Age of consentAge of consent in India is at 16 years old. All sex under this age is criminal, which is a rather impractical way of managing biology with legislation. The age of puberty is decreasing. Sexual freedom is increasing. Many, many children have boyfriends and girlfriends and have sex with them as a natural part of being human and growing into their sexuality. Criminalizing this is counterproductive to a healthy psychology around sex. At the same time, it is important to see that children are not seduced into consent and thus exploited. This needs deliberation. A possibility may lie in age restrictions within a few years of their age. I agree with the judge, that if the girl was willing, then it cannot be rape, even if she was under 16. But I have another big problem. That is with the marriage. While sex is a biological fact, marriage is a social norm and a contract. If the age of consent is 16 years and the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years (which is also the internationally recommended minimum age of marriage), then I think it makes the girl considerably unsafe for that marriage to be allowed to stand. The reason is that it opens the way for seducing minor girls and getting away with it if a complaint is made by offering marriage and pointing out or using some social pressure about being shamed to get agreement. In my view, this is exceedingly risky for a girl who cannot legally make any decisions for herself. And precedents like this WILL have lawyers recommending pedophiles to offer marriage rather than fight a losing case in court. That is what lawyers get paid for – to look for holes for their clients to slip through. They had consensual sex. Ok, fine. However, to be married, the girl was under age, and that should be upheld by courts. They can continue to have their relationship or not; sex or not; which is between them (and likely their families), but they should be allowed to get married when they are of an age to get married. I think the problem here is that governments care little for the rights of women or children and sex and marriage have been so thoroughly joined, or that the rights of women and children are carelessly clubbed together, that few are able to see distinct meanings. Which is how these things happen – a country engaging in sex tourism including child sex tourism bans all sex from websites, not just child sex. A child who has had sex with an adult gets abandoned by the legal system because he married her. There is little nuance. There is little examination of implications for those to be protected. If an exploiter of children can marry one if he gets caught, what does it mean for the child to live in a home where she was accepted as an alternative to prison and where she was already sexually exploited? Particularly, when legally she doesn’t even have full rights on her bank account, she can’t drive, she can’t walk out, hire a lawyer, make her own purchases or even buy her own phone? And our laws actually give the husband legal guardianship of the wife in such a situation – that is plain kinky. Either you are guardian, or husband. She may not be sexually exploited either, but there is a reason that the minimum age of marriage is not the age of puberty. It allows for the development of the girl – physically and mentally. It raises the minimum age of having children, which is an important health consideration as well as one for population control. And there is a big need. Child marriages are big in India. 5% of all male and 30% of all females in India marry between 15 and 19 years. For every 1000 girls between 15 and 19 years of age, there are 45 who have kids. These are UNICEF statistics (2000-2010). The reality is far less sterile. Last year Bhaira Ram blew the whistle on a cousin marrying an underage daughter and got excommunicated by his village panchayat. An appeal to CM Ghelot got the mandatory “feel good” directive for the district administration to look into the matter, but nothing actually happened. Villagers agree he was wronged, but don’t dare go against the panchayat. His children are alienated in school, and he is planning to leave his village and seek a life elsewhere. What is the kicker? The child marriage he alerted about still happened. In a time like this, in social conditions like this, governments, judiciaries have a special responsibility to set standards based on ethics and rights, even if they go against the grain of popular traditions. That is how change happens, not by accommodating traditions we want to end. Not for vote banks, not for resistance. If institutions like the government and judiciary cannot challenge existing ills, then we might as well stop expecting the common man to destroy his life fighting them, no? In that case, instead of a permanent seat in the UN, we should apply for a permanent seat in the bottom of human rights lists. We want to be a world power, then we MUST bring our human rights to world ideals. Or we are yet another bad example.
Founder at Aam Janata
Vidyut has a keen interest in mass psychology and using it as a lens to understand contemporary politics, social inequality and other dynamics of power within the country. She is also into Linux and internet applications and servers and has sees technology as an important area India lacks security in.
Latest posts by Vidyut (see all)
- Open letter to the Chief Justice of India - April 13, 2019
- Nationwide Protest by NREGA workers #NREGASangharshMorcha - March 2, 2019
- Repression of Activists cannot stop the second Kisan Long March - February 16, 2019