Child Abuse Laws in India: Fortifying the Formative Years

Child abuse is a pervasive and disturbing problem in India, with millions of children being subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse every year. Between the years 2017-2020, there were 24 Lakhs Cases of child abuse that were reported, out of which 80% of the victims were girl below the age of 14.[1]  The Government of India has implemented several legal measures to protect children from abuse, and these measures are aimed at preventing, detecting, and punishing perpetrators of child abuse. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015[2] defines child abuse as any physical, sexual, emotional, or economic maltreatment of a child. This includes neglect, abandonment, exploitation, and any other form of harmful treatment.

Despite the high numbers of reported cases, many cases of child abuse go unreported, and the true extent of the problem is likely to be even greater. The effects of child abuse can be devastating, leading to long-term physical and mental health problems, as well as social and economic consequences. It is essential that the government and civil society organizations work together to prevent child abuse and support victims.

Historically, we have witnessed constructive changes in laws, policies and recognition of human rights and child rights. The Constitution of India guarantees children’s rights[1]

  • Article 21A guarantees the right to free and compulsory elementary for all children in the age group 6-14 years.
  • Article 24(a) secures the right to be protected from any hazardous employment until 14 years.
  • Children have equal rights as all other adult citizens of India, like, the Right to Equality (Article 14), Right to Personal Liberty and the process of law (Article 21), Right to being protected from being trafficked and forced into bonded labour (Article 23), etc.

Child Protection Laws in India are framed in line with constitutional provisions for safeguarding child rights. More than 250 statutes in India have been passed by the Union and State Governments. Some of the important legislations and their important provisions are as follows:

Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)

  • Section 75 of the code provides for punishment for cruelty to a child, while Section 76 provides for punishment for abetment of suicide of a child.
  • The abandonment of a child below the age of twelve years is dealt under Section 317, Punishment for abandonment is imprisonment up to seven years or fine or both.
  • Inducing any minor girl to have sexual intercourse with another person is punishable under Section 366A. This crime shall be punishable with imprisonment up to ten years and a fine.
  • Section 372and Section 373 of the act penalises selling or buying minor girls for prostitution and illicit intercourse for any unlawful and immoral purpose, with imprisonment under, which may extend up to ten years and a fine. [2]

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA)

As per Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act, all persons, including a child or an aged except a tender year, extreme old age, disease – whether of body or mind or any other similar cause, are competent to be considered as a witness in the court of law if they are able to understand the questions put to them, or able to give rational answers to those questions.[3]

 

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC)

Also, after the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, the punishment for rape of a minor girl has been aggravated (made more serious) under section 376(2)(i) of IPC. The punishment for rape of females below 16 years of age shall be minimum rigorous imprisonment of ten years which can extend up to life imprisonment. [4]

The list of the child protection laws passed by the Union Government includes the following:

Children Pledging of Labour Act, 1933 (CPLA)

CPLA prohibits the pledging of the labour of children by the parent and any other person who employs children who have been pledged for labour. [5]

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 (CLA)

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 [6] is a law for the protection of children from child labour in India. The act prohibits the employment of children in hazardous occupations and also sets the minimum age for employment in any kind of work.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1987 (ITPA)

The act makes it illegal to procure, transport, or hire a person for the purpose of sexual exploitation or prostitution. This act also makes it illegal to traffic children for any purpose, regardless of their gender. [7]

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (POCMA):

POCMA [8] follows the basic premise

  1. to make a child go through marriage is an offence, and
  2. child or minor is a person up to 18 years of age in the case of girls and 21 years in the case of boys.

Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009

The State were mandated to provide free and compulsory education within ten years under the Right to education. It was earlier a Directive Principles of State but now, the Right to Education is acknowledged under the fundamental rights, making it a justiciable right under Article 21A. The Right to Education Act, 2009, [9] also known as RTE Act describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSOA):

The POSCOA [10] was enacted to address and/or prevent sexual harassment, exploitation, sexual assault, abuse pornography and immoral acts against children. Under the Act, sexual abuse of a child is defined as any act that involves physical contact with a child or causes the child to be in a state of sexual arousal or stimulation. This includes penetrative and non-penetrative sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation.

 Some of its key features are:

  • It is not gender-specific and penalises abetment of child abuse.
  • The Act holds that a child is any person below the age of 18 years.
  • It defines different forms of sexual abuse and makes provisions for creating a child-friendly atmosphere through all stages of the judicial process and avoid revictimization.
  • The act also provides for strict punishment for the perpetrators of child sexual abuse. The punishment for sexual assault on a child under the age of 12 years is imprisonment for a minimum of 20 years, which may extend to life imprisonment. For sexual assault on a child between the age of 12 to 18 years, the punishment is imprisonment for a minimum of 10 years, which may extend to life imprisonment.
  • It gives vital importance to the best interest of the child which can be seen incorporated in the statute as child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigations, speedy trials of offences and in-camera trial without revealing the child’s identity through designated special courts.
  • It mandates the use of video-conferencing for recording the statements of the child victim, thus protecting them from the trauma of appearing in court.
  • Moreover, the law also requires mandatory reporting of child abuse. Any person who has knowledge of child abuse is required to report it to the police or a designated child protection agency. Failure to report child abuse is punishable with imprisonment for up to six months, or a fine, or both.

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJA):

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 [11] is a legislation in India that deals with the treatment of underage offenders. The Act, which came into force on January 15, 2016, replaces the previous Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

Under the Act, a child is defined as anyone who is below the age of 18 years. JJA classifies the term “child” into two categories:

  1. ‘child in conflict with law’ and
  2. ‘child in need of care and protection’

The Act provides for the establishment of Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees to deal with the issues of children in conflict with the law and children in need of care and protection. These bodies are responsible for ensuring that the rights of children are protected and that they are treated in a manner that is conducive to their overall development.

The Act also provides for the establishment of special homes and observation homes to provide shelter, care, and protection to children in need. One of the major changes introduced by the Act is the provision for trying certain juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 years as adults if they are accused of committing heinous offenses. This has been a controversial provision, with some arguing that it goes against the principles of the Act and may lead to discrimination against certain juveniles.

The Act prescribes punishment for the various offences against children such as enhanced punishment for cruelty to children from six months to three years. The selling or buying of children will be a punishable offence with imprisonment of five years. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2021 was passed to amend various provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development on 31st August, 2022 in New Delhi vide notification mentioned in exercise of the Powers conferred by sub-section (2) of section 1 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2021 (23 of 2021), the Central Government appoints the 1st day of September, 2022 as the date on which the said Act shall come into force.

 

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) [12], has been incorporated under the Ministry of Woman and Child Development by the central government, to regulate all laws and programmes with a child-centric approach. The commission can also take suo moto cognisance for violation of child rights.

Child Welfare Committee (CWC)

The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) [13] has been formed under the Woman and Child Development Department to tend to the children in need of care and protection. The Committee is to be informed about any child abuse within 24 hours by the police officer, then a person is appointed to support the child and be responsible for the psycho-social well-being of the child. The CWC person will keep the child’s family updated about the case. Any reporting of child abuse can be done by dialling the toll-free number 1098.

 

Conclusion:

While the world has made significant progress in education, nutrition and child health in the past decade, India has been ranked 118 on the End of Childhood Index [14]. Despite several child protection acts, we still witness various forms of child rights being violated, including denial and inability to access the right to food, right to education, right to health and right against exploitation. There are extensive laws to protect children, and child protection is increasingly accepted as a core component of social development. The challenge is in implementing the laws due to inadequate human resource capacity on the ground and quality prevention and rehabilitation services. As a result, millions of children are prone to violence, abuse and exploitation. 

Furthermore, the lack of awareness and understanding of the issue among the general public, as well as among law enforcement and judicial officials, makes it difficult to identify and prosecute perpetrators of child abuse. This lack of awareness also makes it difficult for victims to seek help and support.

To address the issue of child abuse in India, it is essential to implement effective laws and policies that provide adequate protection for children, and to educate the public about the issue. This can include measures such as strengthening the existing laws, increasing funding for child protection services, and implementing awareness campaigns to educate the public about the signs and effects of child abuse. Another effective method of dissemination of information could be through designing workshops to be given in schools, to educators, to caretakers and to the minors about the forms of abuse, the remedies and the rights.

References:

[1]  India reported over 24L online child abuse cases in 2017-20: Interpol | Business Standard News (business-standard.com)

[2] The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

[1] The Constitution of India

[2] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[3] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA

[4] Criminal Procedure Code, 1973

[5] Children Pledging of Labour Act, 1933

[6] Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986

[7] The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1987 (ITPA)

[8] Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (POCMA)

[9] Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009

[10] The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012

[11] Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

[12] National Commission for Protection of Child Rights

[13] Child Welfare Committee

[14] 2021-global-childhood-report.pdf (childhealthtaskforce.org)

Image Credits: 

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Despite the high numbers of reported cases, many cases of child abuse go unreported, and the true extent of the problem is likely to be even greater. The effects of child abuse can be devastating, leading to long-term physical and mental health problems, as well as social and economic consequences. It is essential that the government and civil society organizations work together to prevent child abuse and support victims.

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