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INDIAN CONSTITUTION AND CHILD RIGHTS

Arya Chandrakant Gaddam, 1st yearBALLB (Hons), Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad

“Little Children are a treasure
Their worth you can’t measure.”

The reason for quoting these lines from the poem ‘precious little children’ by Ron Zupsic[1] is that I found these lines apt for describing how precious children are. Children are the ones who determine how the world is going to be in the future. They are an important asset of a nation. Children are an eternity of hope in the human being and a promise for growth. Every country, whether established or developing, links its success to the status of a child. A child of today cannot grow into a responsible and productive member of tomorrow's community unless he is assured of an atmosphere conducive to his social and physical health. Neglecting children means sacrificing society as a whole. If children are robbed of their childhood—socially, culturally, physically and mentally—the country is dispossessed of future human capital for social change, economic empowerment, peace and order, social cohesion and good citizenship. Here, Child rights come into play, which ensures healthy and overall development of children and guarantees them basic human rights.

Before getting into Child rights, it is vital to understand what really is a “right”. To put it simply, rights refer to something a person is allowed to do or something he is entitled to have which cannot be taken away from him. For ex., every person has the right to three basic necessities of life that is food, shelter and clothes. These are basic rights which are needed to live and it cannot be taken away from a person. However, rights are different from privilege as privilege is something which is earned while on the other hand rights are something a person inherits by birth. Sometimes, rights are also given in form of laws, like fundamental rights in the Constitution of India, thus giving a legal assurance and protection. Rights are significant for the functioning of society as they embody key values like fairness, equity, dignity etc. Most importantly, having rights enables people to speak up against the unjust or poor treatment from the public authorities. They protect the minority from the oppression of the majority. Thus, given this importance of rights, Child rights which are explicitly available for the children under 18 years of age[2], are very crucial for protection of children. Especially in country like India, with given the huge population and various problems like child abuse, child labour, sex trafficking, the significance of child rights increases. To sum up everything stated so far, child rights hold an important position in the proper functioning of society and legal system.

The Constitution of India guarantees the rights of children as of any other citizen, but also gives special rights to children. The founding fathers of the Constitution have incorporated specific provisions in chapter III and chapter VI of the constitution through fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy. The UN Convention on Child Rights forms a great source for these child rights.

There are some rights in the constitution which are particularly available for children. One of these, often considered the most important one is Article 21A. Over the years, the article 21 has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in different ways. In such a case, Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka[3]the Court comprehended that the right to life with dignity includes the right to education. Then, this particular article was inserted by Constitution (Eighty Sixth Amendment) Act 2010 and states that “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.” This particular article was evolved from a directive principle of state policy (DPSP) which is Article 45. It states that The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years. It was stated by the court in the Mohini case that DPSP cannot be isolated from the fundamental rights as they are fundamental in the governance of the state. The other DPSPs which ensure child rights are Article 35(e) and Article 35(f). The Article 35(e) states that health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength. This principle protects children against exploitation. On the other hand, Article 35(f) states that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment. This ensures overall development of children and protects them from exploitation and abandonment.

Another fundamental right available particularly for children is Article 24. This article is fundamental to deal with vicious problem of child labour. It states that 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 Provided that nothing in this sub clause shall authorise the detention of any person beyond the maximum period prescribed by any law made by Parliament under sub clause (b) of clause ( 7 ); or such person is detained in accordance with the provisions of any law made by Parliament under sub clauses (a) and (b) of clause ( 7 ). This Article forbids the employment of children below the age of 14 in any hazardous industry or factories or mines, without exception. However, employment in non-hazardous activities is allowed.

The Constitution of India also guarantees rights to children, considering children as any other adult. This includes article 14 which protects the right to inequality and Article 15 which is right against discrimination. Also, children are guaranteed right to personal liberty and due process of law under Article 21. Another fundamental right which is related to the labour problems is Article 23 which ensures the right to being protected from being trafficked and forced into bonded labour. There are also some DPSPs which are crucial to know. Article 46 protects people from the weaker sections from any form of social injustice and exploitation. Also, Article 47 ensures the right to nutrition and standard of living and improved public health.

Given all these rights bestowed by the Indian Constitution, it can be inferred that there is enough legislation under constitution coupled with acts like Juvenile Justice Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and many others. What is important is there should be proper implementation by the executive. There is a large population of children which is still deprived from basic human rights and dealing with tragic problems like child labour, Trafficking, sexual offences and much more. Thus, it is vital that the rights guaranteed under the constitution and the constitutional remedies are easily made available to them. As Justice Bhagwati rightly said, “the child is a soul with a being, a nature and capacities of its own, who must be helped to find them, to grow into the maturity, into fullness on physical and vital energy and most breadth, depth and height of its emotional, intellectual and spiritual being.[4]” Thus, child rights are extremely important. The child rights can only be successful if they reach every child in need, consequently leading to the bright future of children of the country.

References

[1] Ron Zupsic, Precious Little Children, https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/precious-little-children [2] Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 [3] 1992 AIR 1858 [4] Mr Justice Bhagwati child basic rights. op. cit. p. 5

(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.)

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