Under the special law proposed in the freshly revised "Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill”, no person below 18 years will have the legal capability to give consent for engaging in any kind of sexual activity. This flies in the face of the general law, Indian Penal Code (IPC), which recognizes 16 as the age of consent for girls.
The Bill in its original form, as introduced last year in Parliament, did not contain any such contradiction. In keeping with the definition of rape in Section 375 of IPC, the Bill, envisaging special safeguards for children, expressly said that where "penetrative sexual assault" is committed against "a child between 16 to 18 years of age, it shall be considered whether the consent for such act has been obtained against the will of the child or the consent has been obtained by use of violence, force ..."
I believe that many young people get into early sexual intimacy due to curiosity, peer pressure, not to speak about hormones. How consensual are these experiments, then? Young girls can be forced into consenting – with the promise of being part of an adventurous group, or of commitment.
The law has to only try and sound empathetic, but even then it had concentrated on “penetrative sexual assault”. Does deleting the clause make it tough on young love?
Madhu Kishwar, founder of Manushi, said:
“Do we want to start punishing young people for premarital sex? Do we want them to start wearing chastity belts? The authorities have gone overboard in removing the age of consent for those between 16 and 18, especially in a scenario where young people are getting sexually active at an early age. This is stupid and goes against the child.”
You refer to the person as a child and want the right of adults. Premarital sex can take place later, given the delayed marriage age among women. At 16, it is not a question of chastity belts but whether they can be responsible. Much of India still believes that sexual activity is also about emotional intimacy. Young people are not automatons. That is the reason we have abolished child marriage, which these activists agree is important to get rid of. Did society not insist that the age of marriage be raised to 18, and rightly so?
And may I ask how many of them would approve if their children were sexually active outside marriage at that young an age?
Is the problem only because the law would involve the parents should such a situation arise and bring them infamy?
Another comment is this:
“We know of instances where boys between 16 and 18 have been sent to jail for consensual sex with a girl. The new law is highly regressive and will result in an increase in such instances and also make it dangerous to engage in physical relationships. This, in turn, will lead to a rise in risky sexual behaviour. The health risks increase for girls, while boys will be threatened with jail. No gender will benefit.”
If indeed a regressive law will result in more such instances, then it could apply to so many other laws, and only proves that the youngsters are out to prove something, to rebel. As for risky sexual behaviour, the lack of knowledge is astounding. Among the people who are rounded up by the cops, the problem is due to use of public space. If the parents are so open-minded, would they leave the teenagers alone in the room at home? Do people, even adults, seek permission and ensure safe sex? Premarital pregnancies, abortion and misuse of pills are not age-restricted.
Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty is being facile:
“Age of sexual contact has gone down remarkably and the adult-child is a reality. It refutes the changing times and is a denial of the current reality. Taking away the provision of consent puts a heavy price on any attempt at sexual exploration by kids in their late teens. If a 19-year-old boy has sex with a 17-year-old girl, will you put him away in jail?"
Let us bring a current example in mind. A 14-year-old girl was murdered. Her parents are prime suspects because she was reportedly intimate with her servant. It is said it was a case of ‘honour killing’. They used every attempt to divert the attention of the cops; even got medical evidence changed. Would the law have intervened to put the boy in jail? Or would the parents have wanted to protect their name and do what reports have said they did?
There are far too many questions that we need to ask ourselves instead of pushing for a liberal agenda that might make young people more vulnerable to believe about rights in a superficial manner.
Shanta Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) believes:
“Penalizing such activities will only add to the confusion. The law can be used against both boys and girls. Anybody, from parents to neighbours, can complain to the authorities, who will, in turn, take action against the youngsters. As a result, something very natural will now become distorted, secretive and unacceptable. This will have consequences for how we organize our society and relations between boys and girls.”
How many rape cases are reported when the girl is underage? Do the parents bother? Are they not afraid of what society will say despite the girl being a victim? So, how can anyone say that people will complain? If we wish to empower our young, then it is by taking them into confidence. It is true that on paper the law criminalises sex before 18, but parents and neighbours have looked down on such acts without legal intervention. Girls, especially, are beaten up not only by cops but by their own families even if they are as much as seen with boys.
Real life is not chick lit or a Karan Johar film.