Page last updated at 03:47 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 04:47 UK

India mulls rules for kids on TV

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Children participate in a television dance show
Children's contests on television have become hugely popular

The Indian government has proposed new guidelines to regulate children's participation in reality TV shows.

Among them is a suggestion to fix the minimum age limit of contestants to 12 years. Once approved, all broadcasters will have to follow the guidelines.

In the past few years, reality shows with children have become a huge hit with thousands queuing up to take part.

Recently, a young girl collapsed on the sets of a show and her parents alleged that the judges had reprimanded her.

Expert group

"We received several complaints about how children were being misused by reality television shows and how we were not doing enough to address the problem," member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Sandhya Bajaj told the BBC.

The commission set up a working group with legal experts, child psychologists and educationists and they have recommended a set of guidelines.

"The experts have suggested that children below 12 years should not be allowed to participate in competitive programmes offering cash prizes on television. Some experts even want to fix the minimum age at 16.

"We are debating the issue and have asked for inputs from all sections of society. We hope to finalise the guidelines by the end of October," Ms Bajaj said.

At the moment, children as young as seven or eight participate in reality shows.

The guidelines also recommend that doctors and counsellors be present at all times on the sets to deal with emergencies.

Children participate in a television dance show
The government wants to set some guidelines for children's shows

Authorities say they also want to regulate what the judges can - and cannot - say.

"The judges should not insult the children. They must be careful about what they say to the participants. They should not say anything which will make the children or their parents cry," Ms Bajaj said.

The judges, like their counterparts on American Idol and other contests in the west, have sometimes been accused of being rude to the contestants to attract better viewer ratings.

In May, a girl participating in a dance show collapsed on the sets and her family alleged that she had been rebuked by the judges for her poor performance.

'Internal guidelines'

"We are really concerned. We also watch the TV programmes and we see these children being pushed to the limit," says Ms Bajaj.

Sony, producers of popular children's show Boogie Woogie, say they have their own set of "internal guidelines" which they follow while working with young children.

"I don't think we need any more guidelines, but as and when the government comes out with their proposals, we will look at them," senior Sony official Albert Almeida told the BBC.

The suggestion to fix a minimum age has been welcomed by Dr Vrushali Deshmukh, whose 11-year-old son has participated in a couple of music shows on television.

She says although participation in television shows gives children good exposure, she admits that shooting schedules can get hectic for young children.

"It's good to fix the minimum age at 16 because then children are older and more mature. They can take their own decisions.

"They can deal better with disappointments. They are better equipped, both physically and mentally, to deal with the gruelling schedules," she says.

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