey vs. Union of India, AIR (1984) SC 469.
 Shiela Barse vs. Union of India, AIR (1986) SC 1883.