A child is considered as an important asset for any nation. The growth and future of a country mainly depend upon the fact that how developed the youth of that nation is, and what all means and policies are followed to ensure it. As the exploitation of children in every field is increasing day by day, the main object of the society is now the protection of children from all kinds of exploitation and abuses. Some of the major child issues in India are:
- Child labour
- Girl child
- Child marriage
- Child trafficking
- Gender inequality
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS FOR CHILD WELFARE
The Constitution of India provides various provisions for the protection, welfare, and overall development of the children so that they can have their minimum basic human rights and be protected from exploitation and abuse. Constitutional provisions (articles) that are meant specifically for children are given below.
Article 21A makes education from six to fourteen years of age a fundamental right. It provides 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 Article has been inserted by the Constitution (Eighty-Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002.
Article 24 is directly connected to child labour. It provides 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.” The Supreme Court, in various cases, has prohibited the employment of children below 14 years of age in the factories like beedi and cigar making, heavy construction sites, chemical industries, coal mines, etc.
Indian Constitution directs the State under Article 39(e), to adopt protective measures so that, the tender age of children are not abused.
Article 39(f) urges upon the State to ensure that children are given necessary opportunities and proper facilities so that they can develop healthily with freedom and dignity. The section also provides for the protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and moral and material abandonment.
Article 45 provides that the State shall take measures to provide early childhood care and education for all children until the completion of six years of age. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, was an important step by the government towards this goal. It allows and grants paid leave for the early nourishment and care of a child.
Besides the above provisions, children also have rights as equal citizens of India, just as any other adult male or female:
- Article 14: It provides that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
- Article 15: It provides Right against discrimination.
- Article 21: It provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.
- Article 23: Right to being protected from being trafficked and forced into bonded labour.
- Article 46: Right of weaker sections of the people to be protected from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
- Article 47: Right to nutrition and standard of living and improved public health.
LEGISLATIONS ON CHILD PROTECTION AND WELFARE
Apart from the Constitution, there are several legislations which deals with the provisions for children. Here are some of them:
- The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933
- Employment of Children Act, 1938
- The Factories Act, 1948
- The Mines Act, 1952
- The Apprentices Act, 1961
- The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986
- The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000
- The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933
It is the first statute dealing with the problem of child labour in India. This Act prohibits child labour and says that any agreement made contrary to the provisions of the Act (i.e. an agreement to pledge the labour of a child) shall be void.
The penalty for agreeing with a parent or guardian to pledge the labour of a child below 15 years of age is fine of up to Rs 200. And, a penalty of employing a child whose labour has been pledged is also fine of up to Rs 200.
Employment of Children Act, 1938
The Act provides that a child below the age of 15 years will not be employed in any occupation connected with transport of passengers, goods, or mail by railways or a port authority within the limit of a port.
Limited protection to the children who are within 15-17 years of age is also granted under this Act. This protection does not apply to children who are employed as either apprentice or are receiving vocational training.
The Factories Act, 1948
The Act prohibits the employment of children below 14 years of age in a factory. A child between the age of 14 and 15 years can be employed only in the restrictions that are provided under Section 68, 69 and 71 of the Act.
Accordingly, a person having a certificate of fitness issued by a surgeon along with a token that gives reference to such certificate will be allowed to be employed in factories. This Act provides penalty with imprisonment of maximum two months or with a fine up to Rs 1000 or with both for making false certificate of fitness as per Section 70.
The Mines Act, 1952
It applies to excavation where an operation to search for or obtain minerals has been or is carried out.
The Act prohibits employment of children below 18 years of age in excavations where work to search and obtain minerals is carried out.
Accordingly, Section 40 of the Act prohibits the employment of children in underground or open cast mine. And, Section 45 prohibits persons below 18 years of age from being present in any part of a mine above ground, where any operation connected with or incidental to any mining operation is being carried out.
The Apprentices Act, 1961
As per this Act, any individual who is 14 years of age or above and who has minimum educational qualification as prescribed for a trade can undergo apprenticeship training.
The punishment is provided under section 30(1) of the Act – imprisonment for a term that can be extended to six months or fine or both on an employer is provided as punishment if he employs a disqualified person as an apprentice or fails to carry out the terms and conditions of a contract of apprenticeship etc.
The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986
The object of the Act is to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments.
The objectives of the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 are:
- To ban the employment of children who have not completed fourteen years of age for more than six hours a day and also during night hours i.e. between 7 pm and 8 am.
- To regulate the conditions of work of children in employment where they are not prohibited from working.
- To lay down enhanced penalties for the employment of children in violation of the provisions of this Act and other Acts which forbid the employment of children.
- The Act provides that if any person contravening the provisions of the Act employs any child or permits any child to work will be punishable with imprisonment ranging from three months to one year or with fine ranging from ten thousand rupees to twenty thousand rupees or with both.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000
The Act deals with the laws relating to juveniles in conflict with the law. It provides proper care, protection, and treatment to meet their developmental needs. It also adopts a child-friendly approach in the disposition of matters in the best interest of children and for their eventual rehabilitation through various institutions established under the Act.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
The Act provides for free and compulsory education to all children of India in the age group of 6 to 14 years. As per this Act, no child will be allowed to pass a board examination until he or she completes elementary education.
A child, as per this Act is allowed to be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age if he is above 6 years of age and has not been admitted in any school or is not able to complete his or her elementary education due to any reason. However, if a child is directly admitted in a class which is appropriate to his or her age, then, to be equal in the sense of knowledge with others, he or she has a right to receive special training within such time limits as may be prescribed.
Moreover, a child admitted to elementary education is entitled to free education until he completes his or her elementary education even if he attains 14 years of age.