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No Sex at 16: Say Indian Lawmakers

Under the new paradigm, proposed by the Indian Cabinet, two teenagers having sex under age 18 can be charged for rape, even if they choose to hit the sack voluntarily. The government’s intentions have their basis, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi

What should be the age of consent for a man and woman or a boy and girl to have sex? A recent move by the Indian government to make consensual sex under the age of 18 illegal has raised some heat. As matters stand in India two persons over the age of 16 can consent to have sex, without any legal repercussions. Indians vote at 18, while the legal age for marriage for girls is 18 and for boys 21.

Under the new paradigm, proposed by the Indian Cabinet, two teenagers having sex can be charged for rape, even if they choose to hit the sack voluntarily. The government’s intentions have their basis.

There are large populations of deprived and impoverished youth and children in this country that continue to be exploited for prostitution, child and bonded labor, working in myriad factories, small roadside restaurants, car repair shops, domestic helps and many more.

These innocent kids need to be protected from adult mercenary predators who think nothing beyond merciless commercial gains, illegal trafficking and selling of bodies. Over the recent past, several instances have emerged of minor girls belonging to tribal areas in Eastern India, being illegally trafficked to feed the growing domestic maid requirements in national capital Delhi.

Many of the girls have faced physical and sexual assault at the hands of their handlers and also eventual employers. It is Eastern India incidentally, that is facing an acute problem of armed Maoist insurgency, due to the extremely impoverished local population and lack of development.

Yet, there is a difference between an over-aged man exploiting a minor girl as opposed to two teenagers, at similar stages in life, choosing to be together. There are large swathes of urban India imbued with liberal spirits with high levels of sexual activity among the youth exposed to satellite TV, Internet, Hollywood and Bollywood movies.

These kids who grow up on soaps such as Friends, Sex and the City, are exposed to suggestive commercials and online pornography that only whet sexual curiosity. They could possess high disposable incomes courtesy their high earning parents, but are definitely endowed with the freedom to explore their creative, intellectual and often sexual selves.

With girls today reaching puberty by the age of 10 and boys 13, it is well established that biological and hormonal changes engender teenage curiosities under cover or otherwise, in India and anywhere else. There is reason that Indian-origin porn star-turned Bollywood actress Sunny Leon has been trending high on online search engines in India for sometime now.

Innumerable studies, meanwhile, highlight high levels of teenage sexual activity, while the large number of MMS scandals involving school and college kids across the country only reinforces the occurrence.

Even in rural India, the rise in honor killings indicate a lack of understanding of changing sexual mores of the youth that are exposed to the wider global milieu via multiple media options that can range from TV to cheap 3G cell phones to broadband connectivity. India’s telecom revolution has clocked high growth due to such populations.

While European nations and America have recognized the social realities in the formulation of their laws, New Delhi seems to have betrayed a lack of understanding and sensitivity that could eventually bracket the country with a select few retrograde Islamic countries with a similar law. This is paradoxical as the government has displayed maturity in handling the issue of gay sex, which is no longer illegal in the country.

The universal application of India as a conservative closed society where boys and girls are not supposed to look at each other till the age of 18 is anachronistic, radical, lacks sensitivity, self righteous and misses the point.

The moot issue is whether teenagers should be hauled up in bed instead of being sensitized about adequate protection, contraception and the emotional contours concomitant with intimate relationships, especially young girls.

In India, young couples do not have it easy in any case. The police keep a close vigil in parks, cars, shopping areas, beaches, anywhere. The cops wait for the lust and love-stricken boy and girl to shed inhibitions and then harass them to part with belongings ranging from wallet, watch, cell phone and any jewelry items. Physical assault is always an option to implement the loot.

This is the strict, inhuman and callous legal implementation of an archaic Indian law dating back to pre-independence British times that punishes couples for public obscenity. If our security personnel took out criminals and terrorists with the same zeal as they scour for young couples discovering each other physically, our country will be a much safer place to live.

If young lovers believed that the situation could get no worse for them, they could be mistaken. There is no reason why policemen prowling for easy money will not insinuate rape to corner any young boy and girl just hanging out. India, despite being the land where the Kamasutra originated, is not an easy place to profess love. This cannot be acceptable.

Siddharth Srivastava is India correspondent for Siliconeer. He lives in New Delhi.


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