Rul­ing shields child brides

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI— In­dia’s top court has ruled that hav­ing sex­ual in­ter­course with a wife younger than 18 is rape, a de­ci­sion that ac­tivists say is an im­por­tant step to­ward end­ing child mar­riages.

In­dian law says a wo­man must be at least 18 to marry and con­sent to sex, but there are ex­cep­tions and a 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 ruled Wed­nes­day 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 girls are preva­lent in In­dia, es­pe­cially among the ru­ral poor.

The govern­ment es­ti­mates that child mar­riages in ru­ral ar­eas were three times higher than in ur­ban cen­ters.

On Thurs­day, so­ci­ol­o­gist Ran­jana Ku­mari wel­comed the court ver­dict and said it had re­moved a con­flict­ing po­si­tion in In­dian laws. She said ac­cord­ing to the 2011 govern­ment cen­sus the per­cent­age of be­low-18 mar­riages in In­dia was as high as 47 per­cent.

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