A court in Delhi sparked outrage this week when it handed down a controversial ruling in a sexual offense case involving a 15-year-old girl.
In a potentially precedent-setting decision, the judge ruled that consensual sex with minors in India is not punishable under the 2012 Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses Act, which defines individuals under 18 as children.
As Dawn.com notes, the court hedged its opinion in its decision to acquit a 22-year-old man, who was accused of kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl. (The pair later married.)
According to the Times News Network, the judge rejected the argument that the law prohibits minors from any type of sexual relations, holding that the interpretation is too broad.
"I am afraid if that interpretation is allowed, it would mean that the human body of every individual under 18 years is the property of the state and no individual below 18 years can be allowed to have pleasures associated with one's body," additional sessions judge Dharmesh Sharma told the court.
As critics pointed out to Business Standard, the court's interpretation of the law could have far-reaching effects. For example, the ruling may open the door for increased negotiations between victims and defendants or encourage spouses to abandon their young brides shortly after marriage.
For his part, Sharma asserted that state authorities have a responsibility to spread awareness about sexual relationships at an early age. While the age of consent in India currently stands at 18, parents may grant minors permission to marry.
Earlier this year, India's Supreme Court addressed the difference between consensual sex and rape after hearing a case in which a man, who had consensual sex with a girl, was charged with rape since he failed to marry her. The court ruled that the distinction lied in the man's intentions.
"[I]n a case like this, the court must very carefully examine whether the accused had actually wanted to marry the victim, or had mala fide motives, and had made a false promise to this effect only to satisfy his lust," the court said in its decision, according to NDTV. "There is a distinction between the mere breach of a promise, and not fulfilling a false promise."