Historically we have witnessed a sea change in laws, policies and the recognition of human rights and child rights. We have moved from common law doctrines, which unfortunately favoured the powerful, to a rights-based approach. Whatever welfare happened to vulnerable communities, including their children, depending on the dominant sections of society’s generosity and mercy.
The Constitution of India, which came into effect on 26th January 1950, guarantees children’s rights. Article 21-A guarantees the right to free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the age group 6-14 years. Article 24 (a) secures the right to be protected from any hazardous employment until 14 years. Further children have equal rights as all other adult citizens of India. Few among them are right to equality (Article 14), right to personal liberty and the process of law (Article 21), right to being protected from being trafficked and forced into bonded labour (Article 23) etc. Child protection laws in India are framed in line with constitutional provisions for safeguarding child rights. More than 250 statutes in India, passed by the Union and State Governments, deal with children.
In addition to these child protection laws, we have several criminal laws which give protection to children. These statutes include the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
List of child protection laws
Some of the laws passed by the Union Government include the following:
Children Pledging of Labour Act, 1933
This Act prohibits the pledging of the labour of children.
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1987
This Act seeks to stop trafficking in young persons, both boys and Girls
Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986
This Act prohibits children’s engagement in certain kinds of employment and regulates the conditions of work of children in certain other employments.
Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
This Act follows the basic premise (a) to make a child go through marriage is an offence, and (b) child or minor is a person up to 18 years of age in the case of girls and 21 years in the case of boys.
Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
Right to education was only the provision in the Directive Principles of State Policy which had a period of ten years within which the State had to fulfil the mandate to provide free and compulsory education. We now have the Right to Education under the fundamental rights, making it a justiciable right under Article 21a. The Right to Education Act, 2009, also known as RTE Act describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was enacted to address sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors. The Act holds that a child is any person below the age of 18 years. The Act defines different forms of sexual abuse. The Act makes provisions for creating a child-friendly atmosphere through all stages of the judicial process and avoiding revictimization. The Act gives vital importance to the best interest of the child. It thus incorporates child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigations speedy trials of offences and in-camera trial without revealing the child’s identity through designated special courts.
Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015: Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act came into effect on 15th January 2016. It aims at ensuring proper care, development, and social reintegration of children in difficult circumstances by adopting a child-friendly approach. The Act classifies the term “child” into two categories: ‘child in conflict with law’, and ‘child in need of care and protection’. This Act has provisions to protect children from any form of punishment. Law against child beating is one such law under this provision.
Status of Child Protection in India
While the World has made significant progress in education, nutrition and child health in the past decade, India has been ranked 112 in the Child Development Index. Despite child protection act, we witness various forms of child rights violations, including the denial and inability to access the right to food, right to education, right to health and rights against exploitation.
While our Constitution and various Union and State laws have provided the legal framework that allows us to ensure that all children have a safe and nurturing context to enjoy their childhood, still vast sections of children remain deprived of their rights.
What is Needed to Promote Child Protection?
While the constitutional and judicial framework has ensured legal and political rights, much more needs to be done to ensure social and economic rights to vulnerable communities to ensure that the rights of all children are secured. Legal reform alone could not bring change in the rights of children. As Dr B R Ambedkar says, “We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of its social democracy.”
What does ActionAid do?
ActionAid Association has taken on the mandate of ensuring that all children can live a life of dignity, with the right to protection, nutrition, health and education secured. Through the rights-based approach, we encourage children’s participation in issues that concern them and their communities. The child protection policy of India created by ActionAid Association is framed under UNCRC principles and adhered to at all levels of their interventions. Through training, recreation and other learning platforms, children are empowered to challenge any form of violation of their rights. We have seen many budding child rights ambassadors advocating for child rights and challenging various social practices that violate child rights, including child marriages, child labour and child trafficking. The communities that ActionAid Association works with are better able to create a safe and friendly environment for children.
The struggle to ensure the ‘gift of childhood’ to all children is indeed a long journey. We have created a road map for their victory. We seek support from individuals who join our journey and create a movement to protect child rights.
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