Children below the age of 18 are considered ‘minors’ under Indian law. This means they have the benefit of a special legal position due to their vulnerability. On the other hand, there are restrictions imposed on them as minors, for their own safety. As parents, it is our duty to tell our children about the laws of the country and ensure that they understand them.
In this article, I have attempted to explain a few important Indian laws that children must be aware of. I have focussed on problems that many parents face, either because of pressure from their own children, or situations that come up in the course of parenting.
1. Punishment in schools
Many parents worry about punishment being imposed on their children by teachers. The children themselves may often assume that school authorities have a right to punish them. It is important to know that S. 89 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits giving punishments that are not justified by the offence and also bans use of force against a child. S. 75 of the Juvenile Justice Act also prohibits cruelty to children. This means that, while corporal punishment is illegal, any other form of punishment should be suited to the gravity of the child’s offence.
As parents of teenagers, you’re probably under pressure from your child to let him drive your car or two-wheeler. Your ‘No’ will gain more weight if you tell him that under S. 3of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 it is an offence to drive any vehicle without a valid driving license. According to S. 4 of the Act, the legal age for obtaining a license for a two-wheeler below 50 CC is 16 years, for a two-wheeler above 50 CC and a four-wheeler it is 18 years, and for a transport vehicle it is 20 years. And, parents, remember that it is you who will be held responsible and liable to punishment if your child is caught driving without a licence (S. 5). Also, S. 185 of the Act makes driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol a punishable offence.
That brings me to another parental worry – will my child be lured into drinking? How can I keep her safe? Apart from making her aware of the health hazards that alcohol poses, tell her that there are laws relating to this. Find out what is the legal age for drinking in your state. It ranges between 18 and 25 years and differs from state to state. Some states and Union Territories have also banned the consumption of alcohol, either partially or completely.
It is also important to understand that the penalty for underage drinking, according to Section 77 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, is imposed on the person providing the alcohol, rather than the underage consumer.
Another common concern is drugs. Children should be made to understand that the sale, use and even mere possession of drugs are all illegal under S.8 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. Also, understand that Section 77 of the Juvenile Justice Act imposes a penalty on the person providing the drugs, rather than on the minor user.
5. Criminal Offences by Minors
In the unlikely event that your child is accused of a criminal offence, you, as a parent, should be aware of relevant laws. Criminal offences range from minor acts such as petty theft and slight damage to property to major crimes such as murder, assault and rape. S. 82 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 exempts children below the age of seven from the consequences of criminal acts they commit. S. 83 of the IPC states that any criminal act by a child aged between 7 and 12 may be excused as long as it can be proved that the child was not mature enough to understand the consequences of the act. However, a minor of any age may be dealt with by the authorities under the Juvenile Justice Act. Thus, it is important to note that offences by minors do have consequences. S. 18(3) of the Juvenile Justice Act states that a minor between 16 and 18 years may be tried as an adult in case of a serious or ‘heinous’ crime.
Is your child entering a new school? Or, going to college for the first time? Ragging will surely be a subject that is high on the list of worries, both for you and your child.
There is no Indian statute regulating the bullying of children. However, the Central Board of Education through Circular No. Acad – 17/2015 directed schools to set up anti-bullying committees which impose penalties on students indulging in bullying, including cyber-bullying. Further, the Government of India enacted the ‘UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Education Institutions, 2009’. Relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Juvenile Justice Act may also be applied to students convicted of these offences.
7. Cyber Laws
Are you being hounded by your minor child for permission to go on Facebook? Explain to her that, applying the principle of Ss. 10 and 11 of the Indian Contract Act, no one below the age of 18 can legally join any online portal, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as this involves entering into an e-contract with the administrators of the portal. This view is explained by Nitish Chandan in his blog post, ‘Minimum Age to Use Social Networks in India’ published on The Cyber Blog India on 4th January, 2015. As per the article by Lakshay Dhamija titled, ‘India: E-Commerce in India’ published on 21st October 2014 on www.mondaq.com minors cannot engage in commercial transactions online either. Generally, the parent or guardian will be liable to make payments on behalf of minors.
8. Minors and Contracts
One last point: According to Ss. 10 and 11 of the Indian Contracts Act, 1872, a contract entered into by a minor is invalid. Thus, no one below the age of 18 is bound by any agreement signed by him, unless such agreement is entered into through a guardian or parent for the benefit of the minor.
Due to their impressionability, children often fall victim to fraud or are induced into taking part in criminal activity. This is in no small part due to the lack of awareness of the laws of the land and the consequences of breaking such laws. Taking simple measures such as encouraging children to read the newspaper and explaining relevant laws to them will aid their development as law-abiding citizens.
Sushma Sosha Philip is a lawyer with experience in corporate law and IPR. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree from the University of Leiden.
Disclaimer: The article contains only general information about the laws. No part of this article constitutes legal advice of any sort and it cannot be relied on for any legal purpose.
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