In May 2023, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (“NCPCR”) issued Guidelines for Child and Adolescent Participation in the Entertainment Industry (“Guidelines”).
The Guidelines supersede its previous iteration of 2011 and have been revised to ensure the welfare of children who are working in the entertainment industry and have taken into consideration the nature of issues that were brought before the NCPCR as well as the growing use of social media platforms and OTT platforms for creating entertainment content.
Some of the key features of the Guidelines are as follows
- Scope: The Guidelines cover television programmes including, inter alia, reality shows, news and informative media, movies; OTT platforms, content on social media platforms, as well as “any other kind of involvement of children in commercial entertainment activities”. The Guidelines are applicable to any company, organisation, individual, and Central and State Government authorities that are involved in the production and broadcasting of such material/content.
- General Principles: The Guidelines provide a set of 11 principles, that are to be followed while employing children/adolescents in the entertainment industry, pertaining to, inter alia, treatment with equal dignity, right to be heard and participate in all processes affecting the interests of the child, consideration of best interests of the child, safety, privacy, confidentiality, and natural justice.
- Key Definitions: Some of the definitions introduced in the Guidelines are as follows:
- Adolescent is a person who has completed 14th year of age but not the 18th year of age.
- Child is a person below the age of 14 years of age or age specified in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, whichever is more.
- Child Artist is a child who performs/practices any work as a hobby/profession directly involving him as an actor, singer, sports person or in such other activity as may be prescribed relating to the entertainment or sports activities.
- OTT Platforms are over the top media services that are offered directly to viewers via the Internet.
- The definitions of Online Curated Content (“OCC”) and Publisher of OCC are the same as those notified in the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Amendment Rules, 2023.
- Further, terms such as “best interests” and “child in need of care and protection” have also been introduced in the Guidelines.
- Registration of Child Artist with the District Magistrate: A producer of any audio-visual media production or commercial event, must obtain the permission from the District Magistrate of the district where the activity is to be performed and must furnish an undertaking, list of child participants, consent of parent or guardian, along with the details of the person from the production/event responsible for the safety and security of a child before starting the activity. Further, such producers must also ensure that screening of films and television programmes carry a disclaimer at the beginning of film or each episode, specifying that measures were taken to ensure that there has been no abuse, neglect or exploitation of a child during the production and shooting process. The permit obtained in accordance with this guideline will only be valid for a period of 6 months.
- Content: A child/adolescent should not be cast in an inappropriate or distressful or embarrassing situations or a situation that is likely to cause unnecessary mental or physical suffering. The age, maturity, emotional or psychological development and sensitivity of the child/adolescent must also be taken into consideration. Further, children/adolescents shall not be portrayed in a scene where the child is shown under the influence of alcohol or any other substance. A child/adolescent shall not be made to participate in a programme against their will/consent.
- Presence of Parent/Guardian: As per the Guidelines, at least one parent or legal guardian must be present if the child is below the age of 6 years. For a child above the age of 6 years, a person known to the child can also be present at all times of the process. A registered nurse/midwife must be present to take care of a child that is an infant. Further, travel arrangements will have to be made for the child.
- Categories of Content Created on Social Media Platforms: The content created for social media applications/short video platforms involving children/adolescents must be bifurcated into production house/organisation created content and content created by child/adolescent or their parent/guardian/family.
- Duties of Social Media Intermediaries for content uploaded on their platforms: The Guidelines specify the provisions of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules”) that social media intermediaries are required to follow. The Guidelines also stipulate that, in the event of any violation of child rights under any law in force including the IT Rules, the social media intermediaries must take swift and prompt action.
- Children in News and Media: The Guidelines also state that media and production houses must be sensitive towards child victims of offences and should refrain from sensationalizing issues of/ relating to children.
- Advertisements: The Guidelines prescribe following Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022 in respect of use of child/adolescent in advertisements and children/adolescents targeted advertisements.
- Conditions of work: The Guidelines also stipulate the physical conditions of work, the working hours, education as well as the conditions of safety of a child/adolescent.
The Guidelines issued by the NCPCR are a much needed upgrade to the 2011 Guidelines, given the popularity, ubiquitous use and exposure to Internet based entertainment sector and its impact on children who participate and consume this content.
However, the Guidelines appear to be a consolidation of all the prevailing laws, governing children/adolescents and their participation in the entertainment sector, mostly reproducing the provisions under various laws and not providing any clarity on the overlapping nature of the powers conferred under these laws to various authorities. Further, the Guidelines require production houses to register all child artists with the District Magistrate, however, the registration will be valid only for 6 months at a time. While this provision is important to ensure safety and security of children, it is pertinent to note that the Guidelines are not mandatory under law thereby frustrating the very rationale of introducing a registration mechanism. Moreover, the 6 months’ term for validity of registration places onerous obligations on media and production houses which would likely deter such media/production houses from following the Guidelines.
Accordingly, while the intention behind introducing the Guidelines is vested in the interest of children and child artists, the execution of these Guidelines and its impact on ease of doing business will become clear in fulness of time.