Wednesday 18 October 2017

Top Indian court rules sex with wife younger than 18 is rape

Activisits hailed the Supreme Court ruling as a step towards ending child marriages
Activisits hailed the Supreme Court ruling as a step towards ending child marriages

India's top court has ruled that having sexual intercourse with a wife under the age of 18 is rape, a decision that activists have hailed as an important step towards 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 in New Delhi ruled on 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 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.

On Thursday, 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%.

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 a lso 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 on Wednesday that "sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape regardless of whether she is married or not".

AP

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