A new Bill in India seeking to criminalise premarital sex will cause immense distress in teenagers.
Now, a new Bill in India’s upper house in Parliament or Rajya Sabha seeks to criminalise teenage sex. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill (2011) allowed for consensual sex among those between 16 and 18. But this caveat has been dropped from the Bill in its amended version. This means that the teens in this group will be punished if they are caught having sex.
The Bill in the present form has understandably caused a furore among child rights activists, feminists and the medical fraternity. They believe that this will lead to police harassment of young couples and, more importantly, risky sexual behaviour and unwanted pregnancies.
Already modern India with its puritanism has been strongly averse to sex before marriage, and if the new Bill turns into an Act, it will cause immense distress in teenagers. It may be as good as asking them to wear chastity belts.
In times when the hormones begin to play up at a relatively young age – thanks to the information blast – Madhu Kishwar, who works for women’s rights, quips that “this is sheer stupidity and goes against a child’s welfare”.
The Bill, which was okayed by the Cabinet some days ago, will probably encourage teens to become secretive and distorted in their outlook. And, if an under-18 boy and girl want to have sex, no law is going to stop them. They would go ahead and get physically intimate.
Strangely, there is a deep divide between India’s law-makers and some of the tribals, who accept pre-marital sex without attaching any stigma to it. Among most of the tribals, the man whom the woman names as her impregnator has to accept the responsibility of fatherhood. Some tribals in central India socially sanction sex before marriage through the institution of “ghotul”. Boys and girls of a village are encouraged to live in a commune, taught life skills and are initiated into sex.
Travel away from these tribal hamlets into the cities and towns of so-called liberal and educated people, you will be confronted with restrictive social values. Which do not even allow sex education in schools; the need for it has been a raging debate for years, with parents staunchly opposing the very idea. They naively believe that such classroom studies will get their sons and daughters into a sexual high, little realising that at the click of a mouse, a whole world opens up. A world where nothing is veiled and where information can be had for the asking.
Already burdened with several constraints, the young are often harassed and humiliated. The new Bill is not going to make things easier.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at[email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.