Millennium Post

Freeing the children

The government's move to define a person below the age of 18 as a child is welcome. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has now revised the national policy for children to this end, making the uniform age of 18 applicable to all policies concerning children.  Till now, there was no uniformity in this matter, with different legislations defining this age separately, leading to inconsistencies which impact the actual scope of child rights in the country. Thus, though as per criminal law in India, a child is a minor who is below the age of 18 years, under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, persons are children below the age of 14 years for the purposes of employment in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law. Similarly, the Factories Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory.The change in the policy could, thus, when legislated into law, make employing children, particularly in hazardous industries illegal. It could, therefore, have an effect on the child labour situation in India. While it is difficult to estimate the true numbers of children who work in India, their numbers may run into many millions. The 2001 national census of India had estimated the total number of child labour, aged 5–14 to be at least 12 million. At that time, at least 0.12 million children  out of this number in India were doing a hazardous job. There is little doubt that this kind of child labour is harmful to  children. It deprives them of their childhood and of their potential and dignity. It is, moreover, harmful to the physical and mental development of children.

The work that the children are involved in may be mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children. It is also likely to be  work interferes with their ability to attend regular school, or experience healthy childhood. The new policy will help free India's children from the shackles of a work economy and allow them to reclaim their childhood with dignity. In the long run this is to the benefit not just of the individuals who are children but also the economy and the country as a whole.
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