Child development refers to the sequence of physical, language, thought and emotional changes that occur in a child from birth to the beginning of adulthood. During this process a child progresses from dependency on their parents/guardians to increasing independence. Child development is strongly influenced by external factors. Therefore if we give the right environment and assistance for development, they can develop into individuals who would be assets to the nation and the world at large.
Every human being below the age of eighteen years is known as ‘child’ according to the definition of United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In Geneva Conference (1924) , the need for special safeguard for this child had been widely accepted. It was also proclaimed in that declaration that the child by the reason of his physical and mental immaturity needs this special safeguard and appropriate legal protection. The Declaration of the Child Rights was adopted by the General Assembly on 20th Nov, 1959. Thirty years later, the world leaders recognized that children should have human rights of exclusive manner and for that they need a Charter . The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights within child rights. The Convention sets out these rights in 54 articles and two optional protocols . It spells out those basic human rights that every child should have wherever he may live: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.
Child Rights in India
Directive Principles of State Policy in Indian Constitution (Article 39)5 empowers the state to direct policies so that the tender age of the children are not abused and childhood are protected against exploitation and moral abandonment. As a follow up of this constitutional commitment and being a party to the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, 1959, India adopted a National Policy on Children (NPC) on 1974. This policy reaffirmed the constitutional provisions and authorized the State to provide adequate service to children through the period of their growth in order to ensure their full physical, mental and social development. Consequently, Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 came into force debarring the children below 14 years of age into any work or occupations. Being the signatory of the UNCRC (1992), India has globally recognized the Child Rights as binding constraint. After ratification of the UNCRC in 1992, India changed its law on juvenile 3 justice [Juvenile & Justice (Care & Protection) Act, 2000] to ensure that every person below the age of 18 years of age, who is in need of care of protection, is entitled to receive it from the state. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCRC) was set up in March 2007 under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005. Ensuring all laws, policies, programs and administrative mechanisms in consonance with the Child Rights perspective, became the Commission’s responsibility. The constitution of India, as of now, guarantees all the children certain rights which include: (i) Right to free and compulsory elementary education for all children between the age group 6-14 years. (Article 21A) (ii) Right to be protected from any hazardous employment till the age of 14 years (Article 24) (iii) Right to be protected from being abused and forced by economic necessity to enter occupation unsuited to their age or strength [Article 39(e)] (iv) Right to equal opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in condition of freedom and dignity and guaranteed protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment [Article 39(f)] However, despite having so many legal instruments the children in India are still not secured. Several indicators are showing how the Child Rights are being violated in different parts of our country whose plausible social and economic consequences would be more dangerous. Child Abuse is another dangerous part of erosion which silently kills the potentials and development spurt of many children. We still live in a tabooed society in our country, where no-proper sex education is provided with the children. Children get molested and abused but due to lack of sufficient awareness.
Child Protection Rights & Child Abuse
The Constitution of India recognizes the vulnerable position of children and need for their ‘right to protection’. Following the doctrine of protective discrimination, special attention to children has been provided in the Directive Principles so that necessary and special laws and policy could be made of. Child-abuse is yet rampant in India and the existent laws and rights are not adequate to safe guard the interests of the child. A substantial volume of child abuse remains behind the closet as most of the victim children don’t report against it. However, even the reported abusecases are not penalized due to non-existent of specific provisions of Indian Penal Code. For instance, there are no specific provisions of law for dealing with sexual harassment of male children. Ministry of Women and Child Department(MWCD) has conducted one study on 2007 in few major states of our country and has reported high incidence of different types of abuses of children in our country. Four indicators were chosen by MWCD (2007) to fathom the extent of abuse, which include (i) Physical Abuse – Slapping, kicking, Beating with stave/ stick, Pushing, Shaking; 17 (ii) Sexual Abuse – which include two forms ( Severe Forms & Other Forms) a. Severe Forms include ‘sexual assault’, ‘making the child fondle the private body parts’ , ‘making the child exhibit private body parts’, ‘photographing a child in nude’. b. Other Forms include ‘forcible kissing’, ‘sexual advances during travel /marriage situations’, ‘children forced to view private body parts’, ‘children forced to view pornographic materials’. (iii) Emotional Abuse : Humiliation which includes harsh treatment, ignoring, shouting or speaking loudly, using abusive language; Comparison between siblings or other children; (iv) Girl Child Neglect : Lack of attention compared to brothers, less share of food, Sibling care by the child, Gender discrimination. This is an area which requires urgent attention.
A vital part of child development is linked with child education. Education enhances the capability of every child to exert herself in every field of activities. It raises her employability as well as her role in decision making power in the society. However, child education has another intrinsic link with child labour and in most of the situation the performance of the former is obstructed by the latter. Though work itself has been considered as part of education and a robust relation between work and education has been already well established. Although school going child labour is not uncommon in our country and in fact 8% of our school going children between the age group 10-14 years is child labour, but child labour at hazardous work is still considered as a negative aspect of child development. The children who do not go to school and work as child laborers mark violation of child right. They are 4% of the total Indian child population in the age group between 10-14 years. Whatever be the situations, either it is economic compulsion or dire family necessity, child labour are indicators of non-development. On the other hand the Right to Education Act 2009, that came into force on April1, 2010, has entrusted full responsibility to the government for providing free and compulsory education to all the children between 6-14 years of age. IHDS (2004-05) shows that only 11 percent of children within the age group 10-14 years are employed within labour force to do various kinds of work including work on family farm, care for animals, work for a family business and wage work. This is yet another area which requires attention by Government and Nongovernmental organisations.