Should the age criteria for consensual sex be lowered in India? | In Focus podcast

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This November marks 10 years of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, or the POCSO Act as it is commonly known. POCSO has been in the news recently - with two High Courts in India, the Karnataka High Court and the Delhi High Court dealing with cases of teenagers, under the age of 18, in consensual relationships. The Karnataka High Court said the Law Commission of India may have to rethink the age criteria in law for consensual sex to address the issue mutual love affairs amongst minor girls and boys, who are aged above 16 but are below 18.

The POCSO Act defines a child as any person under the age of 18, and a child cannot consent.

This is not the first time the debate about age of consent has come up -- in fact, the POCSO Bill when it was originally introduced had a clause recognising consent of minors between the ages of 16 and 18, but this was then removed after the Bill went through a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Studies have shown that a number of cases filed under the law are by parents, against boys who have eloped with their daughters - leading to many ramifications for the teenage couples, from girls being put into government homes, to boys being held in custody, to families having to go through the process of a case and trial, which can take months, or sometimes years.

But while there are calls to take into consideration the consent of older teenagers, there are concerns too - how can young people be safeguarded from exploitative or unsafe relationships? Will lowering the age of consent be used to justify cases of child marriage or trafficking? How can evolving consent in adolescents be assessed appropriately? Does an act as broad as POCSO need a refocused look?

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