June 24, 2010



Centre moves to protect children from cruelty

New Delhi: The Union government is in the process of bringing about a comprehensive law to prevent all forms of cruelty to children.If the proposed law goes to its intended end, acts like kissing a child on the lips, fondling his or her private parts and inflicting physical penalty on him or her in the name of disciplining would attract imprisonment of 10-14 years.

The proposed law also seeks tough punishment in the cases of harmful traditions that endanger the life or limb of a child and neglect of a child by parents or guardians.
The draft of the special law — prevention of offences against the child bill - has been piloted by the ministry of women and child development (WCD) and is pending with the law and justice ministry for fine-tuning. It is understood that given the sensitivity involved in the legislation, the proposed law is being handled directly by solicitor general of India Gopal Subramaniam.

The major reform in the proposed legislation includes raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 years. Which means having sexual relationship with a child below 18 years will amount to rape.

Criminal responsibility of a child, which begins after seven years of age at present, is being increased to 12 years. This means no offence committed by a child below 12 years will be considered an offence and he/she would be presumed innocent. The proposed law also seeks to raise the age of ‘immaturity’ — the age at which he is unable to understand the consequences of his action - to 15 years. The present age is below 12 years under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), section 83.

The proposed law recommends a jail term up to three years and a fine of up to Rs25,000 for corporal punishment. The definition of corporal punishment now includes violence, cruelty and inhuman or degrading treatment by any person, including a child’s family members, school, relatives, friends, prisons and juvenile homes. IPC sections 232, 324, 325, 326, 341 and 342 will be applicable under such circumstances.

To prevent the growing trend of “child goddesses”, the proposed law bans dedicating a child to the service of any deity, idol, object of worship, temple or any other religious institution. The offence can attract rigorous punishment up to 14 years and fine up to Rs10 lakh. It also bans child beggars or forcing children to seek alms.

“Though a few offences are covered under various sections in the Indian Penal Code, it is mainly in a disjointed manner. We are bringing a comprehensive legislation which will cover all sorts of offences against the child,” said WCD minister Krishna Tirath. The minister is keen to table the bill in the monsoon session of the parliament.
Stressing on child-related jurisprudence and reforms in existing laws to protect children, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Shantha Sinha emphasised on fast-tracking cases involving children and handling these in a more sensitive way.

“There is need for adequate penal provisions for restitution, reparation and rehabilitation of a child for its life with dignity,” the NCPCR chairperson said.

WCD ministry officials said there is a lot of duplication and overlapping in the existing laws. The proposed law would be more comprehensive and being a special law will prevail over any other existing law coming in conflict with it.

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