Health Care

Supreme Court's under-18 ruling triggers fresh debate on teen sexuality

Supreme Court's under-18 ruling triggers fresh debate on teen sexuality”

The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday condemned the rejection of an amendment to the Child Marriage Act by Senate's Standing Committee on Interior. The exception to rape charges in the IPC is inconsistent with special laws, such as the Juvenile Justice Act and the POCSO Act that fixed the age of consent of the girl at 18 years. Under the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, if a minor girl under the age of 15 years is married under Muslim law, she can obtain a decree of dissolution of marriage before she attains the age of 18 years provided that the marriage has not been consummated. The court read down Exception 2 to Section 375 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which allowed the husband of a girl child - between 15 and 18 years of age - blanket liberty and freedom to have non-consensual sexual intercourse with her.

While pointing out the consensual sex between youths, Karat said, "If the girl is 16 and the boy around the same age, to treat such a relationship as statutory rape, and for the boy to be deemed a criminal and rapist is wrong".

The court, however, refrained from dealing with the issue of marital rape of a woman above 18 years of age.

"I am not oblivious to the harsh reality that most of the child brides are even below the age of 15 years". Despite improvement in literacy levels, child marriages are still common in different parts of the country.

Further, child marriage although prevalent can not be defended and is a social evil that must be eliminated, for it compromises the reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity of a girl child who may be forced into early sexual intercourse and the consequent pregnancy which will be detrimental to her physical health and well being.

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The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 is a secular law and must override all personal laws, all attempts being made to secure the objective the enactment aims to achieve. She added that the apex court must consider such instances and come up with a solution for all.

The court slammed the government for trying to "somehow legitimise" the exception clause. A senior government functionary said here that the apex court order will help curb child marriages as it has created the needed "legal deterrent". The government had argued that the "practice of child marriage can not be wished away and, therefore, legislature in its wisdom has thought it fit not to criminalise the consummation of such child marriages".

"The court's judgment fails to recognise an individual's right to sexuality".

In India, getting a girl married before she turns 18 is prohibited. "The government tried to somehow legitimise child marriage", Justice Lokur shot back.



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