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. 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.