Raising the age of consent under the mistaken impression that it was a good move could turn out to be detrimental, considering that the law rides on punitive acts, Prabha Sridevan, chairperson, Intellectual Property Appellate Board, said on Saturday.

Today’s youngsters have access to multiple sources of information, and their behaviour is influenced by the media. Teenage years are tough and they are battling tumultuous changes within, Ms. Sridevan explained. The age of consent must be decided based on these inputs. The expression of sexuality is a right, and everything else is social norms, she said. Generally, where there is a conflict, the right should prevail over norms, but in reality that is often not the case.

She also suggested that the issue of freedom of choice and age of consent must be read within the context of caste hierarchy and male superiority, as they are essentially intertwined.

Ms. Sridevan was speaking at a function organised by Tulir – Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, where she launched the first copies of two books dealing with the issue of the age of consent and women’s sexuality: Control and Freedom: Women and the Age of Sexual Decisions and Legal Compendium on the Right to Choice and Decision-making in a relationship.

Letika Saran, former DGP, received the first copies. Explaining the point of view of the police investigator, she said often, in such cases there was hardly any evidence to go by, except for oral testimonies. Having to rely largely on them made it frustrating for police personnel, and though the case is taken to court, there is no conviction. She said the books highlight the dilemma the police face with reference to the question of choice vis-à-vis the realities at the ground level.

Renu Mishra, advocate, who represented the publisher Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, said the organisation based in UP was seeing a number of cases of conflict in inter-religious and inter-caste marriages where the couple eloped. The couple often found that they had no support in the community, society or police. The Legal Compendium, launched on the occasion, is a collation of judgements from the Supreme Court and High Courts. These judgements set the guiding principles for women’s struggle

Geeta Ramaseshan, advocate, said while there were many positive cases, the monologue on Control and Freedom had specifically picked cases that would help strategise improvements in handling the legal ambiguities around question of age of consent.

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