The government has proposed to make it mandatory for police to register a complaint if a child is found to be under the influence of liquor, narcotic drugs, cigarette, paan masala or other tobacco products.
In a move aimed at tightening the noose around those selling or offering such substances to a juvenile, police will also have to ascertain how the juvenile came under the influence or possession of these substances.
For the first time, the new Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, that was cleared by Parliament in December made giving tobacco products to a child also a punishable offence inviting a jail term of up to a maximum of seven years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.
Under the old law, only giving intoxicating liquor, narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances were covered under its ambit.
The current law only prohibits the sale of cigarette or other tobacco products to a person below 18 years of age and also in an area within a radius of 100 metres of any educational institution. The penalty for violation ranges from Rs 200 to Rs 1000 and up to a maximum of three-month jail term.
Giving drugs or psychotropic substance to minor is also an offence under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act and the Indian Penal Code.
The draft model rules also mandate that all tobacco products and liquor will have to display a message that selling or giving such products to a child is a punishable crime with up to seven years in jail and Rs 1 lakh fine. Shops selling such products will also have to display these messages at a prominent place.
The women and child development (WCD) ministry has invited comments from all stakeholders to the draft rules.
“We will issue the final rules only after going through the suggestions received from all stakeholders,” a ministry official said.
A World Health Organization study estimates that one out of two young people who start smoking and continue smoking throughout their lives will ultimately be killed by tobacco-related illness.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development in its report on the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Product (Prohibition of Advertisement & Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Bill, 2001 observed the ill effects of tobacco products on minors.
“The committee has been given to understand that if a person is kept away from tobacco for the first 20 years of his life, there is a very high probability that he will remain tobacco free for rest of his life ... Therefore, the committee is of the view that availability of cigarettes and other tobacco products should be made difficult for these age group of people,” it said.
Dipa Dixit, a former member of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the country’s top child rights panel, said, “We are looking at the most vulnerable section of the population. In a majority of the cases, drug abuse in the country reaches children in the form of tobacco products.”
“Stringent penal provisions will act in deterring the sale of such products to minors. But only imposing stiff penalty won’t help. Along with it there is a need for creating awareness about the ill effects of tobacco products,” she said.