India Supreme Court Rules Sex in Child Marriage Rape

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On today’s Day of the Girl, the Indian Supreme Court has inched slowly towards the modern age by ruling sex with child brides as rape. Activists are hailing this as a necessary step towards curbing the tradition of child marriage in the country.

“The exception in rape law under the IPC is contrary to other statutes, violates bodily integrity of girl child,” the court said.

India currently has the largest rate of child marriage in the world. In the years between 2008-2014, as much as 47 percent of girls married before they turned 18.

Previously a legal clause had allowed sex with an underage spouse as long as she was over the age of 15. The legal age of consent in India is 18. And though marital rape is still not considered a legal offense in India, some are applauding the move by the Supreme Court, saying it’s a necessary step towards women’s equality.

“We strongly feel that this decision of the Supreme Court will work in impacting child marriages, also,” Jagmati Sangwan, activist and member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), told Al Jazeera.

Despite the rosy outlook, there are two major concerns: the short statute of limitations, which requires victims report their husbands within a year of the crime, and the inability to enforce the law. India has attempted in the past to uproot the tradition of child marriage by banning it. Ultimately it proved impossible within many of India’s deeply cultural rural areas and without the resources to bring every perpetrator to justice.

“Courts and police cannot monitor people’s bedrooms and a minor girl who is already married, almost always with the consent of her parents, will not usually have the courage to go to the police or court and file a case against her husband,” Geeta Pandey told the BBC.

It remains to be seen if this new ruling will affect the tradition of child marriage as it exists in India, but we hope it will and that it will spark new changes to be made in the country’s marital rape laws as a whole.

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