Bending the gender on rape cases

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The plan to widen the scope of sexual offences to include male victims is a good move, but clubbing it with rape is not

By Hasina Kharbih Team Leader, Impulse

Illustration: Anand Naorem

THE RECENT recommendations by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on rape laws, as part of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, are highly inadequate and in most cases completely contradictory. The ministry itself is confused between its roles in advocating women’s rights and children’s rights.

There is a plan to club rape along with other sexual offences. You cannot diminish the seriousness of rape. The widening of the scope of sexual offences is a welcome move but the substitution of the term ‘rape’ by ‘sexual assault’ might diminish the offence’s severity.

The ministry plans to make rape laws gender neutral. I agree that rape of men, especially gays, should also be recognised. But you can’t apply the same law for both sexes. They need to get a separate law because women are much more vulnerable. In India, the incidence of rape is much higher among women and fast growing among children.

It has been said that the ministry is mulling to make certain changes to Section 375, which deals with sexual intercourse between husband and wife. The current provision says the age of the wife should not be below 15 years. It is recommended that this should be increased to 16. This suggestion is contradictory to laws such as the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, which recognises anyone below 18 years as a child and it also seems to contradict the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2010, which had increased the age to 18. India has also ratratified the United Nations Convention on Rights of Child, which also considers anyone below the age of 18 years as a child.

Before the Manmohan Singh government decides on any kind of amendment, it must evolve a consensus on what age for children it will recognise. Both the Convention on Rights of Child and Juvenile Justice Act tackle the rights of children below 18 against rape, molestation and other crimes. In contrast, the age of consent according to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act is 16. The conflicts with these Acts are not just when the girl has consented to sex, although below marriageable age. Imagine the plight of a 17-year-old kidnapped, raped and sold. What happens to her?

Various pockets such as the Northeast, Indo- Nepal border and West Bengal are hubs for human trafficking. Girls are picked up through agents from small villages and transported to cities where they are raped, molested and treated as slaves. When organisations like mine go to rescue them, the law hardly comes to our help. The policeman is himself confused about which law to apply in such cases. Such contradictory laws make justice even more difficult for these girls.

Even the punishment suggested by the ministry is disturbing. How can acid throwing, stalking and rape be treated at par when it comes to punishment for these crimes?

Substitution of the term ‘rape’ by ‘sexual assault’ might diminish the offence’s severity

The Ministry of Women and Child Development, which is supposed to work towards strengthening child rights laws, is coming up with amendments that militate against existing strong laws. It is high time we have a separate ministry for women and children. These amendments will confuse people who are working in the fields of rights, especially when they are looking for legal support or legal assistance to children and women.

There are groups that had asked the Ministry of Women and Child Development to rethink the policy on criminalising organised prostitution in the form of brothels. The ministry had taken note of some of these groups when it deferred the amendments to Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act in 2006. But it must take a stand against some of the representations made by the groups. We have experienced during our work that a majority of sex workers in the organised sector are below 18. The ministry must use the same age for purposes of consistency. A move for legalisation of brothels must be intensely deliberated upon.

Hasina Kharbih is Team leader, Impulse .
hkharbhih[email protected]

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