The law of the land defines children differently in matters pertaining to protection and welfare, causing discrepancies in the government's approach towards them.
While criminal laws such as Juvenile Justice and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences describe children as those below 18 years of age, welfare legislations such as Right to Education and Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) place individuals below 14 in the category.
Restricting welfare legislations to 14 years results in the government leaving the children in the lurch after showing initial concern, say childcare experts. "The very fact that those between 16-18 years account for most juvenile crimes shows that unprivileged children could slip into crime if they are not cared for until they attain adulthood," says Raaj Mangal Prasad, director of Pratidhi, a childcare NGO working with Delhi Police.
"True, the variance in age is a discrepancy that should be addressed immediately," Shanta Sinha, chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said. "Laws should ensure proper development of children till they are eighteen."
The Commission defines those in the 0-18 age group as children, in consonance with the United Nations Convention on Child Rights-1989.
Though the government ratified the convention in 1992, inconsistencies in the law continue to plague its approach towards children.
Unlike the protection law, analysts say, welfare as a legal right could result in huge financial implications. The Right to Education Act costs about Rs 40, 000 crore annually. Extension to 18 years would require a substantial upping of the budget.
The Child Labour Act prohibits those below 14 years from working in hazardous conditions.
The labour ministry is now moving an amendment for ensuring a complete ban on employment of children under the age of 14.