By Rashmi Saksena
What a vulgar move, what an indecent proposal! How gross can the Union Cabinet get by recently passing a Bill that seeks to make it illegal for below 18 year olds to have sex. Before I raise the hackles of conservatives, concerned parents of adolescent girls and self- appointed guardians of morality let me hastily clarify why I recoil at this move by the Government. But before I go into it I would like to categorically state that I am not advocating or encouraging the young to be promiscuous or holding a brief for indulging in sexual escapades as soon as the study of birds and bees becomes more than a classroom text. What I am against, what I abhor, find shocking and unacceptable is a government clamp down on teenage sex through law and enforcement.
This is what the Bill seeks to do. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill (2011) does not make consensual sex between those in the 16-18 age group a crime. But this has now been dropped. In effect it means that teenage sex is a crime even if it is by mutual consent. This will have a fall- out on various fronts. First of all, it will give acceptance to moral policing by the government and its agencies. Are we going to allow this? If so why criticize the Moral Police which patrols the streets of Islamic nations ordering the donning of the veil, prohibiting interaction between men and women other than husband and wife, banning women from leaving husbands who torture and prostitute them and much more at the point of an AK-47? We have already seen a watered down shade of moral policing in our country. The police, various ‘senas’, ‘khaap panchayats, and righteous citizens have punished lovers in parks, stormed restaurants to evict couples stealing moments over a cup of coffee, banned jeans wear in colleges and ordered the killing of those who have dared to marry outside set societal norms.
When such a law comes into force it will unleash harassment of consenting youngsters by the police, organizations that like to decide for the rest of society what is moral and what is immoral and exist only to enforce their own standards and even by people out to settle a score with someone. What will stop a neighbour or a jealous friend from giving a tip-off to the police about lovers making it out or even put in a false complaint? There are all chances of the law being used by protectors of the law to line their pockets. Worse case possible scenario is blackmail. Fear of being exposed is known to make girls or even boys victims of blackmail. In the case of girls it has forced them into having sex with blackmailers. Concealed cameras and mobile phone recordings have led to suicides and extortion. There are few who want a public spectacle of private moments and fewer still who can brave their secrets being made the talk of the town. The situation will be all the more dangerous if there lurks the fear of the law for something natural.
Another ramification of the law if comes into existence will be on the health front. Not too long ago there were many deaths on the abortion table. Dark, dingy rooms away from the eyes of law were used to abort unwanted pregnancies. Often quacks went about the illegal operation for a fee leading to death and more often complications. Teenage abortions no longer need the services of a quack though secrecy remains a must. Termination of pregnancy is now allowed by qualified doctors with few questions asked. Will the law not see a return of unsafe abortions at the hands of charlatans promising not to go to the police for a hefty sum of money? The law may also prove to be a retrograde step when it comes to battling HIV. At a time in our society when homosexuals and lesbians are coming out of the closet making it easy to detect, manage and contain HIV infection, making consensual sex illegal for 16-18 year olds will send them right back into a secret world and close the door for urgently required medical assistance.
An important question that law makers must answer candidly before criminalizing teenage sex is ‘have laws put an end to sex trade, prostitution, child marriage, alcoholism or incest’? No. All that bans do is push these evils into dark shadows making them all the more sleazy and a money making machine for law enforcers. Red light areas continue to flourish and the residents continue to live as diseased exploited women with little hope in a society totally insensitive to their hell. Even dry States have homes with well stocked bars and hooch tragedies.
Obviously drafting and trying to enforce a law is not a solution to social problems. But should consensual sex or for that matter premarital sex be bracketed with social evils? For those who have a moral take on the issue it is pertinent to point out that moral values cannot and should not be thrust down a child’s throat. A sense of right and wrong has to be inculcated by parents at home by word and most importantly by deed. The best way to lead is by example. Above all if parents force a youngster to do something they hold right without comprehending it, rest assured they will be defied behind their back. The solution is not a clamp down. Instead it is about equipping a child with the ability to take sound informed decisions based on moral values impressed on them by parents and guardians over their formative years. This is where the most operative and important word ‘consent’ comes in.
As far as the Government goes it has to realize that laws have to be in keeping with the times. Studies have shown that teenage sex is commonplace as the young mature quicker than the generation before. The Government’s concern about finding ways to be able to protect children from sexual exploitation is worth appreciating. But it is imperative for law makers to understand and appreciate the difference between consensual sex and rape, force and violence. Clamping down on sex between consenting teens is not the way out. The down side of such a law is far heavier than the good it may bring. (IPA Service)