New Delhi: The Cabinet on Monday decided to raise the age of consensual sex back to 18 years, after various political parties spoke against the move of reducing it. It has also diluted the clauses on voyeurism and stalking in the Bill, which is now expected to be tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
India was on the boil for weeks post the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old girl in New Delhi on December 16. It took less than 30 days for Justice Verma Committee to send in its own recommendations on making anti-rape laws stringent. But once the matter reached Parliament, the inevitable delays set in.
It took two rounds of all-party meeting on Monday for the political class to move beyond its differences. At heart of the debate was the age of consensual sex and whether it should be 16 years or 18 years.
The government has now, however, decided to shift back the age of consent of sex to 18 years, instead of the proposed 16 years. The decision was taken in the light of strong opposition expressed by parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist). UPA ally Samajwadi Party continued to adhere to its position of calling the Bill an "anti-woman" Bill.
Meanwhile, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur said, "We don't want the age to be reduced if we aren't reducing the age of marriage. This will lead to increase in teenage pregnancies and illegal abortions".
The Cabinet has also decided to dilute the voyeurism clause, which means the earlier recommendation of making stalking and spying on a woman as non bailable crimes has been dropped. Moreover, sex between a male, above the age of 18 years, and a girl, below the age of 16 years, will be construed as rape.
However, if a male, under the age of 18 years, has sexual encounter with a girl, below the age of 16 years, he will be charged with one time probation and the act will not be called statutory rape.
"Without diluting the Bill, we have made certain changes. We are simply ensuring that maximum political views are being elicited," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.
The Bill will now be taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha before the recess begins on March 22. In an election year, the government wants to move as fast as possible on this law, hoping Tuesday will be the last day of any further discussion on the matter.