Welcome tempered with worry about enforcement

Questions about the possibility of implementation and sexual agency of youngsters are being raised too

October 11, 2017 11:30 pm | Updated October 12, 2017 01:16 am IST - NEW DELHI/CHENNAI

Lalitha Kumaramangalam. File

Lalitha Kumaramangalam. File

Even as child and women’s rights activists welcomed the Supreme Court’s judgement, questions were raised about its implementation.

“We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court. It is very unfortunate that the Centre took a stand saying that such marriages should not be considered to be rape as such marriages are a reality in India. This approach of the Centre is extremely pessimistic and in a way, it will only end up promoting child marriages. What is the point of a Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Andolan if the girl is married off at 15 itself, ’’ said Swati Maliwal, chairperson, Delhi Child Welfare.

On child marriages

Hinting that implementation of the judgement will remain a challenge given the diverse circumstances and beliefs that have allowed child marriages to continue, social activist Shabnam Hashmi said: ”This is definitely a step in the right direction and will begin the much-needed dialogue around this topic. We need to look into promoting education for the girl child and women’s empowerment.’’

Lalitha Kumaramangalam, ex-chairperson, National Commission for Women called the verdict a good beginning removing any anomalies on the age of consent. “It will also act as a deterrent to parents who are trying to marry off their girl children,” she said. .

Senior lawyer Geeta Ramaseshan, however, pointed out that the judgment only reinforced the existing POCSO (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012) provisions, under which any sexual contact below the age of 18 is an offence, and which does not exempt marriage.

“But we also have to debate whether any kind of sexual contact between consenting young persons between the ages of 16 and 18 ought to be criminalised,” she said as the law currently goes by the notion that there can be no consent given below the age of 18..

Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, said while the trauma of forced sex for the minor is in itself an unfair burden, it could also jeopardise her health and that of the infant, should an untimely and unwanted pregnancy occur.

Impact of stigma

Vidya Reddy, of Tulir, Centre for the Prevention & Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, on the other hand, wonders if this would actually deny young women medical help. She said since POCSO and the Criminal Procedure Code mandated reporting of an offence and since any sexual contact below the age of 18 was an offence, the health and well being of young people seeking medical care, for a safe delivery for instance, could be compromised and they could be sucked into the criminal justice system.

“This, in many ways, could deny them good healthcare and they may seek alternative forms of treatment as they would not want their families broken up,” she said.

Centre for Struggling Women (CSW) convenor Maya John said although the judgment is a vindication of a demand being raised by women's rights activists, the challenge of its effective implementation remains.

Komal Ganotra, director, policy advocacy and research at CRY, said the landmark judgement shifts the paradigm from ‘social vadility’ towards ‘child centricity’.

“I am hopeful that it would change the legal landscape with bringing about required amendments in the Child Marriage legislation and revamp strategies to prevent and prohibit child marriage.”

Sudha Ramalingam, senior advocate, said the judgement was rightful as it was now synchronised with POCSO but said implementation would be difficult, especially in cases of child marriage, where there would be tacit approval by the family.

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