Anti-rape Bill: Govt Does U-turn Dilutes Age of Consent, Stalking

NEW DELHI: Bowing to pressure from political parties, government on Monday retained the age of consent at 18 years and also watered down provisions on stalking and voyeurism in a bill which seeks stringent punishment for crimes against women.

The Cabinet meeting was held Monday evening following an all-party meeting in the morning, when the bill was discussed.

The age of consent was 16 years under the IPC before Government promulgated an ordinance on February 3 this year, raising it to 18 years.

But the proposed Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 had again lowered the age of consent  to 16 years. 

The sources said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) were among the parties which had reservations over the lowering the age of consent to 16.

The sources said that the age of consent was 16 years under the Indian Penal Code but was raised to 18 in the anti-rape ordinance promulgated by the government in February this year.

However, the government agreed to lower the age of consent to 16 under the proposed Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, following inter-ministerial consultations.

The sources said several political parties had suggested at the all-party meeting that the age of consent should be increased to 18 years since the minimum age of marriage for girls was also 18.

Other parties, however, said pre-marital sex was a reality and the age of consent should be 16 years.

It is learnt that on the issue of stalking and voyeurism, the government has agreed to water down some of the provisions such as not putting the entire onus on the accused to prove his innocence.

Most parties were of the view that the clauses about stalking and voyuerism be tweaked further to prevent misuse.

There should be sufficient safeguards against filing of false cases by political opponents and those wanting to settle scores, they said.

The Bill had provisions for safeguard against misuse. But the GoM to which it was referred to decided to drop it, maintaining the existing provisions in IPC have sufficient safeguards.

“Some political leaders said the law could be misused ahead of Lok Sabha elections. They wanted safeguards to be specified,” a Minister, who attended the meeting, said.

The Criminal Laws Ordinance, which made anti-rape laws more stringent, was promulgated by the President on February 3 in the wake of public outrage over the December 16 Delhi gangrape.

The Ordinance lapses on April 4 and the government and most parties are of the view that the Bill be passed with suitable changes before the Budget Session goes into recess on March 22.

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