Prompted by a finding in a government study that a certain number of young children have sex or engage in sexual activity for experimenting, the government is examining the possibility of exempting consensual sex between them from the purview of a criminal offence.
The Offences Against Child Bill drafted by the Women and Child Development ministry enumerates sex with a child, defined as anyone below the age of 18, as a criminal offence. Now, there is a re-thinking on this section with the Study on Child Abuse in India coming out with a fact that sex or sexual act between young children may not always be an abuse. Sexual Act means fondling, oral sex, touching private parts, exhibition of private parts or kissing.
The study says sexual abuse is highest among the children in the age group of 15-18. As many as 38.5 per cent children said fondling or touching body parts was done by friends or classmates, followed by 24 per cent by uncles and relatives. “Many children were also of the opinion that they may not have been in an abusive situation giving credence that it may have been consensual sexual activity,” the report stated.
A senior WCD official told HT that the ministry wants to revisit the Bill in light of the astonishing findings of the study. The ministry would be consulting legal experts and seeking public opinion through its website on whether consensual sex between young children should be exempted in the Bill or not.
The biggest debate, the ministry admits, would be on how to define consensual sex among young children. “The loophole that a child may be forced to say it was a consensual sex will have to be plugged,” the official said. “To distinguish between abuse and consensual act would be very difficult. A bigger child could always abuse a young child and it can be termed as exploring sexuality,” Raj Mangal Singh, of NGO Pratidhi, pointed out. The ministry’s say a process of lengthy consultation is being drawn before a final decision is taken.
What has apparently prompted the ministry to consider the option is a finding where 26.8 per cent young adults recalled having sexual experience during childhood and majority stating it was with friends and classmates and they were not in an abusive situation. “A child cannot be prosecuted if there is neither a victim nor a perpetrator,” the official said.
On one issue that ministry has taken a clear stand - the exemption will not apply if the perpetrator is an adult.