Society & Governance
Topic: General Studies 1, 2:
- Social empowerment (Children)
- Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies
- Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections (Children)
Children’s Right to Protest and Safeguards for Child Witness
Supreme Court’s took suo motu cognisance of children taking part in demonstrations in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. This is in the background of an infant dying in the cold during protests.
Issues involved in the case which SC has to take note of
- The child should be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly or through a representative (Article 12 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC))
- While many schools encourage children to read newspapers and watch news channels, attending a protest is also a way for children to receive information and ideas
- A protest is also a space where children get to experience and assert citizenship
- It could also be a space for children to celebrate their unity as Indians.
- The case has a direct impact on children’s right to participate in or witness a protest as well as on their mothers’ right to protest.
- If by saying that women should not be allowed to take their children to protests, we would be effectively rendering impossible women’s own mobility and pushing them back into their homes.
- It is generally acceptable for children to participate in an anti-pollution protest in peak winter, but not in the protests at Shaheen Bagh. The court needs to decide the basis on which it is decided that one is a valid exercise of the child’s agency and the other is not
- Article 5 of CRC recognises the “evolving capacities” of children. This means that as children acquire enhanced competencies, there is a diminishing need for them to be protected.
Also recently the Bidar sedition case and the process of interrogation of Children by Police has raised concerns about State protection to Children
- Centre of the case is a school play that expressed dissent against PM Modi and the new citizenship law.
- This led to imprisonment of a mother of a student for having contributed to the script of school play and the arrest of the principal for allowing it to be performed in her school.
- Also children were interrogated by uniformed police officers in the absence of any child welfare workers.
These traumatic experiences are not only a violation of the fundamental rights of the child but are severely damaging to their mental health.
Indian Laws dealing with Child Witness
- Under Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, there is no minimum age for a witness. Children as young as three years old have deposed before trial courts in cases of sexual abuse.
- Delhi High Court has come up with guidelines for recording evidence of Vulnerable witnesses like Children – process to be age-appropriate & sensitive, provision of facilitator for effective communication between stakeholders etc.
- Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 -the police to not be in their uniform while dealing with children; Special Juvenile Police Unit in each district and city to interview children; and Child Welfare Committee in every district to take cognisance of any violations by the authorities in their handling of children
- Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 – investigation a child should not be made to recount the incident multiple times.
- In the silence over violence being perpetrated against children, the country appears to have lost its moral compass.
- In order to ensure that Children have a productive upbringing free of any mental torture imposed due to structural reasons (poverty, insensitivity of bureaucracy)- government should bring in long term reforms.
- This includes enhanced spending on education and health, proper implementation of JJ Act and POSCO Act, societal awareness programmes about significance of Child’s mental health and sensitization of personnel involved in Child Welfare programmes.
Connecting the dots!
- Kashmir Unrest and its impact on Children – their upbringing, future livelihood prospects and their rights under UN convention
- Donald Trump administration in the USA implemented its policy to reduce illegal immigration by separating children from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico – consequences on the mental health of the children.