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Cabinet approves Bill to amend law on rape

August 2nd, 2012 No comments

According to a recent press release, the Cabinet has approved a proposal to introduce a Bill in Parliament to amend the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).  While the draft Bill is currently not available, its highlights are specified in the press release.  As per the press release, the Bill aims to make rape laws gender neutral.  The key features specified are:

  • Substituting the word “rape” with “sexual assault”;
  • Increasing the age of consent 16 to 18 years;
  • Excluding sexual intercourse between a married couple from the definition of rape, where the wife’s consent has not been obtained and the wife is at least 16 years of age.

Present Law

According to section 375 of the IPC, an allegation of rape has to satisfy the following criteria:

  • sexual intercourse between a man with a woman in the following circumstances: (a) against the will of the woman; (b) without her consent; (c) under duress; (d) consent obtained by fraud; (e) consent obtained by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication.
  • If the woman is below the age of 16 years, sexual intercourse is deemed to amount to rape.  Even if the woman has consented, it would be considered rape under the law.
  • There is however, an exception to this definition of rape.  Un-consented sexual intercourse between a man and his wife would not amount to rape if the wife is 16 years or older.

This definition of rape does not include use of other body parts or foreign objects by the offender upon the victim’s body.  Such offences are classified as “use of criminal force to outrage the modesty of a woman” (see here) and are punishable with two years imprisonment or fine or both.  Rape, on the other hand, is punishable with imprisonment for seven years to a life term.

Proposals to amend the law on rape

Through an order in 1999, the Supreme Court had directed the Law Commission to review the law on rape (Sakshi vs. Union of India).  The Law Commission had in its 172nd Report, dated March 25, 2000 made recommendations to amend the law to widen the definition of rape.  In its report, the Commission had recommended that rape be substituted by sexual assault as an offence.  Such assault included the use of any object for penetration.  It further recognised that there was an increase in the incidence of sexual assaults against boys.  The Report recommended the widening of the definition of rape to include circumstances where both men and women could be perpetrators and victims of sexual assault.[1]   Amendments to the law on the basis of these recommendations are still awaited.

The High Court of Delhi has recognised the need to amend the laws on rape.  It observed that the law did not adequately safeguard victims against sexual assaults which were included by the Law Commission within the scope of rape.  It was observed that the definition should be widened to include instances of sexual assault which may not satisfy the penile-vaginal penetration required under the existing law.

The 2010 draft Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, attempted to redefine rape.  The draft provisions substitute the offence of rape with “sexual assault”.  Sexual assault is defined as penetration of the vagina, the anus or urethra or mouth of any woman, by a man, with (i) any part of his body; or (ii) any object manipulated by such man under the following circumstances: (a) against the will of the woman; (b) without her consent; (c) under duress; (d) consent obtained by fraud; (e) consent obtained by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication; and (f) when the woman is below the age of 18.

Variation between proposals

The existing legal provisions, the Law Commission Report, the 2010 Bill and the recent press release are similar in that they provide an exception to marital rape.  Under the law, un-consented sexual intercourse is not an offence if the wife is above a certain age.  (Under the existing law the wife has to be over 16 years’ of age and as per press release she has to be more than 18 years old.)  This is at variance with the proposal of the National Commission of Women (NCW).   An amendment to the IPC recommended by the NCW deleted the exemption granted to un-consented sex between a man and his wife if she was more than 16 years old.  It therefore criminalised marital rape.

As per the press release, this exemption has been retained in the proposed Bill.  Furthermore, as per the release, while the age of consent for sexual intercourse will be increased to 18 years, for the purpose of marital sex, the age of consent would be 16 years.


[1] Review of Rape Laws, Law Commission of India, 172nd Report, paragraph 3.1.2,  “375.  Sexual Assault:  Sexual assault means –

(a) penetrating  the  vagina (which term shall include the labia majora), the  anus  or  urethra  of  any person with –

i)      any part of the body of another person or

ii)   an object manipulated by another person except  where  such penetration is carried out for

proper hygienic or medical purposes;

(b) manipulating any  part  of  the  body  of  another person  so  as  to cause penetration of the vagina (which term shall include the labia  majora),  the anus or the urethra of the offender by any part of  the other person’s body;

(c) introducing any part of the penis of a person into the mouth of another person;

(d)    engaging in cunnilingus or fellatio; or

(e) continuing  sexual  assault  as defined in clauses

(a) to (d) above in circumstances falling  under  any  of  the  six following descriptions:

Exception:  Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under sixteen  years  of  age,  is  not sexual assault.”

Law prohibiting sexual offences against children sparks controversy over age of consent

June 13th, 2012 2 comments

The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed by both Houses of Parliament on May 22.  The legislation defines various types of sexual offences against children and provides penalties for such acts.

According to a report commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, about 53% of the children interviewed reported some form of sexual abuse.  The law has been viewed as a welcome step by most activists since it is gender neutral (both male and female children are covered), it clearly defines the offences and includes some child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences.  However, the issue of age of consent has generated some controversy.  Age of consent refers to the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person.

Before this law was passed, the age of consent was considered to be 16 years (except if the woman was married to the accused, in which case it may be lower).  Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any sexual intercourse with a woman who is below the age of 16 years is considered to be “rape”.  The consent of the person is irrelevant.

This post provides a snapshot of the key provisions of the Act, the debate surrounding the controversial provision and a comparison of the related law in other countries.

Key provisions of the Act

  • The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children from offences such as sexual assault, penetrative sexual assault and sexual harassment.  It also penalises a person for using a child for pornographic purposes.
  • The Act states that a person commits “sexual assault” if he touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of a child with sexual intent without penetration.
  • The Act treats an offence as “aggravated” if it is committed by a person in a position of authority or trust such as a member of the security forces, a police officer or a public servant.
  • It specifies penalties for the offences and provides a mechanism for reporting and trial of such offences.

Debate over the age of consent

After introduction, the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development.  The Committee submitted its report on December 21, 2011 (see here and here for PRS Bill Summary and  Standing Committee Summary, respectively)

Taking into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee, the Parliament decided to amend certain provisions of the Bill before passing it.

The Bill stated that if a person is accused of “sexual assault” or “penetrative sexual assault” of a child between 16 and 18 years of age, it would be considered whether the consent of the child was taken by the accused.   This provision was deleted from the Bill that was passed.

The Bill (as passed) states that any person below the age of 18 years shall be considered a child.  It prohibits a person from engaging in any type of sexual activity with a child.  However, the implication of this law is not clear in cases where both parties are below 18 years (see here and here for debate on the Bill in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha).

The increase in the age of consent to 18 years sparked a debate among experts and activists.

Proponents of increasing the age of consent argued that if a victim is between 16 and 18 years of age, the focus of a sexual assault case would be on proving whether he or she consented to the act or not.  The entire trial process including cross-examination of the victim would focus on the conduct of the victim rather than that of the accused (see here and here).

Opponents of increasing the age of consent pointed out that since this Act criminalises any sexual activity with persons under the age of 18 years (even if consensual), the police may misuse it to harass young couples or parents may use this law to control older children’s sexual behaviour (see here and here). 

International comparison

In most countries, the age of consent varies between 13 and 18 years.  The table below lists the age of consent and the corresponding law in some selected countries. 

Countries

Age of consent

Law

US Varies from state to state between 16 and 18 years.  In some states, the difference in age between the two parties is taken into account.  This can vary between 2-4 years. Different state laws
UK 16 years Sexual Offences Act, 2003
Germany 14 years (16 years if the accused is a person responsible for the child’s upbringing, education or care). German Criminal Code
France 15 years French Criminal Code
Sweden 15 years (18 years if the child is the accused person’s offspring or he is responsible for upbringing of the child). Swedish Penal Code
Malaysia 16 years for both males and females. Malaysian Penal Code; Child Act 2001
China No information about consent.  Sex with a girl below 14 years is considered rape.  Sodomy of a child (male or female) below 14 years is an offence. Criminal Law of China, 1997
Canada 16 years Criminal Code of Canada
Brazil 14 years Brazilian Penal Code 2009
Australia Varies between 16 and 17 years among different states and territorial jurisdictions.  In two states, a person may engage in sexual activity with a minor if he is two years older than the child.  In such cases the child has to be at least 10 years old. Australian Criminal laws
India 18 years. Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act, 2012

The NAC Communal Violence Bill: Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence

June 9th, 2011 6 comments

The National Advisory Committee has recently come out with a Communal Violence Bill.  The Bill is intended to prevent acts of violence, or incitement to violence directed at people by virtue of their membership to any “group”.  An existing Bill titled the “Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005” pending in the Rajya Sabha (analysis here).  The main features of the NAC Bill are explained below:

The Bill makes illegal acts which result in injury to persons or property, if such acts are directed against persons on the basis of their affiliation to any group, and if such an act destroys the secular fabric of the nation.  Such acts include sexual assault, hate propaganda, torture and organized communal violence.

It makes public servants punishable for failing to discharge their stated duties in an unbiased manner.  In addition, public servants have duties such as the duty to provide protection to victims of communal violence and also have to take steps to prevent the outbreak of communal violence.

The Bill establishes a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation to prevent acts of communal violence, incitement to communal violence, containing the spread of communal violence, and monitoring investigations into acts of communal violence.  The Authority can also inquire into and investigate acts of communal violence by itself.  The Bill also provides for the setting up of State Authorities for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation.

The central or state government has been given the authority to intercept any messages or transmissions if it feels that it might lead to communal violence.  This power is subject to existing procedures which have to be complied with for intercepting messages and transmissions.

Importantly, if public officers are liable to be prosecuted for offences under the Bill, and prior sanction is required for such prosecution, the state government has to grant or refuse sanction within 30 days.  If not, then sanction will be deemed to have been granted.

The Bill also allows the states to set up one or more Human Rights Defender of Justice and Reparations’ in every district.  The Human Rights defender will ensure that those affected by communal and targeted violence are able to access their rights under existing laws.

Apart from these, the Bill also establishes state and district-level authorities for assessing compensation for victims of communal violence.  States also have numerous obligations towards victims, such as the establishment of relief camps, ensuring proper facilities, medical provisions and clothing for those within such camps, etc.  The states government also has the obligation to create conditions which allow the return of victims of communal violence to the place of their ordinary residence.