New Delhi, March 18: Lawyers and activists Monday slammed the government for agreeing to retain the age of consent at 18 years in the anti-rape bill that it plans to introduce in the Lok Sabha Tuesday.
The lawyers and activists argued that the step would unnecessarily affect those under the age of 18 who have consensual sex.
If the age had to be retained to 18, “a ‘young person’s defence’ should have been introduced — which means that people who are having sex consensually should not be criminalised”, lawyer Vrinda Grover told IANS.
Grover added that though the bill was “far from perfect, it must be passed in this session”.
Agreed a Supreme Court lawyer requesting anonymity: “Rape is a rape, irrespective of age, but the age of consent ideally should have been 16, as it protects young couples who are having physical relations willingly.”
“A boy below the age of 18 can easily be charged for rape if he has sex even if the girl tells the court that the sex was consensual,” said the lawyer.
All-India Progressive Women’s Association chief Kavita Krishnan said the provision in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, could be misused.
“The all-party meeting has apparently decided that age of consent will be 18 but a young boy under 18 will get a ‘one time probation’ for consensual sex. This is most inadequate (protection), since any third party (parents or khaps) can claim he violated the probation and get him convicted for rape,” she said.
The women’s right activist said keeping the age of consent at 18 could be used against the oppressed castes.
“The age of consent is only the age below which ‘consent’ cannot be a valid defence in a court of law. If it is 18, young boys, especially from oppressed castes, will face rape convictions for consensual relationship with any girl,” she said.
“Young boys, especially from Dalit and oppressed castes, will face rape convictions for consensual relationship with any girl,” she added.
According to a Supreme Court lawyer, the confusion started in May last year when “the age of consent, which has been 16 years under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), was raised to 18 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.”
A fact that has left lawyer Kamini Jaiswal exasperated.
Accusing the government of having a wishy-washy approach towards the whole issue, Jaiswal said the government should first clear its confusions and then take decisions.
“What is the government doing? I just don’t understand why they are confused,” she said.
Jaiswal said that it was the mindset of the people which needed to change and that law alone won’t help improve matters.
The lawyers and activists argued that lowering the age of consent to 16 will not encourage trafficking and rape.
“Trafficking and rape are a crime, no matter what the age,” Krishnan said.
The anti-rape bill will replace the ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee Feb 3. It has to be passed by April 4.