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The History of Child Rights in India

Brother and sister in a playful mood
© UNICEF/India/2007
The right to play is a fundamental right of the child as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

By Jyoti Rao

The Indian Constitution has a framework within which ample provisions exist for the protection, development and welfare of children. There are a wide range of laws that guarantee children their rights and entitlements as provided in the Constitution and in the UN Convention.

It was during the 50s decade that the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN General Assembly. This Declaration was accepted by the Government of India.

As part of the various Five Year Plans, numerous programmes have been launched by the Government aimed at providing services to children in the areas of health, nutrition and education.

In 1974, the Government of India adopted a National Policy for Children, declaring the nation's children as `supremely important assets'.

This policy lays down recommendations for a comprehensive health programme, supplementary nutrition for mothers and children, nutrition education for mothers, free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14, non-formal preschool education, promotion of physical education and recreational activities, special consideration for the children of weaker sections of the population like the scheduled castes and the schedule tribes, prevention of exploitation of children and special facilities for children with handicaps.

The policy provided for a National Children's Board to act as a forum to plan, review and coordinate the various services directed toward children. The Board was first set up in 1974.

The Department of Women and Child Development was set up in the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 1985. The Department, besides ICDS, implements several other programmes, undertakes advocacy and inter-sectoral monitoring catering to the needs of women and children.

In pursuance of this, the Department formulated a National Plan of Action for Children in 1992. The Government of India ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 12 November 1992.  

By ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government is obligated "to review National and State legislation and bring it in line with provisions of the Convention".

The Convention revalidates the rights guaranteed to children by the Constitution of India, and is, therefore, a powerful weapon to combat forces that deny these rights.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has the nodal responsibility of coordinating the implementation of the Convention. Since subjects covered under the Articles of the Convention fall within the purview of various departments/ ministries of the Government, the Inter-Ministerial Committee set up in the Ministry with representatives from the concerned sections monitor the implementation of the Convention.

At the provincial level

The State Governments have to assimilate - in letter and spirit - the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into their State Plans of Action for Children.

A number of schemes for the welfare and development of children have been strengthened and refined with a view to ensuring children their economic, political and social rights. The Convention has been translated into most of the regional languages for dissemination to the masses.

A young girl married as per elders wishes
© UNICEF/India/2007
A young girl married as per elders wishes

Networking with experts and NGOs

The mobilisation and greater involvement of NGOs in programmes for the development of children and women has increased the potential to accelerate the development process in achieving the national goals for children, as outlined in the National Plan of Action.

Accordingly, their involvement in dissemination of information of children's rights as well as in preparation of the Country Report was considered vital by the Government.

In order to facilitate an open consultative process, a three day National Consultation Workshop was held in Delhi during December 1994 on CRC. India's first country report drawing extensively from these discussions was enriched with constructive suggestions given by the experts for full implementation of the Rights of the Child.

Subsequently, eleven state level workshops were held around the country at Jaipur, Calcutta, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Jabalpur, Patna, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar and Chandigarh in the course of 1994 to disseminate the provisions and to give an opportunity to the states to highlight their issues and make suggestions.

Most of the rights detailed in the Convention are guaranteed in the Constitution of India. Since 1950, these rights have been expanded through the process of judicial interpretation and review.

The ratification of the Convention has made efforts more coordinated and sustained. The priority areas of action identified in each section of the country report present a long and serious agenda for government, its departments, NGOs and society in general.

The Convention has added legal and moral dimensions to child's rights and the obligation to fulfill children’s basic needs. Rights can be declared, policies can be formulated, but unless the life of the child in the family and community gets improved all efforts may be meaningless.

There is a need to raise awareness and create an ethos of respecting the rights of the child in Indian society. We need to empower the younger generation to assert their basic rights in order to realize their full potential.

India’s next CRC Report is to be submitted by 10 July, 2008. This will be the combined Third & Fourth Periodic report.

The government has formed a High-Level Committee for preparing the CRC Periodic Report. This has representatives from Central Govt. Ministries, including Ministry of External Affairs, State Governments and NGOs. UNICEF is also a member of this Committee.

Ensuring that child rights are met for every child is a daunting challenge for India but also a testimony to the Government’s commitment to the cause of children.

 

Karuna Bishnoi also contributed to this story.

 

 

 

 

Links and resources for CRC

CRC Reporting Process

 

  • India’s next CRC Report is to be submitted by 10 July, 2008.  This will be the combined Third and Fourth Periodic report.
  • The first reports on the two Optional Protocols are due in September 2007 and January 2008.  The Government of India has requested for and is planning to submit all three reports together in July 2008.
  • The government has formed a High-Level Committee for preparing the CRC Periodic Report.  This has representatives from central government ministries, including the Ministry of External Affairs, state governments and NGOs.  UNICEF is also a member of this Committee.
  • The process for preparation of the periodic report put in place by the Committee is:
  • -  State Governments to have a participatory process and give state inputs for the
       CRC report.  UNICEF will facilitate a participatory dialogue and children’s
       participation will be welcomed in the states where it is present.

    -  The nodal ministry, Ministry of Women & Child Development, will coordinate
        five regional consultations with NGOs and state governments to trigger the
        CRC process and invite feedback and inputs.
     
    -  All central ministries dealing with children have been requested to provide
        analytical inputs on the progress and challenges in their sectors.

    -  The nodal ministry has put in a request on its website for critical analysis and
        inputs to the CRC periodic report from NGOs and civil society.  It has also
        put in advertisements in national newspapers for the same.

  • Inputs are expected by the end of September from these various processes and the drafting of the report is expected to be completed by the end of December/ January.
  • The draft will then be shared with various ministries, state governments and cleared by the High-Level Committee before clearance by the Ministry of External Affairs.
  • Advocacy is ongoing for the discussion of the CRC Period report by the Parliamentary Forum on Children/Parliament prior to submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.



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