Age of Consent : 20th January 2015
In 1891, in British India age of consent for sexual intercourse for girls was legislated at between 10 and 12 years. This was approved by all reformists, while the conservatives argued that it interfered with Hindu orthodox code.
In current law, the age of consent is ambiguous, as it differs in different laws. Boys and young men can vote when they are 18, they cannot consent to marry before 21… while girls can be married under the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 only after they attain majority at 18. Yet, under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, a marriage is valid, once solemnised, even if a girl is under 15.
As DamayanthiDatta asks in her article in India Today of 22nd March 2013,…..Who is an adult in India? There are at least five different definitions of who is an adult, and who is not, hidden in the nation’s vast repertoire of over 30,000 Central and state laws. It’s this fundamental contradiction that lies at the heart of the debate on age of consent (AOC)-the age below which ‘consent’ will not be a valid defence against a rape charge. It has split public opinion and divided legislators, sparking off a fierce debate from the streets to Parliament over the new anti-rape law.
Following the horrific rape and murder of a young student in Delhi in December 2012, wide ranged public debates ensued… about who is an adult? Should not a boy who commits a deliberate and heinous adult crime before he is 18 be treated as an adult? Is there a need to re-look at legal position?
How do we look at sexual relationships/ marriages between legally minor boys and girls who are both above 18 and eligible to vote but the boy is below 21? Children as young as 13, 15 are ritually married with little social frowning or legal interventions, under the blessings and patronage of political/religious leaders but when a boy and girl below legal age of majority elope, the boy is charged with kidnapping and rape… what law is there that can differentiate a consensual act by minors from criminal intent?
We have seen much hair splitting on age of consent between women’s rights, child rights and sexuality rights defenders… There is a need for deepening our understanding of the confusions in our laws over the issue and to dialogue.
Advocating for State Women’s Policy : 27th February 2015