Updated: May 14, 2020
She could barely breathe and could hardly be heard while she spoke to the child helpline, “I will die. I am afraid they are going to kill me. My relatives have been harassing me ever since I have come here from the village. They make me work all day and give leftovers to eat. My aunt beats and tortures me without any reason. And with this lockdown in place and return of my cousin, my life has become miserable. He molests and sexually abuses me every time he finds me alone. I thought this would stop someday or at least I would go back home once this lockdown is over but with this extension, there seems to be no end to it. So today, when I gathered the courage to tell about it to my uncle and aunt, all I got in return was abuses, slaps, kicks and allegations that all this is an excuse to escape from work. I tried to defend myself but all in vain.” With a pause, she continued to sob and whisper, “And while I was trying to overcome this trauma, my uncle came to my room to comfort me. But what happened next has left me shattered. He started touching me all over. I tried to run from there, but then my cousin also joined him and they tied me with the rope, stuffed my mouth and kept raping as well as beating me all night turn by turn. When this was over, they threatened me to keep quiet about it otherwise they would kill me. Please save me. Please.”
These words of 13 year old Poonam would send chills down anyone’s spines. And what is even more shocking is that it is not just her story but of almost majority of the Children. As we turn the pages of history, we ought to notice that the most oppressed and vulnerable sections of the society have always been children and women. On top of that, being a girl child is even worse. What forced me to narrate this is a news article1 published in ‘The Hindu’ titled ‘Government helpline receives 92,000 calls on child abuse and violence in 11 days’ on April 8, 2020. With India claiming its independence on August 15, 1947 and Constitution of India2 promulgating on January 26, 1950, the Children of India were guaranteed certain rights ensuring that every child lives a life that she/he deserves. But, unfortunately, the slums, the tea stalls, the factories, the streets of our nation, various official reports and this news article tell us a completely different story. While all this makes us aware about the plight of the children, let us dig a bit deep into the Rights available to Children.
Our founding fathers were well aware that merely living is not suffice and to meet the ends of a welfare state, it is essential that due importance is given to the rights of an individual. Thus, an entire chapter is dedicated towards these rights, called Fundamental Rights. However, today we will limit ourselves to the ‘Rights of Children as enshrined under the Constitution of India’.
With the onset of twentieth century, the concept of children’s rights emerged and was taken seriously by social activists and welfare institutions all over the world. United Nations is one among those very few institutions that recognized the need for extra-protection and guidance for children all around the world. It has laid down these children’s rights in United Nation’s Conventions on Child Rights3, 1988 (commonly referred to as UNCRC). Rights laid down in this Convention as well as The Constitution of India (hereby referred to as ‘Constitution’) altogether determine the rights of the Children of our nation. The term ‘child’, as laid down in this Convention, encompasses every human being below the age of eighteen years, unless she/ he attains majority earlier under the law applicable.
These rights primarily focus on social justice, empowerment and equity. It is important to understand that any interference with the rights of children hampers their education; physical and mental health; their growth and development, all of which would ultimately have adverse effect on the growth of a nation. This brings us to discuss the Fundamental Rights provided to Children, the infringement of which can be challenged in the Court of Law.
Right To Equality: Article 14 provides that every child should be treated equally and should be provided with equal opportunities for their personal development and growth.
Right against Discrimination: Article 15 clearly prohibits every kind of discrimination with children on the grounds of race, religion, caste, class, etc. so that they are able to develop fully, grow up in good environment wherein they are well aware and participative.
Right to Life and Personal Liberty: Article 21 states that ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.’ With various judicial pronouncements, this article has grown to encompass almost every perspective of life and dignity within it. In the same line, it provides that every child should live a dignified life and not merely one that of a chattel.
Right To Free And Compulsory Elementary Education: Article 21-A provides that every child in the age group of 6-14 should have access to free elementary education mandatorily.
Right of Minorities: Article 29 provides that every in order to ensure the interest of those falling in the category of minorities, certain rights should be made available to them. To enforce this, various legislations have been drafted.
Rights against Child Labor: Article 23 and 24 provides protection to the children from being trafficked and forced into bonded labor as well as protection from any kind of hazardous employment to those below 14 years of age respectively. Various legislations such as The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; The Factories Act, 1948; The Minimum Wages Act, 1948, etc. have been drafted in furtherance of Right against Child Labor. The main act of the legislation is to prohibit child labor (in hazardous activities) and also regulate the employment activities where it is not banned.
Apart from these Fundamental Rights which the state is duty-bound to provide, there are certain Directive Principles of State Policy (generally referred to as DPSPs) and Fundamental Duties which are considered to be essential for the good working of a welfare state, however their infringement/ non-fulfillment cannot be challenged in the Courts. They are:
Securing Tender Age of Children: Article 39 (e) and (f) are to be read in this regards.
Article 39(e) : The state shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing that the 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.
Article 39(f) : The state shall in, particular, direct its policy towards securing 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.
Right to Early Childhood Care and Education: Article 45 and 51-A ensures that every child till the age of six years is provided early childhood care and education. These Articles provide that this is the duty of both-the state as well as the parent/ guardians to ensure care and quality education to children. This is, in a way, in furtherance of Article 21-A. To ensure this, The Right to Education Act, 2009 was enforced.
Right against Social Justice: Article 46 provides for the rights of those who belong to weaker sections against the social injustices and various exploitations at the hand of the society.
Right to Health: Article 47 provides that the state policies should ensure good health of its citizens, particularly children in this context. It talks about Right to nutrition, standard of living and improved public health.
To ensure that these rights as enshrined under Constitution are actually being accessed and provided to the children, various legislations have also been enforced from time to time.
The innocent eyes of children are unable to hide the pain behind their beautiful smiles. Thus, we should all pledge to eradicate these social evils and the devastating pain visible in these eyes through socio-legal reforms. It is essential to understand that despite various rights provided by Constitution and those by the legislations, we still have a long way to cover so as to achieve the status of An Ideal Welfare State as there are huge disparities between the statutes and the reality of this nation with respect to the child rights. Conclusively, we all need to understand that for a nation to develop; its children must be developed. Thus we should all remember these words of Kofi Annan4:
"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace."
‘Govt. helpline receives 92,000 calls on child abuse and violence in 11 days’ The Hindu (New Delhi, April 08, 2020) https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-lockdown-govt-helpline-receives-92000-calls-on-child-abuse-and-violence-in-11-days/article31287468.ece?homepage=true&utm_campaign=socialflow# accessed on April 08, 2020.
The Constitution of India, 1950.
United Nation’s Conventions on Child Rights, 1988 < https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/> accessed on April 12, 2020.
Kofi A. Annan, ‘The State of the World's Children 2000’ <https://www.unicef.org/sowc00/foreword.htm > accessed on April 10, 2020.
this happy-go-lucky girl aspires to be a ‘changer’ and is currently a final year law educatee at Jamnalal Bajaj School of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidyapith,Rajasthan. Throughout her Law school, she has beenactively involved in various academic as well as non-acdemic events, proudly had the opportunity of organizing First National Moot Court Competition, have gained practical experience through various internships and is an ardent yet nouveau social activist.