Children of the Republic


Sixty years ago, on this day, India became a Republic. The celebrations continue.

Every year on January 26 a grand parade is held in New Delhi, from Raisina Hill to the Red Fort. The different regiments of the Army, Navy and the Air Force march past in all their official splendour. The President of India, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, takes the salute. There are floats depicting the various cultures of the States and regions of the country. Children too are a part of this grand spectacle. But what makes this day so special?

January 26, 1950, marked the transition of India from a British Dominion to a Republic. It is also the day when India adopted the Constitution. Although the country was declared independent on August 15,1947, it did not yet have a permanent Constitution.

On August 29, 1947, the Drafting Committee was appointed to draft a permanent Constitution, with Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as chairman.

It was our good fortune that when India became a Republic 60 years ago we had leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Ambedkar who could clearly see the problems the country faced and think of ways to tackle them. They created a new Constitution by accepting which India became a Republic. A Constitution is a plan for running the country. It points out how the nation should be governed and the direction in which it should move. For example it contained steps to remove the imbalances caused by the caste system operating for hundreds of years and the oppressed castes were given special concessions for upliftment.

For the child

The other problem was based on religious differences. In our country there have always been many religions — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and so on. Nehru reminded us of this and said that all faiths and religions would be equally respected so that every one will live in freedom. This is what we call the secular way. And this idea also has been included in the Constitution.

Similarly the constitution paid attention to the life of children. It lays down that a child has a right to education, to a loving home atmosphere and to grow into a well developed adult. The constitution says that the state will ensure that they are given facilities to develop in a healthy manner and that they are protected against exploitation. It lays down that no child below 14 years of age shall be employed and that the government should give free education for all children . These ideas are collectively called child rights.

Over the years, the idea of child rights contained in our Constitution has been growing in India. Just like adults, children also have rights and it is the responsibility of adults and the government to take care of them. So in 1974 our government announced a National Policy for Children and in 2006 formed the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. Opinion has grown against beating children, either in the school or at home and against child labour.

Yet, when we look around it is clear that what has been done so far is not enough. Millions of homeless children live on the pavements and go to sleep on an empty stomach. Thousands beg in streets. You often see them at traffic signals, their pathetic faces framed by the car window.

Recently in Bangalore, Vasanthi, a 12-year-old girl working as a domestic help in an apartment complex, was in the news for having been tortured by her employers. Police rescued the child and arrested the couple who had employed her.

Today in our country nearly 30 million children are forced to work for a living, at a time when they should be learning and playing. You can see them, in scooter mechanic shops, in small restaurants and often in homes as domestic helps. Thousands work in matchbox industry and in fireworks factories. Many adults concerned about children and their growth have formed associations and are working for their rights. It was one such association which took up the case of Vasanthi.

Some articles to remember

The Constituent Assembly of India which prepared the constitution met for 166 days, spread over almost three years. The Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949.

Article 24 prevents child labour.

Article 39 of the Constitution directs the states to protect children from exploitation of any kind

Article 45 directs the state governments to provide free education to all children till they attain 14 years of age.

In 1976 through the 42 {+n} {+d} amendment, the word ‘secular' was added to the preamble of the Constitution.

Recommended for you