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There have been many instances where adolescent boys have been criminalized and accused of rape, sexual harassment by family members of the girl even though it was a consensual physical relationship.
Photo by niu niu on Unsplash
The Protection of children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was enacted in 2012. Its objective is to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Initially, the “age of consent” in India, that is, the age at which a person is considered to be legally competent or mentally capable enough to consent to sexual acts, was sixteen years of age. Eventually, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 changed it to eighteen years of age. This simply means that if the person is under eighteen years of age, that person is considered to be the victim, and the partner, the perpetrator.
Although the intent of the amendment was to provide legal protection to girls from sexual assaults, this has worked otherwise by convicting boys, who enter into consensual relationship with girls, who could be less than eighteen years of age. Nowadays, both boys and girls attain puberty at an early age, say 16 or even 15 and below, they understand that attraction towards each other, and eventually developing romantic relationships and physical intimacy is natural. Thus, it’s common for boys and girls in their early teens to develop consensual physical relationships.
It’s important to note the term “consensual”. It implies that both the parties knew what they were doing and there was no harassment of any sort involved. However, there have been many instances where adolescent boys have been criminalized and accused of rape, sexual harassment, even though the girl involved had consented to the physical relations. Mostly, it’s the family members of the “victim” who lodge a complaint about their minor daughters being harassed, when they find out about the girl’s physical intimacy. These boys, who commits no crime, is sentenced to ten or twenty years of prison, devastating their mental and emotional tranquility and compelling them to bear the societal stigma of being a criminal.
In the recent case of Rahul Chandel vs. State, the Madhya Pradesh High Court urged the Central government to reduce the age of consent for sex from the current 18 years to 16 years in order to redress the “injustice going on with adolescent boys” who enter into consensual sexual relationships. The Court referred to a 2021 Madras High Court ruling which highlighted the widespread misuse of the POCSO Act by families to prosecute their teenage daughters’ partners.
Criminalizing of cases of “romantic relationship” within the age group of sixteen years to eighteen years, perpetuates gender discrimination, by framing the boy as the criminal. It is strange that the consent of the girl is not factored in while accusing the boy of rape. When two individuals consensually fall in love, have physical intimacy or elope, both of them are aware of the fact, and there is no question of force or persuasion. Furthermore, the repercussions of being booked and criminalized for penetrative sexual assaults are life altering. The boy and his family face mental and emotional trauma for no valid reason.
Often, the boy may be below eighteen years of age, and not capable enough to comprehend the nuances of the law, or maybe even unaware of it. There is no relaxation or consideration of these facts, and a twenty-year sentence term is slapped onto him. This, put in simple terms, is nothing but the violation of dignity and basic rights of an individual, whether minor or adult, because the consequences faced in both the cases are equally appalling.
Changing the age of consent for sexual intercourse back to 16 while keeping age of marriage 18, would be a step in the right direction. There could be a significant reduction in such cases of consensual romantic relationships being criminalized, and traumatizing both the individual and their families.
Int. M.Tech @ NIT Rourkela.
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