Supreme Court says sexual relations between man and minor wife is rape

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The apex court, which had earlier stated that it does not wish to get into the domain of marital rape, said that the age of consent is 18 years for a woman and that can not be whittled down.

Relying on the Child Marriage Prohibition Act, the Supreme Court of India on Wednesday removed the exception in the law for men married to girls who are underage but above 15 and said from henceforth sex with wife below 18-years-of age will be an offence.

In a concurring judgment, passed by justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, the court read down the provision of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which exempted marital rape in case of minors. Noting that law can not compromise with the bodily integrity of minor girls, the Supreme Court said that the discrimination between a married girl child and an unmarried girl child is artificial.

As Deya Bhattacharya had written in this Firstpost article, in August, the Supreme Court had outdone itself earlier this week when it stated that "marital rape can not be considered a criminal act".

"I am very happy with the supreme court judgment", Vikram Srivastava, a lawyer for Independent Thought, told Reuters. The judgement comes in response to a petition challenging the exception that stated that the intercourse by a man with his wife, not below 15 years, was not rape. The rape victims were among the age group of below six years to over 60 years.

The bench clarified that it has not dealt with the issue of marital rape as it was not raised before it by the parties.

While the legal age for matrimony of a girl in India is 18 years, there are still a significant number of cases where the girl is between 15 and 18 years at the time of marriage. In India, legally, marital rape does not exist. Justice Lokur had asked in response.

The apex court also said that the age of consent is 18 and can not be lowered.

Even though the issue of safety of women has taken centre stage in India, debates around whether marital rape should be punishable are still doing the rounds.

The court also made it clear that this ruling will not have retrospective effect. The petitioners prayed that the clause be struck down as it is "violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution".

"The minor wife can complain against the husband within one year", the Supreme Court said, according to NDTV.

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