A day before the cabinet is set to approve the anti-rape laws, women and child development (WCD) minister Krishna Tirath has voiced her dissent over one of its key provision to reduce the age of consensual sex from 18 to 16 years.
Apparently peeved at not being consulted on the issue, Tirath is writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the proposed move to reduce the age for consensual sex to 16 years in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill is in variance with the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act – unanimously passed by the Parliament in May 2012 – which makes sexual act with an individual below 18 years a criminal offence.
Tirath's letter also highlights the fact that the key reason to not reduce the age bar in the POCSO Act was to protect child victims from being put on trial which could lead to his/her re-victimisation.
Sources said that not only was the WCD ministry's view not sought on the subject, till Monday evening Tirath a minister of state with independent charge was not invited to Tuesday's cabinet meeting. Generally, a minister with independent charge is invited to cabinet meetings when a subject concerning or related to the ministry is on the agenda.
Tirath's complaint to the PM has also belied the tall claims made by both home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and law minister Ashwani Kumar that there are no internal differences within the government over the issue of reducing the age of consensual sex to 16 years.
The Union cabinet will take up the new criminal law (amendment) bill that will replace the February 3 ordinance on rape laws at its special meeting on Tuesday.
In the original Criminal Law (Amendment) bill, the home ministry which is anchoring the bill had fixed the age of consensual sex at 18 years. But last week, under pressure from women activists, the government agreed to reduce it to 16 years. This was also recommended by 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.