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Morality vs Biology

Published : Mar 20, 2013, 10:45 pm IST
Updated : Mar 20, 2013, 10:45 pm IST

Recent discussions about the age of sexual consent that stemmed from the Union government’s decision to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16 have been highly influenced by traditional and patriarcha


Recent discussions about the age of sexual consent that stemmed from the Union government’s decision to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16 have been highly influenced by traditional and patriarchal social norms that associate women’s sexual desire with marriage. Arguments have been made that if the age of consent is lowered, the age of marriage for women must also be lowered. It is obvious that the real concern is controlling women’s sexuality. We must break free of arguments that aim to reinforce traditional social structures that control women’s sexuality and restrict women’s sexual freedom. The age of consent for sexual intercourse and the legal age of marriage are two separate issues. Consensual sexual intercourse between two young adults occurs throughout rural and urban India and should not be connected to, or confused with, the institution of marriage. Furthermore, women’s decision to engage in consensual sex should not be conflated with the moral fabric of Indian society. Discussions regarding the age of sexual consent must focus on women and men’s biological and emotional maturity to engage in sexual intercourse and to fully consent to intercourse. As a society we must decide what age this is. However, we must ensure that these decisions are not influenced by traditional connections between sex and marriage. Laws concerning adolescents’ sexuality in India, as in many other parts of the world, tend to have a paternalistic approach, based on the assumption that persons below a certain age (mainly 18) are unable to make their own decisions. In India, the words “child” and “adult” are loaded with deep-rooted cultural connotations. Traditionally, the body and being of a child is the preserve of the family. As the formation and proliferation of the family is of extreme importance, there is little attention paid to the needs and desires of the adolescents. Within this cultural framework, it is a struggle to award adolescents the right to space, identity and respect. Globalisation introduces new information and communication technologies, increases urban migration and the dissolution of the traditional family — all of this affects adolescent sexual behaviour as well. The expanding horizons of young adolescents are filled with explicit and implicit messages about sex and gender — some clear and consistent, some ambiguous or conflicting. Access to magazines, movies, TV and the Internet provides contact to an increasingly globalised and sexualised youth culture that leaks into what may already be a confusing milieu of expectations and ideologies. Throughout the world, marriages often take place later, while sexual activity starts earlier. The increasing number of habeas corpus petitions filed in various Indian high courts by young persons seeking the right to exercise their choice in personal relationships reflects this trend.

$Don’t mix sex and marriage Ranjana Kumari ***

In India, where the legal age of marriage is 18 years for a girl, how can you enact a law which makes 16 to be the age of consent for sex A great deal of thought and study went into fixing the age of valid marriage at 18. While enacting the Child Marriage Act, our policy and lawmakers took into consideration the fact that a girl below the age of 18 is physically and mentally not fit to tie the nuptial knot. In that case how can you allow consensual sex at 16 when girls can only marry, legally, in this country at 18 years of age The government says that you can have sex with our daughters once they are 16 years of age but cannot marry them. What kind of contradiction is this On one hand you talk of giving better education and professional opportunities to girls and then you try to give legal support for indulging in sexual activities with them at 16. If at 16, an 11th class school-going girl becomes pregnant, will there not be large-scale school dropouts Think of teenage pregnancies and the mental, physical and emotional transformation teenagers go through in such an event. Teenage is considered an age where children need education to ensure a better future for the country. Those arguing for 16 years as the age of consent probably don’t count women as part of the country’s future! The child marriage law was a big reformational step in modern India. But even now child marriages are rampant in certain regions mainly because of orthodox, patriarchal society. There is a growing demand, especially after the Delhi gangrape case, that a rapist of 16 years of age should not be considered a minor. As per the existing law, a rapist who is below 18 years of age is considered minor, but the victim below 18 should be considered adult Is this the formula of justice you are offering to women’s struggle for dignity Consent is the only basis for determining the offence of rape and the whole trial in rape cases revolve only around proving and disproving “consent”. Therefore, “consent” has to be very carefully defined. Knowledge of an act is not enough to make a person wise enough to “consent” for that act. For God’s sake use cohesive and holistic approach while formulating a law. Fourteen to 18 years is an impressionable and gullible age. If you argue that teenagers today are advanced in every field as compared to their parents at their age, agreed. But how many Ours is a country of 1.2 billion people and, even so, information of sex is different than handling the responsibility and consequences of indulging in sexual activities. Laws are formulated as per the society in question and not by what is going on in other countries. In our society, where customs/traditions and religious dictates are interpreted to a woman’s disadvantage, a society where still a huge number of women are kept in pardah, a society where even the expression of a woman’s desire is considered a sin, the government has to be very careful in enacting laws because law is the only strength a woman has in such a society.

$Define ‘consent’ carefully Ranjana Shahi ***