Only a matter of time
With the cabinet recently putting the age of consent for sex back to 18 years, there seems to have opened up a can of worms. While the youngsters are questioning their right to decide the right time to be sexually active, especially with the changing social norms, legislative representatives claim it has been done to safeguard women.chandigarh Updated: Apr 26, 2013 10:09 IST
With the cabinet recently putting the age of consent for sex back to 18 years, there seems to have opened up a can of worms. While the youngsters are questioning their right to decide the right time to be sexually active, especially with the changing social norms, legislative representatives claim it has been done to safeguard women.
Before last year, when rewording of the draft bill to amend criminal provisions on violence against women took place to prevent child abuse, the age for consensual sex had been set at 16 since the 1980s. “The law now covers stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, harsher punishments for gang rape and a wider definition of sexual assault and clearly specifies that anyone under 18 participating in sexual act, irrespective of consent, is a criminal act,” states Arjun Sheoran, a practising lawyer in the Punjab & Haryana High Court.
One of the reasons for the setting of age of consent for sex at 16 is controversial because the legal age of marriage for women in India is 18 and for men 21. In such a case, does it seek to accept the increasing incidents of pre-marital sex in the country? Manjeet Singh, a professor of sociology at Panjab University, Chandigarh, says, “Information is freely available today and that’s why children are growing up faster. It is not a question of parents’ permissions; the evolving familial hierarchy dictates them to have their own personal space to make their lives’ decisions. When the winds of change blow you can’t decide whether it’s good or bad!”
Privacy vs protection
One of the questions thrown up by the debate is, are we ready to allow this generation of teens to grow up with a failed love story at the chances of a few irresponsible ones? Tanya*, 15, a student of Class X in a city school, is one of the many who believes the time is apt for progressive thinking. “We’re constantly told to take responsibility of our lives and that adulthood is a continuous process instead of being a sudden jump. And then come these moral laws that dictate us what to do. Movies and books, especially teen fiction, don’t exactly shun sex. In fact, some ridicule women for being virgins! It’s just hypocritical to promote sex and then label teenagers who indulge in it as criminals,” she argues.
Agreeing with her is Prithvi*, a 16-year-old studying in an elite school in Sector 26, Chandigarh, who says, “The amendment is an obvious blow to our personal privacy and freedom as teenagers. The concept of adulthood is highly debatable, but the definitions should keep evolving with the changing times.”
However, the fact remains that active sexual lives bring along vulnerability to unplanned teenage pregnancies and transmission of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) along with emotional stress attached with physical proximity that is transient. Sex education in India remains at the bottom of educationists’ priorities, especially in the economically weaker sections. Therefore, educating teenagers with an open-minded approach towards sex and raising the topic at casual dinner table conversations might actually help crack the ice instead of using scare tactics.
“Parents have to participate in their children’s lives by talking to them, because young minds act more on impulse and emotions than logic or reason. Supervising, without being overindulgent or interfering, would assist in the complete emotional growth of the child,” advises Adarsh Kohli, a professor of clinical psychology at PGIMER (Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research), Chandigarh.
Meanwhile, there remain youngsters who support the change in law, such as 16-year-old student of humanities, Ujwal*. “I know a lot of girls who have been emotionally manipulated into consenting to having sex when they weren’t too sure and peer pressure adds to the risk. This law would at least make sure that there is a provision to prevent such exploitation, without ruining a girl’s life or image,” says she.
* (Names have been changed on request)