M A I N   N E W S

Ministers’ group lowers age of consent for sex to 16 yrs
Aditi Tandon/TNS

The provisions
Term rape retained; rape will be a gender-specific crime that only a man can perpetrate
Stalking non bailable offence; voyeurism made bailable; false complainants to be punished
Sexual intercourse by man with a woman during de facto separation an offence
Refusal of a govt or private hospital to treat a rape victim made an offence

New Delhi, March 13
The Group of Ministers (GoM) set up to finalise the anti-rape Bill to replace the ordinance finalised its report for the consideration of the Union Cabinet tomorrow and agreed to keep the age of consent for sexual engagement at 16 years instead of 18, ending dissent on the issue.

After hectic deliberations, the GoM headed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram also agreed to retain the term rape in the Bill and make it a gender-specific crime (only a man can be booked for rape and not a woman) instead of a gender-neutral crime, as had been proposed by the ordinance promulgated by the President on February 3.

The move follows a direction from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi who had received petitions from women’s organisations against making rape crime gender-neutral. The GoM report on the Bill, however, said rape victims could be gender neutral (men, women and trans-genders). The panel’s decisions 
on age of consent and on gender specificity of rape are in line with the Justice JS Verma Committee recommendations.

Further, to ensure protection against misuse of new provisions in respect of voyeurism and stalking as sexual offences, the GoM said stalking will be a non-bailable offence.

Voyeurism has been made bailable as the first offence but repeated offence of voyeurism will be non-bailable.

Also, in cases of false complaints coming to light in respect of the new sexual offences, the inbuilt provisions of Section 2 (1) (1) of the IPC will be invoked. This provision makes lodging of false complaints intentionally a punishable offence. The clause has not been separately added in the Bill finalised by the GoM, but it has been understood that this IPC protection will be used to prevent vexatious complaints of sexual offence.

Although marital rape has not been included, the GoM-cleared Bill has approved as an offence sexual intercourse by a man on a woman during the period of legal as well as de-facto separation. “Thus far, only that sexual intercourse was considered an offence which was committed by a man on the woman after the award of legal decree of separation by the court. Now we have said in the Bill that such an act even during de-facto separation will be an offence,” said Law Minister Ashwani Kumar.

Also, the Bill has made refusal of treatment to a rape victim by all hospitals —government and private — punishable. The Bill has also said that fine to be paid to the rape victim at the time of the offence will be over and above the compensation awarded by the state in the course of trial.

Asked how the issue of age of consent was reconciled, Ashwani Kumar said: “I cited international conventions to drive home the point. We cannot ignore the fact that girls are maturing earlier and criminalising sexual activity between consenting teens was not done.”

The Bill will be taken up by the Cabinet for approval tomorrow and will then be placed before an all-party meeting on Monday. It must be passed by March 22, the day the Budget Session breaks for recess to reassemble later. It not passed, the February 3 ordinance will lapse on April 4.





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