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Last orders: how young is too young?

india Updated: Sep 06, 2013 16:19 IST
Serena Menon

If all goes well, in two weeks from now, pubs in Delhi and Gurgaon will be sitting on content that could give Bigg Boss’s new season a run for its money — all due to the Delhi Police’s attempted crackdown on underage drinking. Earlier this week wasn’t the first time the authorities in the Capital asked pubs to install CCTV cameras in their premises.

The ultimatum was handed out in July, after a 100-odd school children’s excursion to a bar in Gurgaon was busted. Then, when the command was reiterated last week, it was followed by a statement about the importance of curbing underage drinking — an issue that’ll remain elusive purely because it emerges from a set of guidelines that are as outdated as they are hypocritical.

An attempt to uncover this hypocrisy was even made by actor Imran Khan. Championing the cause for a while now, he even filed a PIL questioning Maharashtra’s legal drinking age, 25. His application aptly called the law “arbitrary, unreasonable and unjust”.

But who wants to listen to a Bollywood star talk about constitutional rights? Although, it takes only juxtaposing the various definitions of who our system considers a ‘minor’, ‘juvenile’ or ‘child’ to make the duplicity clear. For instance, we all know that when it comes to being tried for a crime, anyone below 18 is considered juvenile (a law that in itself requires immediate amendment).

But The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, doesn’t seem to believe so; at least in the case of men. As per the Act, a “Child means a person who, if a male, has not completed twenty one year of age, and if a female, has not completed eighteen years of age (sic).” Exhibit B of our laws’ double standards is The Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Act, 1986, as per which a “child means a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age (sic).”

So which one is it — 14, 18, 21 or 25? The law says you can become a father at 22, but you have to wait for another three years before you can enjoy a cocktail. At 14, you can work and be responsible for your life, yet, in court you’re still considered immature. If this isn’t patronising the country’s youngest citizens, what is?

No one would disagree that kids (by the world’s definition) today are exposed to much more than just alcohol or crime at ages much younger than 18. I know numerous people like me who have had teenagers teach them a thing or two about concepts children shouldn’t ideally even have heard of. So, who exactly are these unrealistic laws kidding (pun intended)? Will they help the youth deal with their piquing curiosity or teach them to take responsibility for their actions?

Because a three-year stay in a remand home (the sentence passed for the juvenile Delhi gang-rape accused) is not a deterrent by any stretch of the imagination.