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Why Does Our Law ‘Allow’ Marital Rape Just Because A Girl Is Over 15?

Posted: August 14, 2017

A new SC judgement on marital rape in the case of young girls between 15 and 18, is deeply disheartening. Why does a young girl not have autonomy over her own body?

Nirbhaya succumbed to the inhuman and beyond barbaric acts of four men who found pleasure in brutally raping her before throwing her away like a used ragged doll from the bus. The poor girl’s parents in their grief kept begging for justice for their daughter, a woman whose life was snuffed out before time. Their pleas and tears however never made any impact…

Our honourable justice system acquitted the perpetrator because he was two months short of eighteen years of age, legal age of being an adult…he was a juvenile and could not be tried as an adult for a crime which he committed knowing very well what he was doing.

Justice was served in favour of a man, a criminal and against a woman, the victim.

The other day, another decision by the Supreme Court made me wonder whether we women should ever expect justice.

I do not come from that social stratum where girls are married off at an early age without completing their education. Thankfully, neither have I been married to a man who demands or forces physical intimacy as his unquestioned right.

But there are families where girls are married off no sooner than they reach puberty to men sometimes twice their age or more, this though is a legal offence according to the Child Marriage Restraint Act which defines a minor as a child younger than 18 years of age.

However when such marriages do take place, the young girl who has just about given up her dolls and is coming to terms with the physical and hormonal changes in her body or dealing with the menstrual timetable is burdened with another trauma, that of providing sex on the whims and fancies of a stranger who has been thrust upon her as a husband by her immediate society.

The girl is not allowed to refuse intimacy because it is a man’s right to “demand sex from his legally wedded wife”! And if the man forces himself upon the girl, well, it is his right again and it cannot be called as a rape as declared by the Indian Supreme Court!

To quote from the national daily, Indian Express, “Section 375 of the Indian Penal code which defines the offence of rape, has an exception clause that says the intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife, not below 15 yrs of age is not a rape.”

What I don’t understand is how the high and mighty Supreme Court’s definition of an adult is.

So, a man below eighteen is juvenile and if he rapes a girl or woman of any age, can be allowed to go free by the Supreme Court; whereas the society either blames the girl for not dressing properly or being out late in the day or refusing the advances or just falling in love with the wrong man. The girl is scarred for life. This rule does nothing to provide justice to a woman who has been wronged and the man goes on to live another day and commit another crime till it comes to light again.

As far as this definition goes, then a girl below 18 years of age is also juvenile and not an adult; instead she is but a child. If the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act is to be referred then a sexual act on a person below 18 years of age is a punishable act.

Why then was such a skewed judgement presented by the Supreme Court? Why instead of punishing the man for marrying a minor and forcing sex on a minor did the court declare that forced intercourse on a girl between 15 to 18 years of age was not rape?

An unmarried young girl of 15 to 18 is a child but if a girl has been married off at a tender age of 15 or 18, does she suddenly become an adult? Just because she is married does she lose all her rights to her body and has no say if it is abused? Does it suddenly become the duty of a young girl to provide sexual pleasure to a man because she has been married off?

If marriage be the ground rule to consider the girl an adult and fit to have sex, then shouldn’t be the same yardstick be applied for men between 15 to 18 years of age? Then those boys who indulge in premeditated acts of sex should also be considered adults and be treated as men. And hence shouldn’t Nirbhaya’s rapist be tried for his crime? After all, though not 18, he was as fit to have sex as a young married girl of 15 years of age is supposed to be?

Why this two-faced judgement? And if 18 years is the benchmark for being an adult then go ahead and acquit a rapist younger than 18 but then also punish the person forcing sex on a less than 18 year old girl too.

How can the Supreme Court allow its own laws to be ridiculed by itself? How can the court not protect the girls and women of its own country?

Top image via Unsplash

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  1. I thought marriage before 18 years is annulled. Which means it is just plain rape.

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