Indian court outlaws sex with any woman, even wives, under 18 years old
Girls as young as seven have married. man was permitted to have sex, even forcibly, with a girl as young as 15, as long as she was his wife.
The Supreme Court in New Delhi ruled that sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 18 is rape.
“Human rights of a girl child are very much alive and kicking, whether she is married or not, and deserve recognition and acceptance,” said Justices Madan Lokur and Deepak Gupta.
Marriages of young girls are prevalent in India, especially among the rural poor. The government estimates that child marriages in rural areas are three times higher than in urban centres.
Yesterday, sociologist Ranjana Kumari welcomed the court verdict and said it had removed a conflicting position in Indian laws. She said that according to the 2011 government census, the percentage of under-18 marriages in India was as high as 47 per cent.
Lalitha Kumaramangalam, former chairwoman of the National Commission for Women, said the ruling “will act as a deterrent to parents”.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the court decision would help to end the practice of early marriages, and also called for free access to secondary education for girls.
“Also, parents often say they don’t like to send their daughters to school, and get them married, to protect them from sexual abuse.
India has enacted a law against child sex abuse, but should do much more to enforce the protections,” she said.
India’s Parliament raised the age of consent to 18 in 2013, but no change was made in a legal exception. It said if a married girl was over 15, her husband could not be charged with any offence.
The Supreme Court said that “sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape regardless of whether she is married”.