UPA buckles, keeps age for consensual sex at 18

UPA buckles, keeps age for consensual sex at 18

Anti-rape bill to be tabled in the Lok Sabha today

UPA buckles, keeps age for consensual sex at 18

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, is likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government retained the age for consensual sex to 18 years instead of 16 owing to strong opposition during an all-party meeting.

Despite the politics, interestingly, the age of consent for sex has always been 16 years as defined in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) but the criminal law (amendment) ordinance issued on February 3 post-Delhi gang-rape had increased it to 18 years.

Since the government is in a hurry, it is learnt, to table the draft legislation in Parliament, a Cabinet meeting held on Monday evening cleared the suggestions of political parties, including the one on age of consent for having sex. 

The government convened a meeting of all parties in the morning. As a consensus eluded,  another round of meeting was held in the afternoon.

A senior leader who was present in the all-party meetings said that a modification has been suggested in the consent provision, which is that if an adolescent boy of the age below 18 has sex for the first time with a girl in similar age group, he will be sent to probation for a year. Only, if the boy repeats the offence again will the criminal act be treated as statutory rape. And prosecution follows, as per the Justice Juvenile Act, till he attains adulthood.

But, entering a modification may further complicate the criminal law since given the fact that at times trial in the country takes a decade for a judgment to come. By that time the verdict is out, the child accused becomes an adult. Also, technically, will the case reach finality at the stage of filling a charge sheet by the police or when judgment is delivered for the repeat offence counting to start? In both circumstances, believe legal experts, chances of the provision being misused are high.

However, the confusion on the consent began when last year the government brought it to 18 years under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, for compatibility among various laws that deal with sexual offences, a demand for increasing the age to 18 years was made, which required amending the IPC also. 

Many parties, whether in Opposition or UPA allies, including the BJP, CPI, Samajwadi Party and the BSP were against lowering the age to 16, ignorant of the fact that this age has been in existence for decades in the IPC. But, other parties were open to it.

Some parties also expressed reservation on the loose definition of provisons in sections dealing with sexual harassment.

For instance, the bill intends to insert new rules in Section 354 of the IPC to tackle “stalking.” Section 354(d) sub-clause 111 says any man who “watches or spies on a woman in any manner” will be charged with stalking.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox