Sex below 18, a criminal act?

Sex below 18, a criminal act?

Is the move to raise the legal age bar for sex interfering with private lives?

What should the legal age for sex be? Keeping in mind the rising cases of child sex abuse, trafficking and pornography, the government has attempted to put an age bar on legal sex and in turn invited brickbats from child rights activists.

Amending the ‘Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill, 2011,’ which put the age for legal ‘consensual sex’ at 16, the government has now raised it to 18. So while till now, sex above 16 years of age was legal as long as it is ‘consensual,’ having sex with anyone below 18, with or without consent, will be outright criminal from here onwards. Child rights activists say that keeping the child sex abuse aspect aside, the bill is “retrograde” and “moralistic”.

How can youngsters below 18 indulging in sex by free will, be deemed criminals? Does it not encourage harassment of youngsters, unsafe abortions and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases?

While the Union cabinet has cleared the controversial amendment to the law, the Parliament is yet to debate it. And with so many arguments surrounding the proposed move already, sparks are set to fly as soon as the bill reaches the house of legislation.
Government agencies, which were a part of the thought-process behind this law, have their justifications in place regarding the change. A senior official of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), who did not wish to be named, says, “The first consideration which the government had in mind was to make our laws in consonance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UNCRC defines a minor as anyone below the age of 18, and since India has ratified the same, it is imperative that we streamline our laws accordingly. Besides, keeping the clause on ‘consent of the minor’ was putting the focus back on the victim rather than the accused and leading to re-victimisation. So removing the consent part and making it blanket legal age as 18 was necessary.”

Legal experts also agree that this move will help in nabbing child traffickers and those who deal in child pornography. Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court lawyer and president of Shakti Vahini - an anti-trafficking organisation, says, “Since the time the Juvenile Justice Act was amended to make the age of a minor as below 18 in 2006, we have seen convictions in child trafficking cases rise steadily. Many a times, minor girls are seduced into a love trap and then sold at red light areas like the GB Road in Delhi. When the traffickers are caught and confronted, they say it was consensual. But now that the consent clause has been removed, I am sure traffickers will be convicted easily.”

But what about young adults below 18 indulging in sex out of free will? Worldwide, the age of puberty is coming down to as low as 10-12. US, UK and Russia have their ‘age of consent’ at 16 while Greece has it at 15. Does it not prohibit youngsters from exploring their sexuality, as it naturally happens, and discuss issues related to physical intimacy? Kajol Menon, executive director of Childline India, which provides aid to child abuse victims, says, “This is almost like the anti-homosexuality act where natural sex was prohibited and homosexuals were harassed at will. Now we will have youngsters being picked up from parks, ridges and beaches and put in jail. This amendment has not been thought through and the social dimensions of such a law have been completely ignored.”
Has anybody bothered to ask the 18 plus bracket what they feel about the issue? Ridhika Agarwal, a student of SRCC, says, “By the time one is 16, one is already making choices about careers etc., so what is the need to put in a legal age bar? Besides, there are other laws which prohibit prostitution and trafficking so why penalise young adults? In any case, who checks the bedrooms for it to be deemed a criminal act?”
For sure, this debate has only just begun.

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