The government seems to have tied itself in a knot over its proposed move to reduce the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years in the new criminal laws (amendment) bill that will replace the February 3 ordinance on rape laws.
The draft bill incorporating the fresh changes is likely to come up for cabinet approval this week.
Sources said the women and child development (WCD) ministry is likely to veto the move on the ground that it is in variance with the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 – passed by the Parliament in May last year – which had fixed the age of consent for sex at 18 years.
“The Parliament just ten months back had passed the landmark legislation to protect children under 18 years from sexual abuse. The reason to not reduce the age to 16 years was to protect child victims from being put to trial and lead to his/her re-victimisation.
“Now, this very purpose would be diluted if the age of consent is reduced to 16 years,” said a senior WCD ministry official.
Officials said the ministry, which has the mandate to frame policies related to children, was not taken on board while deciding to reduce the age of consent for sex to 16 years in the new criminal laws (amendment) bill. “Our views were not taken. Nobody contacted us,” said the official.
In the original Criminal Laws (Amendment) bill, the age of consent for sex was fixed at 18 years.
But on Tuesday, under pressure from women activists, the government agreed to reduce it 16 years. This was also one of the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma panel.
The decision to fix 18 years as the age of consent for sex in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was based on the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development headed by Oscar Fernandes.
In its report submitted in December 2011 the committee had said that the issue of age of consent for children below 18 years should be treated as irrelevant as including element of consent would put the focus on the victim at the time of trial and lead to his/her re-victimisation.