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Bombay High Court Calls For Distinction Between Age of Consent and Age of Marriage

The court's ruling emphasizes the need for a nuanced approach, highlighting that consensual sexual acts can occur outside the confines of marriage and calling for access to sexual and reproductive health services for minors rather than punitive measures.

Bombay High Court
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In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court emphasized the distinction between the age of consent and the age of marriage, highlighting that consensual sexual acts can occur outside the confines of marriage. The court expressed concerns about the punitive approach towards romantic relationships between minors, calling for a progressive stance that prioritizes access to sexual and reproductive health services, according to media reports.The judgment by Justice Bharati Dangre seeks to strike a balance between protecting children from sexual violence while enabling them to make informed choices and explore their boundaries without undue harm.

Acknowledging that sexual acts are not limited to marital settings, the court stressed the need for both society and the judicial system to recognize this crucial aspect. Justice Dangre highlighted that a penal approach to adolescents' sexuality has imposed barriers on their access to sexual and reproductive health services, hindering their ability to make informed decisions.

The court delivered these observations while acquitting a man who was convicted under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) in 2016 for engaging in a consensual relationship with a minor girl. The court found that the evidence established consensual sexual activity, rendering the previous conviction erroneous.

Drawing comparisons with age of consent laws in other countries, the court noted that India has one of the highest ages of consent globally. It further emphasized that the current provisions fail to account for societal realities, assuming that any sexual engagement with a minor constitutes rape. The court clarified that the intent of the POCSO Act was to address sexual abuse rather than criminalize consensual relationships among minors.

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