The government’s move to raise the age of sexual consent to 18 on Monday is a disastrous attempt to mollify the flare-ups from the opposition parties, who have been placing one hurdle after the other in order to substantially dilute the anti-rape bill. The age of consent for sexual relations in India had remained at 16 for the last three decades, since 1983, until it was blatantly raised in May 2012 to 18 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and now in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, both of which can be interpreted as draconian forms of sexual policing. According to a huge section of the political class, the lowered age of consent for sex (at 16) has been responsible for increased sexual trafficking and forced prostitution of young girls, which is an absolute falsity. Even the Justice Verma Committee report had suggested that the age of consent for sexual relations be maintained at 16 years, as it has been the case with Indian Penal Code. Raising the age of consent to 18 will end up criminalising the sexual activities of young persons between the ages 16 and 18. This draconian move will have adverse effect on teenage and adolescent sexuality, which a healthy and normal practice all over the world, particularly in this age of hypervisualisation of graphic sexual and pornographic images circulating in the mass and new media.
Although stalking and voyeurism have been defined as separate offences, which is a welcome addition to the array of laws to bolster women’s safety, the ambiguity in the wording of the legal provision leaves much room for massive blunders and rampant misuse of the clause on one hand, while rendering it almost toothless on the other. The fuzzy manner in which the clause has been phrased, in effect, would hamper healthy relations between members of the opposite sex, while not always managing to nab the culprit in actual instances of such offences. Women’s organisations are rightly against the severe dilution of the recommendations in the JVC report, and raising the age of consent, along with uncertainty around the instances of stalking and voyeurism, indicate a disgustingly cavalier attitude that the political classes display towards the urgent and sensitive issue of women’s safety. In a country where women, both Indian and foreign, become victims of sexual assault, rape and murder on a daily basis, indulging in moral policing by raising the age of consent is basically an eyewash intended to place the blame on women themselves for their ‘sexual transgressions.’ The state has no business to control or regulate the bodies and sexual activities of men and women, including those who are in the age-group 16-18. This blanket criminalisation of sexually active adolescents under the age of 18 is also a covert way of pushing the sexual cart behind the barricade of marriage, which has the same minimum age requirement as sexual consent under the unimaginably regressive new law.