Adultery is no longer a crime but could be a ground for divorce, the Supreme Court said while scrapping an archaic law that punished a man but not the woman for adultery. Stating that the law offends the dignity of women, a five-judge bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra said “Husband is not the master of the wife. Any provision treating a woman with inequality is not constitutional.”
“Adultery might not be the cause of an unhappy marriage, it could be the result of an unhappy marriage. Mere adultery can’t be a crime unless it attracts the scope of Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the IPC. Thinking of adultery as a criminal offence is a retrograde step,” the bench said.
As India decriminalises adultery, here is a look at where other countries stand:
The Philippines is one among the Asian countries where the practice of adultery and concubinage is a crime. Both are deemed “crimes against chastity” under the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines and are treated as sexual infidelity in the Family Code. A wife and her partner can be sentenced for up to six years in jail if the husband proves that she had a sexual intercourse with a man outside the marriage. Husband, on the other hand, can only be charged if the wife proves that he had sexual intercourse under “scandalous circumstances” with his concubine or lived together with his mistress in any other place. The husband may be imprisoned for up to four years and 1 day, while his partner can be banished but faces no jail.
In China, adultery is not regarded as a crime but can be a ground for divorce. According to Article 46 of China’s marriage law, an aggrieved party only has the right to claim compensation when a divorce is filed on the grounds of wrongdoing such as domestic violence or an extramarital affair.
Countries governed by Islamic law, including Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, all strictly prohibit “zina”, or “fornication outside marriage”. Punishments include fines, arbitrary detention, imprisonment, flogging and in extreme cases, the death penalty.
In Pakistan, adultery is a crime under the Hudood Ordinance, promulgated in 1979. The controversial law mandates a woman making an accusation of rape to provide four adult male eyewitnesses of good standing (tazkiyah-al-shuhood) to “the act of penetration” as evidence to avoid being charged with adultery herself.
South Korea, in 2015, was the latest country that decriminalised adultery. By a 7-2 majority, the nine-member bench revoked the 1953 law under which cheating spouses could be jailed for up to three years. “Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals’ private lives,” Presiding judge Park Han-Chul said during the hearing, reported The Guardian.
In Taiwan, adultery is a criminal offence that is punishable by up to one year in prison, with penalties applying to both sexes. “If Taiwanese men get caught, they usually apologise, then the wives tend to drop the charge because men are often the economic providers in most families, but if it is the other way round the women are dragged into court,” explains Chen Yi-chien, a gender equality activist, reported The Week.
Adultery is still considered a crime in 20 states of the United States. Adultery is rarely prosecuted as a criminal offence. More common than criminal prosecutions for adultery are job terminations, sanctions, penalty or demotions, the LA Times reported.
Having an affair outside the marriage is not illegal in any European country and Australia.