In­dian court out­laws sex with any wo­man, even wives, un­der 18 years old

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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”.

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