India's Potential New Consent Law Would Criminalize Teenage Sex

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It's weird to read about a human rights activist calling a law against having sex with children "stupid," but that's what we saw in The New York Times' India Ink story about a push to raise the age of consent there. And after learning the legislation apparently doesn't differentiate between adult and child perpetrators, we found ourselves agreeing that the law, as written, is not only ham-handed but could be abused.

The legislation, passed by India's parliament and awaiting President Pratibha Patil's signature, would raise the age of consent in India from 16 to 18. Per The Times' Nikhila Gil, it "provides severe punishment that varies from three years to life imprisonment for a broad range of acts, which are spelled out in explicit detail, including penetrative and non-penetrative sexual assault, child pornography and sexual harassment." That sounds like a worthwhile law, right? But then there's this: "The wording of the bill appears to make it illegal for anyone to engage in 'any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact' with anyone under the age of 18." And it "does not include any provision for two people under the age of 18 to have any consensual sexual contact." Plus, marriage norms don't jibe with the law, Gil points out: "In India, 18 percent of women are married before the age of 15 and nearly one in every two are married before the age of 18."

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An Indian trial court has already denounced the law as undemocratic and warned it would lead to unfair prosecutions and harassment, according to The Times of India's Smriti Singh. The lack of nuance and cultural sensitivity has human rights activists like lawyer Vrinda Grover fuming. She told Gil: "To criminalize all sexual activity until the age of 18 is stupid." Given that a pair of sexually active 17-year-olds could potentially find themselves in as much trouble as an adult who molests a grade-schooler, she's right.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.