Young Hearts Run Free
Law should not punish consensual teen sexuality
The Supreme Court’s verdict that sex with a girl below the age of 18 amounts to rape, is meant as a protective gesture towards child brides. But it also ends up making criminals out of willing young lovers, and fails to tackle the problem at the root. Child marriage should be legally void, rather than merely voidable when one of the partners gets around to it. This judgment threatens to punish teens for consensual, happy sexual exploration that seems like the most natural thing in the world at that age.
Combined with the POCSO Act, which also casts adolescent boys who are involved with girls their own age as predators, Indian law accepts no zone of sexual freedom. Young girls are seen only as vulnerable objects of protection or wayward threats, their own desires deemed not to exist. But the expression of sexuality is not sexual violence or abuse.
Teens will experiment, no purity campaign or legal fiat can stop that, but the law gives parents and authorities inordinate power to police and punish adolescent boys. At a time when even an adult woman’s marriage is seen as indoctrination because her spouse’s religion offended her father, when a woman’s right to choose her romantic destiny is cast as love jihad, what are the odds of a vulnerable teenager’s rights being respected by her parents? Social repression is all the more reason for the legal system to be more sympathetic, to preserve individual freedoms.