Thursday, April 17, 2014

Inconsistencies in Age of consent in multiple laws has jeopardized the child protection regime

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | April 17, 2014 1:23 am

In India, a person can be booked for rape if he indulges in a sexual relation with a woman less than 18 years of age. But he may marry at 12, or at an even younger age, and can validly consummate the marriage at 15. For, what relevant laws provide for are:

  • Minimum age for a valid marriage: 18 years
  • Minimum age at which one can marry and make it valid on turning 18: As low as one likes
  • Minimum age at which a couple, married or otherwise, can have sex: 18 years
  • Minimum age at which a couple can have sex when married as children: 15 years

This apparent contradiction in the law on the age of consent may have fettered the battle against child marriage in India — having more child brides than any other nation in the world — but the government has chosen to concede to the “social realities of the nation”.

The Centre has told the Supreme Court that it was deemed “not appropriate and practical” to remove this anomaly since there were at least 23 million child brides in India, who constitute nearly half of all child brides in the world. An attempt to bring sex in child marriages on a par with age of consent as others will lead to various “social tensions”, it said.
Significantly, in October last, the government had refused to sign the first-ever global resolution on early and forced marriage of children, led by the UN which was supported by 107 countries. India had refused to sponsor the measure, stating that the resolution’s definition of early marriage was vague.

Now, responding to a PIL that demanded removal of this disparity on age of consent, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) conceded that while it was making efforts “in a discreet manner”, to prohibit child marriage, making the age of consent uniformly as 18 would throw up several other issues.

The PIL by organisation ‘Independent Thought’ has emphasised that Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC allows sexual relationship with a married girl at the age of 15 whereas under all the others laws, a person below the age of 18 is a child.

This contradiction in law, the PIL said, encouraged sexual relationship with a girl child under 18 because she is married.

However, the MHA said its stand on the issue of marital rape was “pragmatic” since marriage, being a social institution, is the bedrock of the society and ought to be protected.

The affidavit mentions stringency of the law on prohibiting child marriage but waters it down by saying: “It is a fact that child marriages do take place in India. The social, economic and educational developments in the country is still uneven and child marriages are taking place.”

The court will take up the government’s affidavit on Thursday.

Source: Indian Express

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