Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rights of children

The controversy that the 104th Constitutional Amendment Bill generated nearly obscured another significant Bill: The Commission for Protection of Child Rights Bill, 2005, which was passed in Parliament. It proposes to set up a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights both at the national level and Commissions at the State level.

We already have international laws and treaties like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that recognises children are entitled to special care and assistance. These principles are further reiterated by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which declares special measures of protection and assistance to all children without any discrimination for reasons of parentage or other conditions.
"Besides, the Constitution of India also seeks to protect the child against various forms of exploitation. It mandates 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 Constitution prohibits traffic in human beings and forced labour and prescribes that any contravention of this shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

In pursuing its objective of prohibiting child labour Parliament has enacted the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, providing for a uniform definition of "child" as a person who has not completed 14 years of age. While employment of children in hazardous occupations is banned, employment in non-hazardous occupations should be regulated.

This is probably because the problem of child labour is the outcome of poverty and illiteracy, and unless these causes are eradicated, it would be unrealistic to forbid child labour altogether. Despite these constitutional and statutory safeguards, child labour in hazardous industries is still prevalent in many parts of the country.
However, the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Bill, 2005, is seen as an important instrument as it provides for setting up of a separate statutory body, whose purpose will be to work for the furtherance of child right, specially the street children. The Commission will be basically dealing with child health, education, childcare, juvenile justice, welfare of children with disabilities, elimination of child labour, development in the child psychology and laws relating to children.

What needs special attention is the power entrusted with the child commission is of a wide nature, similar to that of the National Human Rights Commission. It can inspect any juvenile custodial home or any other place of residence or institution meant for children for the purpose of treatment, reformation or protection and take up with these authorities for remedial action.

Further, it can also inquire into complaints and take suo-motu notice of matters relating to deprivation of child's rights, non-implementation of laws for protection and development of children, non-compliance of policy decisions, guidelines or to provide relief to such children, or take up the issues arising out of such matters with the appropriate authorities.

Equally important is the spread awareness of children's rights among various sections of the society. The legislature, by way of bringing the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Bill, 2005, has performed its duty of welfare state, but it remains to be seen whether the setting up of Commission would be able to provide succour to the children.


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