Independent Thought vs. Union of India

September 14, 2017
Gender & Sexuality

In 2013, Independent Thought, an organization working for the rights of women and children, filed W.P.(C) 382/2013 before the Supreme Court challenging Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC to the extent of its applicability in case of minor girls. The Exception, more commonly known as the Marital Rape exemption, states that a man cannot be charged with rape of his wife provided the wife is not below 15 years of age. The Child Rights Trust was brought on record as Intervenor in the case on 28.08.2017. Advocate Jayna Kothari, Executive Director of CLPR, appeared and argued on behalf of the Child Rights Trust.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code was amended by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 to raise the age of consent to 18 ( Section 375 Sixthly), bringing the law in consonance with all other statutes where  child is recognised to be a person below the age of 18, these being the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2012, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,2006.

Further, under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 a marriage contracted between two parties where either of them is a minor, i.e. below the age of 18 in case of girls and 21 in case of boys, is declared voidable and can be nullified at the instance of the contracting party who is a minor at the time of the marriage on attaining majority. There is therefore seen to be a statutory consensus on the legal age of consent being 18 years and any one below the said age being a child.

However, under Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape”. The prayer in the petition is for a declaration that Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code violates Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution to the extent that fixes a lower age of consent and permits forced sexual intercourse by the husband with a girl who is between the ages of 15 to 18.

The case was heard substantially by the Bench and Advocate Jayna Kothari has challenged the constitutionality of  Exception 2 to Section 375 arguing that not only does it create an arbitrary classification between minor girls on the basis if there marital status, violating Article 14 of the Constitution, it exempts those who have been victims of forced or early marriages from any recourse to criminal law against forced sexual inetrcourse by their husbands and thus deprives the girl child of their right to life, bodily integrity, and dignity under Article 21, particularly the right to privacy as recently upheld by the Supreme Court in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India which categorically records that privacy is a concomitant of dignity and every individual enjoys autonomy over the most personal and intimate decisions.

The Exception has also been challenged as being a hindrance to the effective implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage act by treating such marriages as are held to be voidable in law at par with valid marriages for the purpose of penal provisions dealing with rape. Lastly, treaty obligations under international legal framework on the subject like the CEDAW and the CRC requiring states to  eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and children, sexual violence in particular, too have been argued in support declaring the Exception as unconstitutional to the extent of its applicability to minor girls.

The case was reserved for judgment on 06.09.2017 by  the Supreme Court and the decision was delivered on 11.10.2017. The Supreme Court has read down Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC, holding that the same will not apply in the case of minors. Accordingly, the Exception will now read:“Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 18 years of age, is not rape.”

Read detailed coverage of the case and the arguments here.