Proposal To Make Sex Illegal For Teenagers Up To 18 Years Of Age Flies Against All Logic And Draws Fire From Experts
Anahita Mukherji & Shreya Roy Chowdhury | TNN
Adecade ago,canoodling couples in Bandra,an uptown Mumbai suburb,were rounded up by the police.A few months ago,a Ghaziabad policewoman pounced on young lovers on park benches,pulling the men by their ears and publicly humiliating them.Elsewhere,a group of mothers in Manipur are cracking down on teenage couples in restaurants,threatening them with sticks and videocameras.
While the countrys conservatives have,for long,declared war on adolescent sexuality,the law may be set to follow suit,with a new bill in the Rajya Sabha that criminalizes teenage sex.The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill (2011) had a provision for consensual sexual activity between the ages of 16 and 18,but the caveat has now been dropped from the bill,effectively criminalizing teenage sex.It renders poor an otherwise good legislation.
Deleting the consent clause has created a furore among the countrys child rights activists,feminists and the medical fraternity.Many believe that the new law will not only lead to unnecessary police harassment of young couples,but also high-risk sexual behaviour in the absence of any social support.
Do we want to start punishing young people for premarital sex Do we want them to start wearing chastity belts The authorities have gone overboard in removing the age of consent for those between 16 and 18,especially in a scenario where young people are getting sexually active at an early age.This is stupid and goes against the child, says academic Madhu Kishwar,founder of Manushi,an organization that works for democracy and womens rights.
Meanwhile,the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has taken a consistent view against criminalizing sexual exploration among those between 16 and 18.Penalizing such activities will only add to the confusion.The law can be used against both boys and girls.Anybody,from parents to neighbours,can complain to the authorities,who will,in turn,take action against the youngsters.As a result,something very natural will now become distorted,secretive and unacceptable.This will have consequences for how we organize our society and relations between boys and girls, says Shanta Sinha,chairperson,NCPCR.
The caveat for consensual sex between the ages of 16 and 18 has been dropped despite advice to the contrary from NGOs,advocates and organisations that represent women and children.While we are against the sexual exploitation of children,we have taken a position against criminalizing teenage sex,as those between 16 and 18 are known to explore their sexuality, says Nandita Shah,co-founder of Akshara,an NGO that works for the uplift of women,and was involved in consultations over the drafting of the bill.
Actor Rahul Boses The Foundation,which works towards fighting child sexual abuse,is among the organizations which have written to the government against criminalizing teenage sex.We know of instances where boys between 16 and 18 have been sent to jail for consensual sex with a girl.The new law is highly regressive and will result in an increase in such instances and also make it dangerous to engage in physical relationships.This,in turn,will lead to a rise in risky sexual behaviour.The health risks increase for girls,while boys will be threatened with jail.No gender will benefit, says Suchismita Bose,director,The Foundation.
Activists say theres nothing wrong in mutual consent sex in the age group 16 to 18,provided theres proper sex education and inculcation of awareness about sex-related risks.However,they draw a line when theres sex between,say,a 16 -year-old and a 40-year-old,as the possibility of the younger one being either forced or tricked is high.We need a nuanced law,not a blanket ban, says an activist.
The lack of sex education in schools does little to remedy the situation.While both psychiatrists and sex surveys point to the fact that teenagers are increasingly getting sexually active,and hence there is greater need than ever for sex education,a parliamentary panel headed by BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu had led the charge against the introduction of sex education in schools in 2009.
Doctors believe that the lack of information on sex,coupled with the threat of jail for teenagers indulging in sexual activity,is disastrous as it will make sex not just clandestine but a high-risk activity.Dr S Krishna Kumar,a gynaecologist from Thane,gets three to five cases of teen pregnancy a month,with the girls seeking medical termination of pregnancy.If sex between 16 and 17 year olds is a crime,such cases will be forced to go underground,resulting in an increase in unsafe abortions, says Kumar.
I have handled many teenage pregnancies.Youngsters,many of them under 16,are known to indiscriminately pop Ipills and other emergency contraceptives to prevent conception, says Ahmedabadbased gynaecologist Dr Rajal Thakker.
This bill will not serve any purpose.Age of sexual contact has gone down remarkably and the adult-child is a reality, says psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty,president of the Counsellors Association of India.He feels that punitive law of this kind will not stop sexual abuse but only increase corruption.It refutes the changing times and is a denial of the current reality.Taking away the provision of consent puts a heavy price on any attempt at sexual exploration by kids in their lateteens.If a 19-year-old boy has sex with a 17-year-old girl,will you put him away in jail"asks Shetty.Besides,this will lead a spike in honour killings,suicides and parents of one child blackmailing others.While Ahmedabad-based clinical psychologist Dr Pooja Pushkarna describes the governments denial of adolescent sexuality as the ostrich-like approach,Delhi psychiatrist Dr Jitendra Nagpal says this is an over-ambitious attempt on the part of the government to alter behaviour patterns.It could lead to kids using more dangerous ways of experimenting or result in more young people eloping, says Nagpal.Sexual contact typically begins between the ages of 12 and 14 in our metros,he says.With intercourse starting between ages of 15 and 18.With the overwhelming opinion against criminalizing teenage sex,there is still time for a rethink.Although the cabinet has cleared the bill,Parliament should review the proposal and ensure our laws are in tune with the times.
With inputs from Radha Sharma in Ahmedabad and Neha Miglani in Chandigarh
Age of consent 16
Protects under 16s from abuse Mutually agreed teen sex OK,unless it involves abuse If age gap is,say 16 & 40,law comes down harshly,but gap of 16 & 23 fine
THE LAW IN CANADA
Age of consent: 16 years,raised from 14 years on May 1,2008
Consent age 18 where sexual activity exploits youngster or in a relationship of authority,trust or dependency Sexual activity exploitative based on youngsters age,age gap,how relationship developed Exceptions: A 14 or 15-year-old can consent to sex as long as partner is less than five years older,theres no relationship of trust,authority or dependency If partner is 5 years or older than 14 or-15-year-old,sexual activity is criminal offence unless theyre married to each other
THE US STORY
Age of consent in the 50 states and DC range between 16 and 18
At age prescribed one can have sex with whomever they wish as long as the person is consenting and are same age or older Many states have age-gap provisions that legalize teen sexuality as long as they are within a certain age range In all states,dating,hugging,holding hands,kissing not illegal In some states,fondling,groping through clothes illegal