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After the age of consent, another heated debate may be in the offing over the definition of the child. The new National Child Policy, drafted after nearly 40 years and to be discussed by the cabinet Thursday, lays down, for the first time, a universal definition of the child: a person aged less than 18 years.
This definition is in conflict with the Right To Education Act which defines a child as aged between 6 and 14 years; the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act which considers a person below 16 years of age as child; and Prevention of Child Labour Act which prohibits employment of a child aged below 14.
The new policy, piloted by the women and child development ministry will, if cleared by the cabinet, replace the existing policy drafted in 1974.
Besides the definition of the child, the policy differs significantly from the existing policy in that it proposes a shift from a welfare approach to children's issues to rights-based approach, on the lines of the United Nations Child Rights Convention that India ratified in 1992. It attempts to incorporate the four basic principles of UNCRC — right to survival and development, non-discrimination, respect for view of child, keeping the best interests of child in view — and identifies health, nutrition, education, development, protection, survival and participation as some of the basic rights of a child.
"The most important aspect of the policy is definition of the child. Though the constitution contains different provisions for children based on their age group, there is no uniform definition of the child. This is the reason why there was such a prolonged debate on age of consent," a senior official in the WCD ministry said.