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Criminalise marital rape: UNDP chief

Just days after Minister for Women and Child Welfare Maneka Gandhi submitted in Parliament that the government wouldn’t criminalise “marital rape,” a top U.N. official said that the issue is one of consent, not culture, suggesting that India would be violating the Sustainable Development Goals it has adopted if it did not amend the law accordingly.

“Each country needs to look at its laws in the light of what the SDGs say, and whether these laws take women forward or take them back,” said UNDP chief Helen Clark in an exclusive interview to The Hindu when asked about Ms. Gandhi’s statement. “I don’t have anything to say on any particular individual, but it is clear to me that the critical issue is one of consent,” she added.

Ms. Clark made a significant pitch for all countries that had not made domestic abuse and marital rape criminal offences to do so at the earliest. “Because when it is domestic violence, the police and everyone else take it as no business of theirs. An assault on women at home is never something “within the family.” It is a crime. It has to be recognised and dealt with,” Ms. Clark, who was in Delhi to attend the IMF ‘Advancing Asia’ conference, said.

Her words are particularly significant not just because the United Nations Development Programme is monitoring the implementation of the SDGs by 2030, but because Ms. Clark is widely considered to be preparing to run for U.N. Secretary-General later this year.

Asked about the proposal, Ms. Clark, who was previously Prime Minister of New Zealand, wouldn’t confirm her decision to run, but wouldn’t rule it out. “There’s never been a woman UNSG, so of course people are saying what about this time,” she said, adding that the process for declaring candidates would only get under way in July 2016. Some of the other likely candidates are also women, suggesting that gender issues will take centre stage in the next few years.

On March 10, in a written answer to a question by an MP, Ms. Gandhi had submitted the government’s position in Parliament, saying that the “concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be applied in the Indian context due to level of education/illiteracy, poverty, customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc..”