New Delhi, Oct 11: The Supreme Court on Wednesday pronounced that intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife below the age of 18 years will be considered as rape. The verdict came on a plea filed by an NGO, Independent Thought, challenging the exception to the rape law that permits intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife, not below 15 years, even as the age of consent was 18 years. The huge verdict comes on a day when the world is observing International Day of Girl Child.

The court ruled that Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code is arbitrary and violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 and not in consonance with the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The top court also urged the Central and State governments to take steps to prevent child marriages.

A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur had on September 6 reserved its order on the plea. The verdict comes as a setback to Centre, which had justified the exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The court had questioned the Centre as to how Parliament could create an exception in law declaring that intercourse or a sexual act by a man with his wife, aged between 15 and 18 years, is not rape, when the age of consent is 18.

The apex court had said that it did not want to go into the aspect of marital rape, but questioned that when the age of consent was 18 years for “all purposes”, why was such an exception made in the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Section 375 of the IPC has an exception clause that says intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife, not below 15 years, is not rape.

What Centre had said

Centre in its response to the apex court had said that if this exception under the IPC goes, then it would open up the arena of marital rape, which does not exist in India.

The Centre’s counsel had referred to the concept of age of puberty among Muslims for the purpose of marriage and said these aspects have been deliberated upon by Parliament before arriving at a conclusion.

What petitioner had said

The petitioner had sought a direction to declare the exception 2 to Section 375 of IPC as “violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution to the extent that it permits intrusive sexual intercourse with a girl child aged between 15 and 18 years, only on the ground that she has been married.”

The petitioner had argued that the exception to section 375 of the IPC defeated the purpose of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and was also in violation of international conventions to which India was a signatory. They had also referred to the provisions of the POCSO Act and said these were contrary to the IPC exception.

The petitioner had also submitted that pregnancy at a young age can cause adverse health effects on the girl and the child.