Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Centre to lower bar for consensual sex to 16 years

TNN | Mar 12, 2013, 01.43 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The Union Cabinet is set to clear a bill seeking to replace the post-Nirbhaya case ordinance dealing with crime against women which will reduce the age for consensual sex to 16 and reinstate "rape" as an offence specifically committed against women.

The government has resolved differences on the two contentious aspects of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, bowing to the demands of women's groups who protested against the ordinance's provisions making "sexual assault" a gender neutral crime.

Now, the perpetrator in a crime of rape will be male while the victim female according to the law to be considered by the Cabinet on Tuesday.

Settling divergent views on the age of consent was a more difficult task as the women and child development ministry pointed out that a recent law to protect kids deems anyone below 18 as a minor.

Official sources said there would be no contradiction between the two laws as Supreme Court has said in cases of alleged elopement where the girl has acted in accordance to her free will, the age of consent to be considered is 16.

While the issue is likely to be debated by the Cabinet, the ministry of home affairs has taken the view that criminalizing sex in the 16 to 18 age group is not warranted as it fails to take into account changing sexual mores.

With sexual contact between teens of this age increasingly common in both urban and rural areas and across social strata, it was felt a tough law could be misused to settle scores or allow conservative opinion to harass youngsters.

The law to protect children against sexual abuse deals with incidents where no consent has been obtained and the criminal law amendment bill will not allow offenders a legal loophole, sources said.

The bill could also make rape by those in authority punishable by life sentence extending to the abuser's "natural life". Another likely change is making it mandatory for government and private hospitals to provide free medical assistance to victims of sexual crimes.

Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Monday said there were differences on "legal points" which were being addressed to and will be settled by Cabinet.

Asked about the fate of the proposed bill, Shinde said the law ministry had to vet all proposals before the government takes the next step.

Once approved by the Cabinet, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill will be introduced inParliament later this week and would be passed before March 22 when both the Houses adjourn for a month-long recess as is necessary if the ordinance is not to lapse.

The bill will replace the ordinance on criminal law which was promulgated on February 3 in the wake of public outrage over the December 16 gang rape incident.

The Justice J S Verma committee, who's report forms the basis of the ordinance, had supported lowering the age of consent to 16.

Times View

This newspaper has repeatedly argued that the change of the age of consent from 16 to 18 was a retrograde step and that it should be reversed. The changed law could have become a tool to harass teenagers rather than one that protects them. We had urged the government and Parliament to reconsider despite the law having been passed, because sticking to a bad law does not enhance the authority of the state, it diminishes it. We are glad that the government now intends to do just that. It would also be a good idea to decriminalise consensual sex even with girls below the age of 16 where the partner is less than 5 years older.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Centre-to-lower-bar-for-consensual-sex-to-16-years/articleshow/18917656.cms

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