India Supreme Court Rules Sex With Underaged Wives Is Rape

India’s Supreme Court has officially ruled that men who have sex with their underage wives is now considered rape. The court had recently struck down a clause that allowed men to have sex with their wives, regardless if they are under the legal age of consent. The previous clause meant that a 17-year-old could have consensual sex with a person of the same age, but be convicted of statutory rape, while a 40-year-old man who rapes his 15-year-old wife would not be committing any crime.

Although India’s child protection laws prevent adults from having sex with minors under the age of 18, an exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code┬ástates that husbands are able to engage with sexual intercourse with their wives, provided that they are over the age of 15. The court’s decision to strike down this clause has now raised the legal age of consent to eighteen for all women in India, regardless of their marital stage; “In our opinion sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape regardless of whether she is married or not,” read the ruling.

Despite the fact that many see this as a milestone for the fundamental rights of Indian women, child marriage remains largely prominent throughout India, particularly in rural areas. Child marriage in India has been illegal since 1929, but India has the highest number of child brides in the world, at least 47 percent of girls are married before the age of 18, and a UNICEF 2016 report showed that 18 percent of girls become child brides before the age of 15. Many of these child brides come from poor families, and live under caste systems; a large majority of child brides have often received no formal education which reinforces the toxic cycle of gender inequality, poverty, illiteracy and high infant and maternal mortality rates.

However, the introduction of the Prohibition on Child Marriage Act in 2006 contributed to fixing the shortcomings of the previous acts. Despite the fact that 27 percent of children are married before the age of 18 in 2016, this is a significant decrease in comparison to the 47 percent of married children in 2006. The Delhi high court is also currently hearing a challenge to said law, which prevents women for pressing charges of rapes committed by their husbands. This small change in the law could be seen as an initial stepping stone to establishing gender equality in a patriarchal society.

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