‘Most adolescents unaware that sexual intimacy of any degree is punishable’

March 01, 2024 01:09 am | Updated March 02, 2024 03:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The Class 12 student, who has been accused of raping his 17-year-old ‘friend’ and booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, was granted interim bail till March 25 on Thursday to allow him to write his board examination, the police said.

The minor boy, who met the girl through Instagram, was sent to a juvenile home on Wednesday after the victim was found bleeding and in an unconscious state at the Dabri metro station by CISF personnel on Tuesday. The girl in the presence of her family members later told the police that the two had met earlier that day and gone to his friend’s house in south-west Delhi’s Sagarpur, where they became physically intimate. She then boarded the metro to go to her coaching class and lost consciousness on the way.

The incident puts a spotlight on the idea of consent among minors even as legal experts say that in the case of a sexual relationship among minors, consent is immaterial.

Geena Thaploo, a counsellor at a private school, said while the idea of consent, along with “good touch” and “bad touch”, has made children and adolescents aware, most children are unaware that sexual intimacy of any degree is punishable according to the IPC and POCSO Act. “In one instance when adolescents from my school were uploading pictures on social media of them kissing their partners, we had to explain to them the legal implications since the awareness about the various facets of POCSO is lacking,” added Ms. Thaploo.

The 22nd Law Commission’s report, taking cognisance of the Karnataka High Court’s (Dharwad Bench) request to rethink the age of consent, stated that “it is not advisable to tinker with the existing age of consent under the POCSO Act”.

However, it took into consideration that the Act needs certain amendments to handle cases where there is “tacit approval” since such cases do not “merit to be dealt with the same severity as the cases that were ideally imagined to fall under the POCSO Act”.

Advocate Priya Singh, who is part of the Juvenile Justice Board, Delhi, said that while there are cases where adults have sexually assaulted a minor, there are many cases where a minor has eloped with another minor or adult. “In most cases, the family of the male accused doesn’t even know that the law is gender agnostic if the accused is a minor,” she added.

However, Audrey Dmello, advocate and head of Majlis, an NGO that works with cases of child abuse and domestic violence, says that the idea of consent when dealing with cases of minors requires a nuanced understanding, one that is beyond “yes” and “no”, and seen from the lens of associated acts of physical violence only. “Statements like I will leave you if you are not sexually intimate with me, or we love each other so why not become one, are statements that manipulate the minor to be ready for the act, however, in such situations, the act can’t be seen as consensual,” said Ms. Dmello.

Legal experts say that in the case of a sexual relationship among minors, consent is immaterial

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