Madras High Court granted bail to a man booked under the POCSO act after he promised to marry the victim. What about the victim’s autonomy?
Last week, India Today reported that the Madras High Court granted bail to a man who was previously booked under the POCSO Act. The accused was granted bail for promising to marry the victim.
According to the report in India Today, the 17-year-old victim and the accused were in a relationship. The report further said that according to the accused’s lawyer, the two were in love and had a physical relationship, following which the victim became pregnant.
The POCSO Act is a comprehensive act that protects minors from various forms of sexual abuse. These include penetrative and non-penetrative assault, pornography and harassment. The accused was arrested under various sections of the POCSO Act including Section 6 – penalty for aggravated penetrative assault on a minor.
After his arrest under the said Act, the accused was granted bail on the condition that he marries the victim when she is of legal age (18), before October 10th 2021.
While this may seem to be just another ruling, this decision is potentially problematic. To start off, it lets loose a man who initiated a sexual relationship with a minor. This amounts to statutory rape.
Thought it was stated that physical relationship was ‘consensual,’ Indian law clearly states that the legal age of consent is 18. Besides, a person can be booked under the POCSO Act irrespective of whether or not there was ‘consent.’ There needs to be greater awareness that initiating a sexual relationship with a minor is constituted as rape.
Additionally, the decision uses marriage as a band-aid to repair the legal damage. This may only serve as encouragement for perpetrators who may think such an act can be gotten away with. The institutional instrument of marriage is being used to cover up what is otherwise regarded as a crime.
Furthermore, the autonomy of the victim is being vehemently ignored. In such cases, the solution of marriage can be complicated, especially if despite being in a consensual relationship, marriage might not have been what they wanted right then.
Is marriage a solution? Was the victim coerced into this? To consider more possibilities, it is probable that the victim was manipulated into thinking that this was the only way out the given circumstance.
The coercion comes from the same logic of ‘honour’ and ‘modesty’ that has been long attached to women. This decision seems completely blind to the fact that the step to ‘protect family honour’ completely ignores the victim’s autonomy, often putting her future prospects at stake.
Marriage is a serious commitment that often tends to overpower other parts of someone’s life – especially Indian women. Given that the victim is a minor, is marriage still a solution? Further, knowing the coercion that may come from Indian families in the name of ‘saving their honour,’ one wonders if the decision was hers.
This decision once again makes you ponder about the law and its weight when it comes to protecting children from assault when the accused are let off so easily. It is another scathing example of honour being higher up on the priority list than women, their lives and the laws surrounding them.
One question then stares at us – when it comes to the age-old notion of ‘honour,’ why does law derail from its own course?
Picture credits: YouTube
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A student of International Relations at Shiv Nadar University. Enjoys old bands and acrylics.
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