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Who is a minor?

In India, a minor is referred to as someone under the age of 18. In rare cases, the recently amended Juvenile Justice Act of 2015, can treat minors aged 16 or 17, who are charged with extremely heinous crimes, as adults.

Constitutional provisions, especially meant for children:

  • FRs- Articles 14, 15(3), 21, 21A, 24

  • National Education Policy 2020  extends the RTE Act to now include pre-primary education (nursery and kindergarten) as well as secondary education (Classes 9-12).

  • DPSPs- Articles 39(e)(f), 45

  • FDs- Articles 51A(k)

  • Others- Articles 243(g) read along with SChedule 11

What are the legal ages to work, consent, consumption of alcohol and marriage in India?

  • The minimum legal age for marriage, since 1978, has been 18 for women and 21 for men.

  • Most states have 21 as the legal drinking age; Sikkim, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh are at 18. In Haryana and Punjab, the legal age is 25. A few, like Gujarat, Bihar, and Manipur prohibit its sale and consumption.

  • In accordance with the Constitution of India, no child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. The minimum age for employment is 14 years.

  • The POCSO Act has increased the age of consent for sexual activity (referred hereafter as “age of consent”) from 16 years to 18 years for children of all genders.

What are the legal provisions?

International Level

  • United Nations Conventions on Rights of the Child (hereinafter, CRC), 1989.

  • Adopted by the United Nations in 1989, the CRC is an international agreement legally binding on the parties signatory to it. It was ratified by India in 1992.

  • It is based on four basic principles:

                ➤ Non-discrimination

                ➤ Best Interest of the Child

                ➤ Right to Life Survival and Development

                ➤ Right to be Heard

  • The rights of children have been incorporated in the various articles of the Indian Constitution without any discrimination whatsoever.

National Level: Policies and Provisions

  • National Policy for Children, 1974: It is the first written policy for the children in India. It aims at providing better enforcement of constitutional rights of the children.

  • National Policy on Child Labour, 1987: endeavours to eradicate child labour from Indian society.

  • The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was set up as a statutory body under the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007-  to protect, promote and defend child rights in the country. The Commission can suo motu take up inquiries.

  • Other organisations under MWCD- National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD), Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) etc. which specifically work with, for and around children

  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 is India’s fundamental law in dealing with children in need of care and protection.

  • Welfare: Health & Nutrition - ICDS, National Nutrition Mission, UIP, Mid-day meal scheme, National Health Policy of 2017 etc.

  • Welfare: Education - RTE, National Education Policy, SSA etc.

  • Establishment of Anganwadis is also a big step by the government for the welfare of children and their physical, mental and educational development.

Child labor

  • Definition - Child labor refers to the exploitation of children through any form of work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially and morally harmful.

  • As per the Census of 2011, 10.1 million out of the total of 259.64 million children in that age group (5-14 years of age), are child laborers.

  • UNICEF estimates that India with its larger population, has the highest number of labourers in the world under 14 years of age, while sub-Saharan African countries have the highest percentage of children who are deployed as child labourers.

  • The International Labour Organization estimates that agriculture, at 60 percent, is the largest employer of child labour in the world.

  • Major causes, keeping in mind the Indian scenario are-

  • ➜ Poverty- Children are considered as an extra set of helping hands, to feed the family. Due to poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, children are sent out to earn so that they do not become just a liability but an asset to the family.

  • ➜ Previous debts- Due to unemployment, low wages, inflation etc. it becomes difficult for people to get out of the vicious circle that leads them to moneylenders. This, sometimes, drags their children to work day and night to help repay the debt plus interest.

  • ➜ Professional needs- Certain industries like the ‘bangle industry’ requires delicate hands and minute fingers to work with precision; which is lacking in adults. They end up roping the young crowds, which does lead to accidents among the children- given bangles are made using glass.

  • ➜ Domestic help

  • ➜ Forced begging- Families who can’t support themselves force their children to beg on the roads in subhuman conditions.

  • Consequences of child labor-

  • ➜ The presence of a large number of child labourers is regarded as a serious issue in terms of economic welfare.

  • ➜ Children who work fail to get necessary education. They do not get the opportunity to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically.

  • ➜ It reduces their physical conditions and makes the children more vulnerable to diseases.

  • ➜ The young labourers today, will be part of India's human capital tomorrow. Child labour undoubtedly results in a trade-off with human capital accumulation.

  • Landmark SC Judgement- M C Mehta v. State of TN, 1996- The judgement highlighted the relation between poverty and child labour and also shed light on how the state has failed to eradicate child labor, and its lack of zeal to deal with it.

  • Legislations and Government efforts in this regard:

  • ➜ The Factories Act of 1948: prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory.

  • ➜ The Mines Act of 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine. Mining being one of the most dangerous occupations, which in the past has led to many major accidents taking the life of children is completely banned for them.

  • ➜ The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in all occupations- hazardous or not (2016 amendment).

  • ➜ The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000: This law made it a crime for anyone to employ a child in any hazardous employment or in bondage. It also includes penal provisions for the same.

  • ➜ Many states including Haryana have constituted the child labour rehabilitation-cum-welfare funds at district level and separate labour cells are being formed to address the issue.

  • ➜ National child labour projects have been implemented by the central government in states from 1988 to provide non-formal education and pre-vocational skills.

Child abuse

  • Definition- Any act, failure or negligence on the part of any individual; adult or child, that leads to a severe threat to the life and development of a child and results in prolonged physical and psycho-social impacts on their health and wellbeing.

  • Data - A study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child development (GOI) in 2007, revealed that across different kinds of abuse, it is young children in the 5-12 year age group are most at risk of abuse and exploitation. This involves-

  • ➜ Physical abuse- Two out of every three children were physically abused. Out of 69% children physically abused, 55% were boys.

  • ➜ Sexual abuse- 53% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse. Over half of these abusers are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.

  • ➜ Emotional Abuse and Girl Child Neglect- Every second child reported facing emotional abuse.

  • Govt. efforts & Legislations-

  • ➜ The Protection of Child Rights against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of 2012, is a law to provide for the protection of children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography while safeguarding the interest of children in every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms.

Related SC Judgements

  • Gaurav Jain v. Union of India - held that the children of prostitutes have all the rights, so as to be a part of the mainstream of social life.

  • Vishal Jeet v. Union of India- Several directions were issued to end the sexual exploitation of children.

  • Unnikrishnan J.P & Ors v. State of Andhra Pradesh - The court held that the right to education is implicit in the right to life, and in 2002, 86th CA added Art 21A to the Constitution.

General Solutions 

  • Mere educational facilities won’t suffice, there is a strong need for a very planned incentive system for children in primary education. The mid-day meal is one such measure, but it shall not be the only measure.

  • The main reason behind child labour being economical, therefore its solution must involve a financial boost.

  • Various policies which have been framed and which have to be framed shall be reviewed periodically, it becomes very necessary to update the policy with changing times.

  • Government and international organizations shall appeal, to bring about that understanding in society. Spreading awareness in a planned manner, therefore, becomes very necessary.

Impact of Covid-19 on children

  • Infection with the virus itself- The psychosocial impacts of the loss of a parent, or a caregiver, or a loved one; on children should not be overlooked.

  • The immediate socioeconomic impacts of measures to stop transmission of the virus and end the pandemic- Children of frontline workers, those living off the streets, the ones surviving in conflicted areas have been hugely impacted. Face-to-face child services– schooling, nutrition programmes, maternal and newborn care, immunization services etc. have been partially and also, completely suspended.

  • The potential longer-term effects of delayed implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals- The longer the current crisis, the more dramatic the impacts on these children, as economies struggle and government spending is restricted; and the more likely the increase in  numbers of infant mortalities, malnourishment, stunting etc.

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