Child rights are the human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to the young, including their right to association with both biological parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for food, universal state paid education, healthcare and criminal law, appropriate for the age and development of the child. Child Rights are fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings below the age of 18.These rights apply to every child, irrespective of the child’s parent’s/legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, creed or other status.
Human Rights are children’s right too. International human rights instruments recognise that children as well as adults have basic human rights. Children also have the right to special protection because of their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse. The most basic needs of children are referred to as ‘right’.
The principles outlined in the international human rights framework apply both to children and adults. Children are mentioned explicitly in many of the human rights instruments; standards are specifically modified or adapted where the needs and concerns surrounding a right are distinct for children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child brings together the children’s human rights articulated in other international instruments. This Convention articulates the rights more completely and provides a set of guiding principles that fundamentally shapes the way in which we view children.
Meaning of a ‘Child’:
According to international law, a child means every human being below the age of 18 years. This is a universally accepted definition of a child and comes from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), an international legal instrument accepted and ratified by most countries.
What makes a person a ‘child’ is the person’s ‘age’. Even if a person under the age of 18 years is married and has children of her/his own, she/he is recognised as a child according to international standards.
While all children need protection, because of their social, economic, or even geographical location, some children are more vulnerable than others and need special attention.
These children are:
1. Homeless children (pavement dwellers,displaced/evicted,refugees etc)
2. Migrant children
3. Street and runaway children
4. Orphaned or abandoned children
5. Working children
6. Child beggars
7. Children of prostitutes
8. Trafficked children
9. Children in jails/prisons
10. Children affected by conflict
11. Children affected by natural disasters
12. Children affected by HIV/AIDS
13. Children suffering from terminal diseases
14. Disabled children
15. Children belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Importance of Child Rights:
Children are citizens of a nation from their birth. They also have rights. Right through history, children have been abused and exploited. They suffer from hunger and homelessness; work in harmful conditions, high infant mortality, and deficient healthcare and limited opportunities for basic education. A child need not live such a life. Childhood can and must be preserved. Children have the right to survive, develop, be protected and participate in decisions that impact their lives.
Children are human beings and require safety and opportunities for development. Their personality formation takes faster during early childhood. Therefore child friendly services and nurturance are of utmost importance. Children are young in age, small in size and low in energy as compared to adults.Therefore,they need much more care and help, than grown ups do. And being young in age, they cannot participate in politics or judicial system despite contributing to the society’s progress. During early years, they are dependant on adults and therefore need extra protection and appropriate guidance. Children should have right because they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child brings together the children’s human rights articulated in other international instruments. This Convention articulates the rights more completely and provides a set of guiding principles that fundamentally shapes the way in which we view children.
This compilation and clarification of children’s human rights sets out the necessary environment and means to enable every human being to develop to their full potential. The articles of the Convention, in addition to laying the foundational principles from which all rights must be achieved, call for the provision of specific resources, skills and contributions necessary to ensure the survival and development of children to their maximum capability. The articles also require the creation of means to protect children from neglect, exploitation and abuse.
All children have the same rights. All rights are interconnected and of equal importance. The Convention stresses these principles and refers to the responsibility of children to respect the rights of others, especially their parents. By the same token, children's understanding of the issues raised in the Convention will vary depending on the age of the child. Helping children to understand their rights does not mean parents should push them to make choices with consequences they are too young to handle.
The Convention expressly recognizes that parents have the most important role in the bringing up children.
The Human Rights framework:
Human rights are those rights which are essential to live as human beings –basic standards without which people cannot survive and develop in dignity. They are inherent to the human person, inalienable and universal.
The United Nations set a common standard on human rights with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Although this Declaration is not part of binding international law, its acceptance by all countries around the world gives great moral weight to the fundamental principle that all human beings, rich and poor, strong and weak, male and female, of all races and religions, are to be treated equally and with respect for their natural worth as human beings.
The United Nations has adopted many legally binding international human rights instruments. These treaties are used as a framework for discussing and applying human rights. The framework establishes legal and other mechanisms to hold governments accountable in the event they violate human rights.
The instruments of the international human rights framework are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the six core human rights treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Every country in the world has ratified at least one of these, and many have ratified most of them. These treaties are important tools for holding governments accountable for the respect for, protection of and realization of the rights of individuals in their country.
As part of the framework of human rights law, all human rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. Understanding this framework is important to promoting, protecting and realizing children’s rights because the Convention on the Rights of the Child—and the rights and duties contained in it—are part of the framework.
Role of the United Nations in enforcing the Child Right
In November 1989, The United Nations General Assembly adopted “Convention on the Rights of the Child (the CRC).The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. It is the first legally binding instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights. The Convention sets out these rights in 54 Articles and two Optional Protocols. Its implementation is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The CRC incorporates the whole spectrum of human rights-civil, political, economic, social and cultural-and sets out the specific ways these rights should be ensured for children and young people. The CRC recognises that the degree to which children can exercise these rights independently is influenced by their evolving maturity. It also emphasises the rights and responsibilities of parents where applicable.
The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty with 190 ratifications. The CRC, along with international criminal accountatibility mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslavia Tribunal, Rwanda Tribunals and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is said to have significantly increased the profile of children’s right worldwide.
Some of the core principles in the CRC are:
1. The right to survival and development;
2. Respect for the best interests of the child as a primary consideration;
3. The right of all children to express their views freely on all matters affecting them; and
4. The right of all children to enjoy all the rights of the CRC without discrimination of any kind.
The Convention spells out the basic human rights to which children everywhere are entitled. These are the rights to survival; the right to the development of their full physical and mental potential; the right to protection from influences that are harmful to their development; and the right to participation in family, cultural and social life. The Convention protects their rights by setting minimum standards that government must meet to provide healthcare, education and legal and social serves to children in their countries.
The Convention has inspired a process of national implementation and social change in all regions of the world, including:
1. Incorporation human rights principle into legislation;
2. Establishing interdepartmental and multidisciplinary bodies;
3. Developing national agendas for children;
4. Widening partnership for children;
5. Promoting ombudspersons for children or commissioners for children’s rights;
6. Assessing the impact of measures on children;
7. Reconstruction of budgetary allocation;
8. Targeting child survival and development;
9. Implement ting the principle of non-discrimination;
10. Listening to children’s voices and;
11. Developing justice systems for children
Enforcement of Child Rights:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights-civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too.
By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the Conventions (by ratifying or acceding to it),national governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children’s rights and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community. States parties to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the bet interests of the child.
International human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols are negotiated among United Nations Member States and are legally binding on the individual States that become parties to the instrument. There are two ways for a State to become a party: by signature and ratification or by accession.
In ratifying the Convention or an Optional Protocol, a State accepts an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the enumerated rights—including by adopting or changing laws and policies that implement the provisions of the Convention or Protocol.
The Convention places equal emphasis on all of the rights for children. There is no such thing as a 'small' right and no hierarchy of human rights. These rights are indivisible and interrelated, with a focus on the child as a whole. Governmental decisions with regard to any one right must be made in the light of all the other rights in the Convention.
Governments that ratify the Convention or one of its Optional Protocols must report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body of experts charged with monitoring States' implementation of the Convention and Optional Protocols. These reports outline the situation of children in the country and explain the measures taken by the State to realize their rights. In its reviews of States’ reports, the Committee urges all levels of government to use the Convention as a guide in policymaking and implementation. And because the protection of human rights is by nature a permanent and endless process, there is always room for improvement.
Child Rights in India: An Introduction
India is a party to the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child,1959.Accordingly,it adopted a National Policy on Children in 1974.The policy reaffirmed the constitutional provisions for adequate services to children, both before and after birth and through the period of growth to ensure their full physical, mental and social development.
Accordingly, the government is taking action to review the national and state legislation and bring it in line with the provisions of the Convention. It has also developed appropriate monitoring procedures to assess progress in implementing the Convention involving various stake holders in the society. India is also a signatory to the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children. The Department of Women and Child Development under the Ministry of Human Resource Development has formulated a National Plan of Action for Children as a commitment made at the World Summit. The priority areas include health, nutrition, education, water, sanitation and environment. The Plan gives special consideration to children in difficult circumstances and aims at providing a framework for actualization of the objectives of the Constitution in the Indian context.
Status of Children in India
Recent UNICEF (2005) report on the state of the world’s children under the title “Childhood Under Threat” , speaking about India, states that millions of Indian children are equally deprived of their rights to survival, health, nutrition, education and safe drinking water. It is reported that 63 per cent of them go to bed hungry and 53 per cent suffer from chronic malnutrition.
The report says that 147 million children live in kuchcha houses, 77 million do not use drinking water from a tap, 85 million are not being immunized, 27 million are severely underweight and 33 million have never been to school. It estimates that 72 million children in India between five and 14 years do not have access to basic education. A girl child is the worst victim as she is often neglected and is discriminated against because of the preference for a boy child.
Of the 900 million illiterates in the world, almost one-third belong to India. In other words, India constitutes the largest number of uneducated people in the world. According to the 14th Report of the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women of the Lok Sabha,lower house of Indian Parliament of 5th August 2003 an estimated 60 million children are still out of schools, of which 35 million were girls. The population of children in the age group of 6-14 is 192 million. Of these 157 million children are enrolled in schools and the number of out of school children in the age group 6-14 is 35 million of which 25 million are girls. The government fails to acknowledge discrimination as one of the main obstacles to assess to education of the Dalit and indigenous children. Children of lower castes are exposed to discrimination at an early age. In schools, they are forced to sit apart from the higher caste children; that is if they are allowed entry into school in the first place. They remain segregated during lunch, if provided, and drink from separate containers.
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
The government of India set up a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to ensure child rights practices and in response to India’s commitment to UN Declaration. The Commission is a statutory body notified under an Act of Parliament on December 29, 2006.It consists of a Chairperson and six members from the field of child health, education, childcare and development, juvenile justice, children with disabilities, elimination of child labour, child psychology or sociology and laws relating to children.
The Commission has the power to inquire into complaints and take sou motu notice of matters relating to deprivation of child’s rights and non-implementation of laws providing for protection and development of children among other things.
The Commission recommends measures for the effective implementation to the protection of child rights. It suggest amendments, if needed, and look into complaints or take sou motu notice of cases of violation of any constitutional and legal rights of children. The Commission is to ensure proper enforcement of child rights and effective implementation of laws and programmes relating to children, enquiring into complaints and take sou motu cognizance of matters relating to deprivation of child rights; on-implementation of laws providing for protection and development of children and non-compliance of policy decisions, guidelines or instructions aimed at their welfare and announcing relief for children and issuing remedial measures to the state government.
THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA:
The Constitution of India guarantees all children certain rights which have been specially included for them. These are:
1. Right to free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the 6-14 year age group (Article 21A).
2. Right to be protected from any hazardous employment till the age of 14years (Article 24).
3. Right to be protected from being abused and forced by economic necessity to enter occupations unsuited to their age or strength (Article 39(e)).
4. Right to equal opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions and freedom and dignity and guaranteed protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment (Article 39(f))
Besides these they also have rights as equal citizens of India, just as any other adult male or female:
1. Right to equality (Article 14)
2. Right against discrimination (Article 15)
3. Right to personal liberty and due process of law (Article 21)
4. Right to being protected from being trafficked and forced into bonded labour (Article 23)
Right of weaker sections of the people to be protected from social injustice and all forms of exploitation (Article 46)
The UN declared that all children have the right to:
1. Survival: The right to be alive, to have a home, enough food, good health, a family.
2. Development: The right to education, play, entertainment, to develop talents and skills.
3. Protection: The right to be safe, to be protected from harm.
4. Participation: The right to have your say, to be listened to.
But do all children get these rights?
Out of every 1000 children born in India,31 die before they are one year old. On the contrary, in Japan and Singapore, less only 2 0r 3 out of 1000 children die before they are one year old.
Girls are particularly neglected and many die early and many girl babies are killed even before they are born. For every 1000 men in India, there are only 933 women.
40 million children in India work as child labourers, never going to school and having no chance to develop.
Most children in India who do not get a chance to go to school go to government-run schools which are often dirty, where they are not taught well, where there are no books or toys or learning aids, and where they are not treated with respect. Only a very small percentage of children go to good schools where they are cared for and taught well.
Thousands of children each year are brought or kidnapped by agents from poor rural areas and sold as domestic workers or exploited in many other ways.
Children are sometimes abused by adults within their own families. Not all children are safe.
But do all children get these rights?
Most children have never had a chance to be say or be heard. But many children think about and care about serious issues.
At home, do the adults discuss any major change is going to happen, like a change of home, school etc?
If yes, then such children are among the lucky few. Most children don’t have the chance to be heard.
It transpires that children deserve to be highly valued for the unique contribution they make through just being children. Research, documents and intervention by government and the civil society groups in the past have already clearly brought forth some of the following child protection issues and categories of children that deserve special protection viz,.gender discrimination, caste discrimination,disability,female foeticide,infanticide,domestic violence, child sexual abuse, child marriage, child labour, child prostitution, child trafficking, child sacrifice, corporeal punishment, corporeal punishment in school, examination pressure and student suicide, natural disaster, war and conflict, and HIV/AIDS. Respect for children as a global ideal has been affirmed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November 1989 and it entered into force and became legally binding on State Parties in September 1990.
The values we import to our children today, consciously and unconsciously, will have a major impact on society tomorrow. If we continue to leave the teaching of values to chance, we, as a nation, risk losing an integral piece of our culture altogether. And in the words of Gandhiji:
“If we are to reach real place in this world, and if we are to carry on real war against war, we shall have to begin with children. And if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we wont have to struggle, we wont have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering”.