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CHILD-FRIENDLY LEGAL SERVICES IN INDIA: EMPOWERING VULNERABLE YOUTH

Author: Abhimanyu Suresh Nawghare, I year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur


Abstract

Child-friendly legal services play a pivotal role in safeguarding the rights and interests of children in India. These abstract highlights the significance of such services and explores their implementation and impact in the Indian context. Key areas covered include access to justice, legal representation, child-friendly court procedures, and specialized support systems. The abstract emphasizes the need for continued efforts to enhance the effectiveness and reach of child-friendly legal services in India.

Keywords: child-friendly legal services, India, access to justice, legal representation, child-friendly court procedures, support systems


INTRODUCTION

Child-friendly legal services in India are an essential component of protecting and promoting the rights and well-being of children. These services aim to create a supportive and empowering environment within the legal system, ensuring that children have access to justice, adequate legal representation, and specialized support systems. By addressing the unique needs and vulnerabilities of children, child-friendly legal services play a crucial role in safeguarding their rights and ensuring their voices are heard.


In a country as diverse and populous as India, child-friendly legal services are of paramount importance due to the significant number of children who face various challenges such as child labour, child marriage, trafficking, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. These services recognize the inherent vulnerabilities of children and strive to provide them with adequate protection, support, and redressal mechanisms within the legal framework.


Access to justice is a fundamental principle underlying child-friendly legal service. It ensures that children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, gender, or any other factors, have equal opportunities to seek justice and protection. Child-friendly legal services work towards removing barriers that may impede a child’s access to justice, such as limited awareness, lack of legal literacy, and societal stigmas.


Legal representation is another crucial aspect of child-friendly legal services. Children involved in legal proceedings, whether as victims, witnesses, or accused, often face challenges in understanding the complexities of the legal system. The provision of qualified and trained legal professionals who specialize in child rights ensures that children receive appropriate guidance, representation, and advocacy throughout the legal process. This empowers children to participate effectively and assert their rights, promoting a fair and child-centric approach within the legal system.


Child-friendly court procedures are designed to create an environment that is sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of children. These procedures prioritize the child’s well-being and seek to minimize any potential trauma or re-victimization they may experience during legal proceedings. Child-friendly courtrooms are equipped with child-friendly infrastructure, including comfortable seating arrangements, child-friendly furniture, and age-appropriate amenities. Trained professionals, such as judges, lawyers, and court staff, employ child-friendly communication techniques, ensuring that legal language and processes are accessible and comprehensible to children. These measures help children feel safe, supported, and encouraged to participate actively in their legal matters.


CONSTITUTIONAL ASSURANCES TO CHILDREN IN INDIA

Children are the future of a nation, and ensuring their rights and well-being is of paramount importance. In India, the Constitution provides a strong framework for the protection and empowerment of children. It includes several constitutional assurances that recognize children as rights-bearing individuals and outlines their entitlements to a safe, nurturing, and inclusive environment. This article explores the constitutional assurances to children in India and their significance in promoting their rights and welfare.


The Constitution of India, adopted on January 26, 1950, contains provisions that specifically address the rights and protection of children. The key provisions that assure the rights of children include the following:

  1. Right to Equality: Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees the right to equality to all individuals, including children. It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. This provision ensures that children are treated fairly and have equal opportunities without any discrimination.

  2. Right to Education: Article 21A of the Constitution, inserted through the 86th Amendment in 2002, guarantees the right to free and compulsory education for children between the ages of six and fourteen. This provision emphasizes the importance of education in enabling children to develop their potential and lays the foundation for their overall growth and development.

  3. Protection against Exploitation: Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits trafficking, forced labour, and other forms of exploitation. It ensures that children are protected from child labour, which deprives them of their right to education, health, and a childhood free from exploitation.

  4. Right to Protection: The Constitution incorporates provisions for the protection of children’s rights and welfare. Article 24 prohibits the employment of children below the age of fourteen in hazardous industries. Article 39(f) mandates that children be protected from exploitation and moral and material abandonment. These provisions highlight the state’s responsibility to ensure the well-being and protection of children.

  5. Right to Health and Nutrition: The Constitution recognizes the importance of children’s health and nutrition. Article 47 places an obligation on the state to improve public health and ensure the well-being of children. It emphasizes the need for adequate nutrition, healthcare facilities, and measures to prevent and control diseases affecting children.

  6. Right to a Safe Environment: The Constitution acknowledges the right of children to live in a safe and nurturing environment. Article 39(e) directs the state to ensure that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and are protected from exploitation and moral hazards.

  7. Right to Participation: The Constitution recognizes the importance of children’s participation in decision-making processes. Although not explicitly mentioned, several provisions, such as the right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19) and the right to form associations (Article 19), provide children with a platform to express their views and opinions.

In addition to these specific provisions, several other constitutional rights indirectly impact the well-being of children. These include the right to life and personal liberty (Article 21), the right to freedom of religion (Article 25), and the right to cultural and educational rights of minorities (Article 30). All these provisions collectively contribute to ensuring the protection, development, and empowerment of children in India.


To effectively implement these constitutional assurances, the Government of India has enacted various laws and established institutions and mechanisms dedicated to child welfare. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act), and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) are examples of legislative measures and institutions designed to safeguard the rights and interests of children.


COMPARISON BETWEEN CURRENT AND PAST CONDITIONS OF CHILDREN’S LEGAL SERVICES

The provision of legal services for children has witnessed significant developments over time. By comparing the current state of children’s legal services with the past, we can observe notable improvements in terms of legal frameworks, access to justice, and the overall approach to safeguarding children’s rights.

  1. Legal Frameworks: In the past, the legal frameworks specifically addressing the rights and protection of children were limited. There was a lack of comprehensive legislation and guidelines dedicated to addressing the unique needs and vulnerabilities of children. However, over the years, significant progress has been made. Countries have enacted specific laws such as the Juvenile Justice Act, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act), and the Right to Education Act to provide a legal framework for the protection and welfare of children.

  2. Access to Justice: Historically, children often faced challenges in accessing justice. They lacked awareness of their rights and struggled to navigate the legal system. Legal representation for children was limited, and child-friendly court procedures were not commonly practiced. Today, efforts have been made to enhance access to justice for children. Child-friendly legal services aim to create an environment where children feel safe and supported during legal proceedings. This includes providing child-friendly courtrooms, trained professionals, and age-appropriate communication techniques, empowering children to participate effectively in the legal process.

  3. Protection against Exploitation: In the past, child exploitation, including child labour, trafficking, and abuse, was prevalent. Legal frameworks addressing these issues were often inadequate, and enforcement was limited. However, there has been a significant shift in recent years. Stronger laws and stricter enforcement mechanisms have been implemented to combat child exploitation. Initiatives such as the National Child Labour Project and anti-trafficking measures have been established to protect children from these forms of exploitation.

  4. Holistic Support Systems: Historically, specialized support systems for children involved in legal cases were limited. Counselling services, child helplines, and child welfare committees were not widely available. Today, there is a greater recognition of the need for comprehensive support systems. Child-friendly legal services focus on providing emotional and psychological support to children involved in legal proceedings. Counselling services and child helplines are now more accessible, ensuring that children receive the necessary support throughout the legal process.

  5. Awareness and Advocacy: In the past, awareness about children’s rights and legal services was limited, both among children and the general public. However, significant progress has been made in raising awareness and promoting advocacy for children’s rights. Efforts by governmental and non-governmental organizations have helped in disseminating information about legal services available to children. Legal literacy programs have been implemented to educate children, parents, and communities about their rights and the available legal remedies.

While significant improvements have been made in children’s legal services, challenges remain. Access to legal services may still be limited in certain areas, particularly in rural and marginalized communities. Resource constraints, including funding and capacity building, pose ongoing challenges to the expansion and sustainability of child-friendly legal initiatives.


JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENT INVOLVING CHILDREN AND THEIR RIGHT

There have been several landmark judgments in India that have played a significant role in shaping and safeguarding the rights of children. Here are some notable judgments that have had a lasting impact:

  1. M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu (1997): Popularly known as the “Child Labour Case,” this judgment led to the complete ban on the employment of children in hazardous industries and processes. The court recognized the right to education as a fundamental right and emphasized the importance of eliminating child labour to ensure the holistic development of children.

  2. Gaurav Jain v. Union of India (1997): In this case, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of child begging and highlighted the need for the protection and rehabilitation of street children. The court laid down guidelines for the identification, rescue, and rehabilitation of children engaged in begging, emphasizing their right to a dignified life.

  3. Sheela Barse v. Union of India (1986): This landmark judgment focused on the rights of juveniles in custody. The court recognized the deplorable conditions in which children were kept in prisons and remand homes and issued guidelines to protect the rights and welfare of juveniles in conflict with the law.

  4. Vishal Jeet v. Union of India (1990): This case highlighted the rights of children in observation homes and emphasized the need to ensure their proper care and protection. The court directed the government to provide adequate facilities, education, and rehabilitation programs for children living in observation homes.

  5. Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984): This case highlighted the issue of child bonded labour and called for the eradication of this practice. The court directed the government to take strict measures to identify and release children engaged in bonded labour and provide them with rehabilitation and education.

  6. Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa (1993): This case addressed the issue of custodial violence and highlighted the need to protect the rights of children who are victims of police brutality. The court awarded compensation to the parents of a child who died in police custody, establishing the liability of the state for the violation of fundamental rights.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, child-friendly legal services in India play a crucial role in empowering vulnerable youth and ensuring their rights and well-being are protected. The development of a comprehensive legal framework, specialized institutions, and support systems demonstrates the commitment to creating an environment where children can access justice and participate effectively in legal proceedings.


Through landmark judgments and legislative reforms, significant progress has been made in recognizing and addressing the unique needs and vulnerabilities of children. The Juvenile Justice Act, the POCSO Act, and other relevant legislation have provided a solid foundation for child-friendly legal services, promoting the rights of children and safeguarding them from various forms of exploitation and abuse.


The focus on child participation in legal processes has helped amplify their voices, ensuring their perspectives are considered and respected. Child-friendly courtrooms, age-appropriate communication techniques, and trained professionals foster an environment where children feel safe, understood, and empowered to assert their rights.


REFERENCES

1. Children’s Rights according to the Indian Constitution.

2. Understanding Child Rights

3. Child Rights in India - Right to Education and Health

4. NALSA (Child Friendly Legal Services to Children and their Protection) Scheme, 2015

5. Legal aid for children in criminal proceedings: child friendly legal aid at focus.


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