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The UPA government surely lacks clarity on what type of amendment its wants to bring in anti-rape laws for better safety of women.

The government’s dilly-dallying on the age of consent and stricter punishment for juveniles has caused consternation among law enforcers who believe that the government wants to put something in place hurriedly without vigorous consultation process.

Less than a year ago, the UPA government had notified 18 years as age of consent for sex after deliberating on the issue for years. In 2005, a Parliamentary Standing Committee had raised the issue of conflict in different Indian laws on age of consent. After almost seven years, the government increased the age of consent to 18 years.

It took the horrible Delhi gang rape case of 2012 and a few women activists that the UPA government changed its stand and now wants the age of consent to be 16 years. Personally, I believe it is some sort of course correction for the government to protect the young ones from undue pressure from parents and khap panchayats.

Such dramatic changes in a short span of time only create confusion and problem for law-makers. The big question remains what would happen to young people between 16 and 18 years who may have been booked for rape during the period the age of consent was 18 years.

Will they get some reprieve from the courts once the government notify the age of consent to 16 years? Most jurists would say it would not be possible as law of the day is applicable and any law cannot be enforced retrospectively. So, a gross injustice would have been done with them and the blame would fall on the totally confused government.

Equally important question is about the age of juveniles in law. Should it be 16 or 18 years?

Two accused in Delhi gang rape case being below 18 years has played an important role in government willing to reduce the age of juveniles to 16 years contrary to the global practice of defining all those below 18 years as children.

One-off incident cannot become a reason for tinkering with a well tested and laid out principle. The government has neither done any sociological research nor have data to prove that juveniles between 16 to 18 years can decide like an adult. There have been studies to show juveniles in this age bracket have been influenced by adults, directly or indirectly, in committing the crime.

The most upsetting aspect of recent move of the government to change rape laws is that the decisions are based more on appeasing the popular sentiment than rationale and scientific temper. And, the probable reason is India’s poor crime research.

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Mature democracies provide its citizen space for freedom of speech and dissent with reasonable restrictions. India’s aspiration to march towards that goal would be difficult, with slowly shrinking of space for opposing view. Read more

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