Protecting children’s right to protest
➢ The article offers a critique of the Supreme Court’s observations on the right of children to protest.
➢ Following the death of an infant during the demonstrations in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, the Supreme Court considered it parental negligence worthy of court intervention and has taken suo motu cognisance of children taking part in the demonstrations.
There are many legal and social difficulties involved in the Supreme Court’s move.
Mothers’ right to protest
➢ Indian mothers, especially from poor households, given the lack of a support system at home or lack of access to creches or daycare centres have to carry their children wherever they go.
➢ If the women are not allowed to take their children to protests, it effectively limits women’s own mobility and pushes them back into their homes.
Implicit in the freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms under Article 19 of the Constitution is the right to protest. This right is guaranteed to all citizens of India regardless of age.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
➢ The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by India, expressly recognizes in Article 13 the freedom of expression of the child.
➢ The CRC, in Article 5, recognizes the “evolving capacities” of children. This means that as children acquire enhanced competencies, they have a greater capacity to take responsibility for decisions affecting their lives. The law recognizes that with age, children are capable of exercising their rights and that the law must facilitate the same.
➢ Article 12 of the CRC provides that member states should assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely. Therefore, there can be no restriction on a child’s right to protest without hearing the child.
➢ Notably, both the Indian Constitution and the CRC state that no restriction may be placed on the children’s freedoms except for the purposes of safeguarding the sovereignty, integrity, and security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Even these restrictions must pass the test of reasonableness.
➢ There can be no blanket restrictions imposed on children’s right to protest.
➢ The child’s right to participate in or witness a protest might be in jeopardy because of the Court’s observations.
➢ In the recent past, there has been the participation of children in protests, most notably in the anti-pollution protests in Delhi. Notably, the petitioner in the case against increasing pollution levels in New Delhi is herself a child.
➢ This was considered a valid exercise of the child’s agency, whereas the children’s participation in Shaheen Bagh is being questioned.