Days after Parliament cleared the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Tuesday defended his initial proposal to peg the age of consent for sex at 16 years, citing the 153-year-old Indian Penal Code.
“The consent age of 16 years was incorporated in the IPC in 1860. No one had looked into it but when my ordinance came for correcting this...whole Parliament was against it. But I brought it to the notice (that) this law was in existence but we have not realised that it was in existence,” Shinde said.
Bowing to political pressure, the Cabinet had rejected Shinde’s proposal and raised the age of consent to 18 years. As per a provision in the new Bill, consensual sex with a girl under 18 will be treated as rape.
Shinde said those who attacked the government saying the new law would encourage pre-marital sex were ignorant about the 1860 law. For the record, Shinde’s Cabinet colleague and Minister for Women & Child Development, Krishna Tirath, had also vehemently opposed the move.
She had claimed that lowering the age of consent was contrary to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which made sex with those under 18 a criminal offence. The POCSO Act was cleared by Parliament in May 2012, marking the age of consent for sex to 18 years. The anti-rape ordinance also included the same provisions despite the Justice JS Verma Committee’s recommendation to keep the age of consent at 16 years.
Shinde also said there is a fear among women at the moment but that will go. “That (Dec 16 rape incident) has opened our eyes. All citizens came forward. Everybody right from Press, government and Judiciary,” he added.