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CHILD Protection & Child Rights » III. Vulnerable Children


All children due to their age are considered to be at risk for exploitation, abuse, violence and neglect. But vulnerability cannot be defined simply by age. Though age is one component, Vulnerability is also measured by the child's capability for self-protection. The question that arises is, are children capable of protecting themselves. Can children provide for their basic needs, defend against a dangerous situation or even recognise a dangerous situation is developing? These questions call for a redefinition of the concept of self-protection. A child's vulnerability comes from various factors that hinder a child's ability to function and grow normally. Hence self-protection is more about the ability of the child to lead a healthy life within a child protection system; the ability to protect themselves or get help from people who can provide protection. The term vulnerable children refer to an age group that is considered at risk. But vulnerability of children is further compounded by the following factors:

  • Age within age: Younger children, especially those below the age of six, are much more dependent on the protection system.
  • Physical disabilities
  • Mental disabilities
  • Provocative behaviours: due to ignorance or misunderstanding of children's mental health or behavioural problems, some people can become irritated or frustrated and hence lash out against children or neglect them completely.
  • Powerlessness: comes of the situations and people that surround the children. If a child is given the power by the state, family or community to participate and fulfil their own rights and responsibilities they are less vulnerable.
  • Defencelessness: comes from the lack of protection provided by the state or parents or community. If there is no child abuse law than how is a child suppose to defend himself/herself against abuse.
  • Passivity: due to situation or treatment of the child. For example a child who is enslaved or oppressed does not have the ability to seek help or protection.
  • Illness
  • Invisible: Children who the system doesn't even recognise are highly vulnerable.

The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) like the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 defines vulnerability in two categories: children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law.

Children in need of care and protection is defined as a child who :

  • Doesn't have a home or shelter and no means to obtain such an abode
  • Resides with a person(s) who has threatened to harm them and is likely to carry out that threat, harmed other children and hence is likely to kill, abuse or neglect the child.
  • Is mentally or physically handicapped, or has an illness, terminal or incurable disease and has no one to provide and care for him/her.
  • Has a parent or guardian deemed unfit or unable to take care of the child.
  • Is an orphan, has no family to take care of him/her, or is a runaway or missing child whose parents cannot be located after a reasonable search period.
  • Is being or is likely to be sexual, mentally, emotionally or physically abused, tortured or exploited.
  • Is being trafficked or abusing drug substances.
  • Is being abused for unthinkable gains or illegal activities.
  • Is a victim of arm conflict, civil unrest or a natural disaster

Children in conflict with law are juveniles who have allegedly committed a crime under the Indian Penal Code. The ICPS also recognises a third category of children; Child in contact with law. These children are victims of or witnesses to crimes. ICPS lastly outlines that vulnerable children groups also include but are not limited to the following: "children of potentially vulnerable families and families at risk, children of socially excluded groups like migrant families, families living in extreme poverty, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes, families subjected to or affected by discrimination, minorities, children infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS, orphans, child drug abusers, children of substance abusers, child beggars, trafficked or sexually exploited children, children of prisoners, and street and working children."

UNICEF views vulnerable children as those who are abused, exploited, and neglected. Child protection is derived out of the duty to respond to the needs of vulnerable groups of children. UNICEF outlines the following groups as vulnerable: Children subjected to violence, Children in the midst of armed conflict, Children associated with armed groups, Children affected by HIV/AIDS, Children without birth registration, Children engaged in labour, Child engaged in marriage, Children in Conflict with the Law, Children without Parental Care, Children used for commercial sexual exploitation, Female children subjected to genital mutilation / cutting, and Trafficked children.

Each of these groups and other protection issues is discussed in the next section: Children's Issues