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However, the Supreme Court chose not to wade into the larger issue of marital rape in this judgement, which just goes on to highlight that the Indian woman's fight for her dignity and for dominion over her body has been a long and tortuous one, and, by the looks of it, is not set to end anytime soon.

The court also noted in 1940, the age of consent (for sex) was 16 years, the age of marriage was 15 years and the age under the exception was also 15 years.

The exception had remained an anomaly because Section 375 itself mandated that sex with a girl below 18 years of age, with or without her consent, was statutory rape. "Otherwise, the children from such marriages will suffer", the court said while announcing its verdict.

It ruled that police should in future prosecute cases of marital rape if the victim was under 18 and registered a complaint within a year of the incident.

The result of the amendment was that there was now a category of women between the ages of 15 to 18 who could not enjoy the protection of law if they were forced into sexual intercourse, without their consent, by their husbands. While this view has been taken in context of marital rape of girl child, the Petitioners before the Delhi High Court seeking criminalization of marital rape could use this to their advantage. Additionally, it was noted that the exception under the IPC was both retrograde, and out of tune with other pro-child legislations such as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

What this judgment has achieved is that it has come to the rescue of girl child or child brides who would have been otherwise degraded, humiliated and destroyed.

One of the petitioners had argued that the exception to section 375 of the IPC was defeating the goal of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and was also in violation of global conventions to which India was a signatory.

Observing that the distinction between rape under Section 375, IPC and aggravated penetrative sexual assault under the POCSO Act, was merely notional and linguistic and not real, the Supreme Court held that the POCSO Act would override based on Section 42-A. However, the criminal law applies across religions and so does POCSO. Child marriage has been declared illegal and remains a punishable offence, but in many rural parts of India, it is still practised.

Marital rape is not a crime in India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government believes criminalising marital rape could destabilise marriages and make men vulnerable to harassment by their wives.

"This is life, I did the same", her mother said.

India's supreme court has marked a big step forward in the fight against the sexual exploitation of minors. "What we now need is to raise the age of young girls to 18 for a comprehensive Right to Education", he added.


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