Ruling shields child brides
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.