Supreme Court of India: Sex with a wife below 18 is rape

Supreme Court of India: Sex with a wife below 18 is rape

 

The Supreme Court of India has ruled out that sex with a minor wife will be termed as rape, ending an exception that the law makes for men married to girls who are above 15. Things that were acceptable and practiced decades ago may not be acceptable today, stated the court.

If a man has sexual intercourse with a wife below 18 years of age, the minor wife can file a complaint against the husband within a period of one year, said the court in a landmark decision that will affect millions of child brides. The judges also clarified that they were not getting into the subject of marital rape.

India’s Laws of Rape and child marriage disagree on the age of consent.

The law defines sex with a girl below 18 – with or without her consent – as a crime. However, if the man has sex with a wife aged between 15 and 18, it is legal.

The court ruled that the exception is “discriminatory, capricious and arbitrary” and “violates bodily integrity of the girl child.”

In this case, the petitioner, Independent Thought, had flagged the conflict in the law.

The Centre had defended the immunity granted to men having sex with underage wives above 15, saying: “The institution of marriage must be protected. Otherwise, the children from such marriages will suffer.”

Some laws like the “exception provided for marital rape had been made taking into account the socio-economic realities of life in India” the government had said, adding that the court need not interfere, that it would be a call for parliament to take.

The court responded: “Just because there are child marriages across the country as a tradition, should it be accepted? Times have changed and what was acceptable a few decades ago may not necessarily be acceptable today.”

The judges also stated it was “dreadful that the artificial distinction turns a blind eye to trafficking of the girl child.”

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