Right to childhood and equitable access to justice
Children constitute over 400 million of the 1 billion plus population of India. ‘Childhood’ in Indian laws is a term indicating capacity and a term of special protection. The age of majority will determine issues such as criminal responsibility, marriage, employment, sexual consent and access to education, competency as witness and right to participation. The 21st century has heralded a number of important policy and legislative initiatives as well as significant court interventions, and there are important bills pending before the Parliament of India to make the laws more children friendly. This chapter deals with the concept of childhood under Indian laws. Who is a child in the Indian legal system? When does childhood cease? What are the rights and laws of the children, and how does law protect them in cases of physical and sexual abuse and exploitation and violation of their rights to survival, protection, development and participation. Inconsistencies and contradictions relating to the legal concept of childhood in various legislations are highlighted and legislative reforms suggested for better access to justice.