Sexual Offences Bill: ‘Treat sex with girl below 18 as rape’

Women and Child Welfare Ministry wants to do away with age of consent clause.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Published:February 16, 2012 3:15 am

The Union Ministry of Women and Child Welfare is planning to do away with the age of consent in case of sexual relations with girls aged between 16 and 18.

The ministry,which is currently finalising the draft of the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill for the consideration of the Cabinet,is of the opinion that the age of consent clause should be removed. This is as per the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on HRD which had looked at the Bill and said that the present age of consent clause should be treated as irrelevant up to the age of 18,as below that age an individual is deemed as a child. This means that if the Bill is passed in Parliament,any sexual relations with an individual aged below 18 years will be deemed as rape (sexual assault as per the new parlance),regardless of whether it is with or without consent.

Said a source: “We are in agreement to the recommendations of the standing committee which were presented to us on December 21. The element of consent for sex with 16-18-year-old should be dropped both to protect children from sexual abuse and to ensure that in course of the justice delivery mechanism the focus is not on the child thereby leading to further victimisation. That is what we will move to the Cabinet and if this is passed by Parliament,it would become the overriding principle in all other laws.”

Interestingly,the ministry’s stand is at variance with the opinion it had given to the MHA on the proposed amendments to the Indian Penal Code,Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act. The amendments,even while making rape a gender neutral assault,thereby terming it sexual assault,had sought to retain the age of consent clause provided the consent is not obtained against the person’s will through use of violence,intoxication,impersonation etc. The ministry had not opposed it.

Officials say at that point a call had not been taken on the recommendation of the standing committee and as such the MHA proposal had not been argued against,but hoped that once the Bill is passed,the relevant IPC changes would automatically follow in course of the procedure which includes obtaining states’ consent.

The ministry is also conscious of the fact that abolition of the age of consent would have grave implications for child marriages.

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