The anti-rape bill Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 which provides for stringent punishment for crimes against women, including rape, was cleared by the union Cabinet on Thursday. It lowers the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 besides making rape a gender sensitive crime where the perpetrator is male and the victim female.
It also made provisions for strict punishment for voyeurism and stalking. “I hope the Group of Ministers (GoM) of the government would have given a lot of thought about lowering the age of consent from 18 to 16 years,” said Mamta Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women. “Nowadays, girls are mature enough to know things at the age of 15. So bringing down the age will not be an issue,” she added.
Sonali Khan, vice-president of NGO Breakthrough, said the law was “basically trying to say that young people are sexually active”. “It will help open up the topic of sexuality. We are hoping that more people come out against sexual abuse,” she said.
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Chairperson Shanta Sinha also supported the lowering of the age of consent. “It is a good idea to lower the age of consent. We cannot criminalise any action between a girl and a boy who are between 16 and 18. The way to protect adolescents is not through a draconian law. Instead, they should be taught about sex education. Moreover, nowadays both girls and boys, who enter adolescence, are more responsible,” Sinha said.
Harshita Nagpal, a student activist, said, “With the lowering of age, society can teach youth to behave responsibly in sexual matters.” Likewise, Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, also welcomed the move. “You can”t criminalise consensual sexual activity. Lowering the age from 18 to 16 will prevent false accusations of statutory rape in cases where teenagers have consensual sex,” she said.