nder the Indian Penal Code or IPC, a man having sex with a girl below 18 – with or without her consent – is defined as a crime. However, an exception is made if the girl is his wife and not below 15. This decision has flagged the conflict in the law. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) considers sex with children – defined as below 18 – as rape. A man, however, is not considered guilty of rape, if he has sex with a child above 15, who happens to be his wife. Even though child marriage is banned in our country, but look at the double standards that the government had defended the immunity to men having sex with wives above 15, saying it was meant to protect the institution of marriage.
If a man has sexual intercourse with a wife who is below 18 years, it is an offence. The minor wife can register a complaint against the husband within one year, lowering the legal age for sex to 15 if the girl is married, is unconstitutional.
With all the due respect to the Apex Court, my question is, if a woman above 18 years is stuck in an abusive marriage and her husband is forcing himself upon her mercilessly, so being an Indian citizen, does she have any legal right to fight back to her husband? In India, marriage is by definition a rape license. Once a man gets it, he is allowed to rape his wife as many times as he wants to. That is why marital rape is not a crime. See how the Parliament and judiciary both are indifferent to the issues related to women’s independent personality. Why blame those medieval “virginity belts”? We are living in the same backward age in spite of all our education and modernisation in all other things. We can accept each second new thought for our comfort, but women should remain “Slave” like medieval age in the name of saving marriage as an institution? No doubt that the law has provision to fight domestic violence but not marital rape. The irony is, even rapists are not timely punished in this country, how will they address when a man is licensed to rape a woman in the name of nuptial?
Child marriage is truly a global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions, and ethnicities. If there is no reduction in child marriage, the global number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050. One in three girls in the developing world is married before being 18-years-old. Over 700 million women alive today were married as children. At its heart, child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior to boys and men. Child marriage is a complex issue. Poverty, lack of education, cultural practices, and insecurity fuel and sustain the practice. In many communities where child marriage is practiced, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden on their family. Marrying your daughter at a young age can be viewed as a way to ease economic hardship by transferring this ‘burden’ to her husband’s family. They don’t even care what she must be going through, this is not just a physical trauma but mentally the girl goes through hell. On one hand, the government is spending a huge amount on creating awareness against child marriages and on the other hand, the judiciary gives all powers to a man to rape his 15-year-old Baby wife. At this age, hardly the girls know about consent or her rights as a (woman) girl child.
We are still driven by patriarchal values and the desire to control female sexuality, for instance, how a girl should behave, how she should dress, who she should be allowed to see, to marry, etc. With so much of conservation and laws which are just superficial, how can one expect any change? Even today, 80 per cent of the females in our own country are not safe; there is no sense of security. Every corner, men are holding their organ in hand with lust in eyes, they just need a prey. Families closely guard their daughters’ sexuality and virginity in order to protect the family honour. If the daughter becomes a victim of rape, the same family feels shamed for bringing dishonour in their family.
So let it be marital rape, let it be molestation to women, or child marriage, in many places it happens simply because it has happened for generations. In some communities, when girls start to menstruate, they become women in the eyes of the community. Marriage is, therefore, the next step towards giving a girl her status as a wife and mother. Harmful traditional practices can be linked to each other. At some places and in some communities, it’s even crueller – the child marriage follows the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, which is considered a right of passage to womanhood. These outmoded practices often go unquestioned because they have been a part of a community’s life and identity for a very long time.
We need to understand that the child brides face huge challenges as a result of being married as children. Isolated, often with their freedom curtailed, girls frequently feel disempowered and are deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety. Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, child brides are at a greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. Systems that undervalue the contribution and participation of girls and women, also limit their own possibilities for growth, stability, and transformation. We actually need no such law that says, having sex with 15-year-old wife (girl) is fine. We need a strong law that can give justice to women and empower these little girls towards the betterment of the society and themselves.
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