Clipped from: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/children-s-privacy-sc-ruling-welcome-1195692.html
The distinction between childhood and adolescence is still not clear and so the age at which children can handle data privacy is still contentious
Supreme Court of India. Credit: PTI File Photo
The Supreme Court has made an important ruling affirming the right to privacy of children, which is often ignored as an idea and in practice. The court’s ruling is in the specific context of conducting a DNA test on a child, but its scope could be larger and can cover other issues related to children’s rights. In a petition before it, the court ruled that children cannot be mechanically subjected to DNA tests in disputes between warring parents as a shortcut to establishing proof of infidelity. The case was filed by a man who questioned his second child’s paternity, accusing his wife of an adulterous relationship. A bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and B V Nagarathna ruled that “genetic information is personal and intimate,” as it sheds light on a person’s very essence.” It added that “the information goes to the very heart of who she or he is,” and that “a child’s genetic information is part of his fundamental right to privacy.” Therefore, the court asserted that they have the right not to have their legitimacy questioned frivolously before a court of law.
The court has in the past also ruled that since DNA tests can violate privacy, they can’t be directed as a matter of course and that Section 112 of the Evidence Act protects children. But it has clearly laid down the idea now and linked it to the right to privacy. The court also linked it to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India has ratified. The court said that the child should not be lost in its search for paternity and so family courts should go in for a DNA test only as a last resort.
The court has had to reiterate this though there are many laws that recognise the rights of the child and it is clear that the Puttaswamy judgement on the citizen’s right to privacy is applicable to children. But the agency of children is not recognised as they are dependent on others and thus vulnerable. The concept of privacy is not accepted as an attribute of a citizen’s identity in a society that is still largely traditional and does not recognise individuals. The idea of privacy of children is especially important in the time of social media, where they are active. The distinction between childhood and adolescence is still not clear and so the age at which children can handle data privacy is still contentious. Implementation of laws that support children’s rights is patchy in every field in all parts of the country. Enabling judgements should be supported by social attitudes and action so that the children’s rights become real for them.