Age of descent | Cover Story | Times Crest
Popular on Times Crest
  • In This Section
  • Entire Website
  • Seeking good company
    July 13, 2013
    Madras Club is today home to modern aristocrats.
  • Join the married club
    July 13, 2013
    For India's swish set, the ideal mate has an Ivy League education, a successful career, a six-figure salary, and an exclusive club membership.
  • Dancing but no dhotis
    July 13, 2013
    The only time in recent past that a rule was bent was in 1989, ironically for a politician. It was the only time the club turned a blind eye to the…
More in this Section
Leaving tiger watching to raise rice Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in…
The crorepati writer He's the man who gives Big B his lines. RD Tailang, the writer of KBC.
Chennai-Toronto express Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil…
Don't parrot, perform Maestro Buddhadev Dasgupta will hold a masterclass on ragas.
A man's man Shivananda Khan spent his life speaking up for men who have sex with men.
Bhowmick and the first family of Indian football At first glance, it would be the craziest set-up in professional football.
From Times Blogs
The end of Detroit
Jobs in Detroit's car factories are moving to India.
Chidanand Rajghatta
How I love the word ‘dobaara’...
Can ‘bindaas’ or ‘jhakaas’ survive transliteration?
Shobhaa De
Anand marte nahin...
India's first superstar died almost a lonely life.
Robin Roy
Teen sex

Age of descent


On the face of it, the new law fixing the age of consent at 18 is in keeping with a pattern of incremental increase, starting way back in 1860. That was the year in which the age of consent was introduced in India, as part of the rape provision in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Remarkably, it was as low as 10 - an age when the bodies of girls would not even have developed enough to have sex. But then, for those times 10 was a reasonable limit for statutory rape as a lot of girls were married off at an even younger age.

The impetus for raising the age of consent came within three decades following the outrage over the death of child bride Phulmonee as a result of "consensual" sex with her 35-year-old husband. In a calibrated move, the colonial government increased the age of consent to 12. It carried out two more such incremental hikes: the age of consent was increased to 14 in 1925 before it stabilised at 16 in 1940.
On the whole, the three increments in the age of consent from 10 to 16 helped balance societal interests with natural instincts of adolescents. The balance struck at 16 served well for generations of Indians for over seven decades. The increment to 18 however tilts the balance in favour of conservative opinion, in a setback to India's liberal credentials.

The cultural arguments cited at the all-party meeting on Monday forcing the government to increase the age of consent from 16 to 18 are reminiscent of the resistance faced by the first increment in 1891. The conservatives led then by no less than Bal Gangadhar Tilak attacked the increase in the age of consent from 10 to 12 as a "dangerous precedent" and "interference with Hinduism".

The latest increment is actually the culmination of a process set in motion in December 2011 by a parliamentary standing committee headed by Oscar Fernandes. The standing committee gave its report then on a special enactment called the protection of children from sexual offences (PCSO) Bill. In an entirely gratuitous move, the standing committee recommended that the Bill should also increase the age of consent from 16 to 18. This was despite an admission in the report that the ministry of women and child development had opposed the idea of tinkering with the age of consent. Other than seeking parity between the age of consent and marriageable age, the standing committee offered no justification for depriving girls in the age bracket of 16 to 18 of their longentrenched right to engage in consensual sex.

The conservative opinion, however, found a potent issue in the standing committee, forcing the government to enhance the age of consent to 18 in the PCSO Bill passed in the Budget session of 2012.
Inevitably, the government was then confronted with the demand to make a corresponding change in IPC. But the outrage over the Nirbhaya gang rape came in the way as feminist groups lobbied with the government to keep the age of consent at 16. Eventually, the conservatives trumped the liberals when the all-party meeting on March 18 scuttled the Cabinet's decision to roll back the age of consent to 16.
Thanks to the hardening of the law on teenage sex, India will be out of whack with a global trend. While the age of consent across the world ranges from 13 to 18, the bulk of the countries, particularly in the West, have it at 16. These include Britain, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Russia, South Africa and a majority of the states of the US.

By criminalising consensual sex with any person below 18, India has chosen, however unwittingly, to be in the company of illiberal democracies such as Rwanda, Uganda, Chile, Peru and Egypt. The only countries that will be harsher than India on teenage sex are those that do not recognise any age of consent at all. In Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and Pakistan, any sex outside marriage is criminal and liable to severe punishment, even if it is entirely consensual. It's a pity that amid all the reforms made in the wake of the Nirbhaya case, India took a retrograde step on teenage sex.

Reader's opinion (1)

Anirudh DhodapkarMar 31st, 2013 at 15:55 PM

This law is Demonic and attempt to harm basic human rights of our teen age children?
If this government can't protect our daughters and sisters from being raped on road,what moral authority these politician have to design such law?

Other Times Group news sites
The Times of India | The Economic Times
इकनॉमिक टाइम्स | ઈકોનોમિક ટાઈમ્સ
Mumbai Mirror | Times Now
Indiatimes | नवभारत टाइम्स
महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स
Living and entertainment
Timescity | iDiva | Bollywood | Zoom
| Technoholik |


itimes | Dating & Chat | Email
Hot on the Web
Book print ads | Online shopping | Business solutions | Book domains | Web hosting
Business email | Free SMS | Free email | Website design | CRM | Tenders | Remit
Cheap air tickets | Matrimonial | Ringtones | Astrology | Jobs | Property | Buy car
Online Deals
About us | Advertise with us | Terms of Use and Grievance Redressal Policy | Privacy policy | Feedback
Copyright© 2010 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service