While protection is a right of every child, some children are more vulnerable than others and need special attention
Child Protection is about protecting children from or against any perceived or real danger or risk to their life, their personhood and childhood. It is about reducing their vulnerability to any kind of harm and ensuring that no child falls out of the social safety net and that those who do, receive necessary care, protection and support so as to bring them back into the safety net. While protection is a right of every child, some children are more vulnerable than others and need special attention. The Government recognizes these children as ‘children in difficult circumstances’, characterized by their specific social, economic and geo-political situations. In addition to providing a safe environment for these children, it is imperative to ensure that all other children also remain protected. This is because Child protection is integrally linked to every other right of the child.
Failure to ensure children’s right to protection adversely affects all other rights of the child. Thus, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cannot be achieved unless child protection is an integral part of programs, strategies and plans for their achievement. Failure to protect children from issues such as violence in schools, child labour, harmful traditional practices, child marriage, child abuse, the absence of parental care and commercial sexual exploitation, amongst others, means failure in fulfilling both the Constitutional and International commitments towards children.
The National Charter for Children, 2003 adopted on 9th February 2004, underlined the intent to secure for every child the inherent right to be a child and enjoy a healthy and happy childhood; to address the root causes that negate the healthy growth and development of children; and to awaken the conscience of the community in the wider societal context to protect children from all forms of abuse, while strengthening the family, society and the Nation.
To affirm Government’s commitment towards adopting a rights based approach to address the continuing and emerging challenges in the situation of children, the Government of India drafted the National Policy for Children, 2013, whereby it reiterates its commitment to safeguard, inform, include, support and empower all children within its territory and jurisdiction, both in their individual situation and as a national asset. The State is committed to take affirmative measures – legislative, policy or otherwise – to promote and safeguard the right of all children to live and grow with equity, dignity, security and freedom, especially those marginalized or disadvantaged; to ensure that all children have equal opportunities; and that no custom, tradition, cultural or religious practice is allowed to violate or restrict or prevent children from enjoying their rights.
India is home to almost 19% of the world’s children. More than one third of the country’s population, around 440 million, is below 18 years. Children are our future as strength of the nation lies in a healthy, protected, educated and well-developed child population that will grow up to be productive citizens of the country. It is estimated that around 170 million or 40 per cent of India’s children are vulnerable to or experiencing difficult circumstances. There is, therefore, an urgent case for increasing expenditure on child protection so that the rights of the children of India are protected. The neglect of child protection issues results in outright violation of the rights of the children and increases their vulnerability to abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The Constitution of India recognizes the vulnerable position of children and their right to protection. Article 15 the Constitution guarantees special attention to children through necessary and special laws and policies that safeguard their rights. The Right to equality, protection of life and personal liberty and the right against exploitation is enshrined in Articles 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 23 and 24.
The child rights and welfare concerns have been addressed in a number of International Conventions, Standards and Declarations, including the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules), 1985, the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, 1990, the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, 1993, World fit for Children, 2002 and the Millennium Development Goals, 2000. The Government of India ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1992. The Convention prescribes standards to be adhered to by all State parties in securing the best interest of the child. It emphasizes social reintegration of child victims, without resorting to judicial proceedings. The UNCRC outlines the fundamental rights of children, including the right to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful work, from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and from physical or mental violence, as well as ensuring that children will not be separated from their family against their will.
India has adopted a number of laws and formulated a range of policies to ensure children’s protection and improvement in their situation including, the Guardian and Wards Act 1890, Factories Act 1948, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956, Probation of Offenders Act 1958, Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959, Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes (Supervision and Control) Act 1960, National Policy for Children 1974, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, Child Marriage and Restraint Act 1979, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1986, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, National Policy on Education 1986, Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1987, National Policy on Child Labour 1987, Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods.(Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992, National Nutrition Policy 1993, Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act 1994, Persons with Disabilities (Equal Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 2000, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, National Health Policy 2002, National Charter for Children 2004, National Plan of Action for Children 2005 and Commissions for Protection of the Rights of the Child, Act, 2005.
However, these laws and policies promising respect for child rights, their protection and well being have not resulted in much improvement in lives of millions of children who continue to be deprived of their rights, abused, exploited and taken away from their families and communities. Scant attention and feeble commitment to resolving child protection problems have resulted in poor implementation of these laws and policies; meager resources; minimal infrastructure; inadequate services in variety, quantity and quality; and inadequate monitoring and evaluation.
( Author is a Practicing Lawyer)