CONSTITUTION: THE SOTERIA DEFENDING CHILD RIGHTS
Kaustubh Kumar, 1st Year, National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi
Children being the future asset of a nation play a crucial role in the development of the future well-being of any nation. Since time immemorial, children are exploited and forced to perform menial tasks as even in Manusmriti child labour is mentioned as a practice during that period. During colonial rule, though the British government enacted various legislations to disparage the practice of child labour, its unsuccessful implementation led to bear no fruit. But the Indian lawmakers analysed the situation and strived to help children in getting basic necessities of life by adding provisions in the Indian Constitution so that they may also live a peaceful and prosperous life.
The term ‘child’ is not defined in the Constitution, but various legislations define it accordingly as per their purpose. The Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child defines child as ‘every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, the majority is attained earlier.’ The framers of the Constitution were fully aware of the fact that the future of any nation depends on upcoming generations and for that it is necessary to protect them from exploitation. The founding fathers achieved this by enshrining various rights and principles in the constitution as well as imposing the duty on the state to look after the welfare of the child.
PROVISIONS IN INDIAN CONSTITUTION SAFEGUARDING CHILD RIGHTS
To safeguard the rights of children and protect them from any exploitation, the first article that the constitution includes is Article 14. It states that the state shall treat every individual, including children, equally before the law and provide equal protection without discrimination.
Article 15(3) prohibits discrimination, but it also states that it shall not prevent the state from enforcing any special provision for the benefit of women and children. Article 21 provides that no individual shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty. Every person has the right to shelter, adequate food, shelter, etc. While Article 21A provides the right to education to every child and makes a duty on the state to provide free and compulsory education to each child from age group six to fourteen years or the state may determine it by law.
Article 23 in Part III prohibits the trafficking of human beings and beggars or any other form of forced labour. As well, Article 24 prohibits employing children under fourteen years of age in a factory, mine, or in any other hazardous employment.
OBLIGATORY PRINCIPLES ON STATE RELATING TO CHILD RIGHTS
The Constitution of India also imposes some obligations on the government of India to make the social and economic conditions better so that people may live a happy life. According to Article 39(e), the state shall ensure that the tender age of children is not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength. While Article 39 (f) states that children must be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and conditions of freedom and dignity. It must be ensured that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment.
As per Article 41, the state is obliged within its economic capacity and development to secure provisions for educational opportunities and facilities. Article 45 which is related to Article 21A also states that the state shall provide free and compulsory education to children till they attain fourteen years of age. Moreover, Article 46 imposes a duty on the state to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other weaker sections of the society hence, including children.
According to Article 47, the state must raise the nutrition level, living standard and improve public health, including that of children. Moreover, Article 51(c) states that the international conventions should be respected, as well, to every possible extent by the state, including the Child Rights Convention as well as its Optional protocols such as the Optional Protocol on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure.
The Constitution in addition to all these rights and principles, in Article 51A(k), imposes a duty to provide education to each child or, as the case may be, between the age of six and fourteen years on every citizen of India who is a parent or guardian.
TOO MANY RIGHTS AND DUTIES BUT STILL CHILDREN SUFFER
Although the Constitution provides rights and imposes various duties on the state, the children still face different problems and get exploited. Some of the issues are:
Health Issues: Health is a huge concern in India. It can be deciphered from the infant mortality rate (30.924% in 2019) i.e. worse than its neighbouring nations like Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. Although India is economically stronger than these countries, in 2018 – 19, it spent just 1.5% of its GDP on Healthcare. Another concern is diseases like Diarrhoea and Anaemia. More than 50% of children and women are anaemic in 13 States/UTs. According to NFHS-5, anaemia among pregnant women increased in various States/UTs, despite an increase in IFA tablets consumption. Children also face HIV infections, lack of safe drinking water, and inadequate sanitation.
Education Issues: According to a UN report, India has the world’s largest population of illiterate adults (287 million), amounting to 37% of the world population. India also faces a problem of unequal distribution of state funds for literacy, in Kerala, around $685 per year per person gets spent, while in Bihar, it is nearly $100. Girl child education is also a crucial issue that requires investment and social awareness. In Female Literacy, India ranks 115 out of 157 countries in the world.
Violence, Abuse, and Exploitation: Asian Centre for Human Rights reported in a finding that sexual offenses against children were at an “epidemic” level in India, stating 336% increase in child rape cases from 2001 to 2011. According to data of NCRB, in 2015, 94,172 incidents were reported, against children which is 5.3% greater than the incidents reported in 2014. Another report states 1.83 million children die every year before five years. There is high inequality in state mortality rates as in Kerala (urban – 3.5 and rural – 5.2) it is much lower out of 1000 than Bihar (urban – 43.1 and rural – 47.3). 117 million girls go missing in India due to selective sex-abortions. Moreover, India ranks fifth with the most skewed sex ratio.
Identity Issues: Children are restrained from opting for their identity and expressions. Though the UN convention on child rights provides the right to no discrimination against sexual orientation, the LGBTQ+ community in India has been discriminated various times. To end this practice, the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 that criminalized few sexual acts. From this ruling, the deprivation, bullying, harassment, isolation, and violence faced by LGBTQ+ children got legally dismantled.
CONCLUSION AND REMEDIES FOR EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION
Though the Constitution of India makes the duty of the state to provide nutrition and a healthy environment to a child, underprivileged children and children living in rural areas hardly get benefit from these schemes and programs of government. The government from its various schemes and initiatives like National Health Mission, Mid-Day Meal, National Nutrition Mission, Integrated Child Development Services, etc. striving to bring children into the mainstream and facilitate them by providing various opportunities to develop.
The government is trying its best, but it lacks Mass or Public Sensitization. As ‘Charity begins at Home’, the government should sensitize the public by making them aware of schemes and benefits that they will get from the government as well as from their child in the future if they make him/her study. The government should spread awareness by sensitizing advertisements through electronic media that shall affect the public at large in a good manner. If society does not take part, then nothing can be achieved.
The New Education Policy 2020 introduces 6% of GDP to be used by the Centre and States together in the education sector to increase the public investment. It will help in setting up good-quality infrastructure and facilities. The government, considering the rights of children, should also end all discriminatory legislation or renovate them. There are various other legislations to bolster these rights enshrined in the Constitution, but successful implementation is the need of the hour.
According to the Constitution, promoting children’s rights is a government priority. Despite this, children continue to face various issues in getting the benefit of these rights, prominently that relates to education, child marriage, and forced labour. Children make up nearly 39% of the 1.21 billion population of India, it is crucial that the rights of these children are met.
 National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438 : 2014 SCC OnLine SC 328 : (2014) 3 CTC 46 (SC) : (2014) 2 KLT 378 : (2014) 209 DLT 38 : (2014) 4 ALD 125 (SC) : AIR 2014 SC 1863
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)