India’s Supreme Court Says NO! to rape in “child marriage”


Today, Wednesday, October 11, 2017, is International Day of the Girl Child, inaugurated by the United Nations in 2012. According to UN Women, “There are 1.1 billion girls in the world, and every one of them deserves equal opportunities for a better future.” In India today, the Supreme Court took a small step towards empowering girls when it declared that sex with a “child bride” is still rape. This decision overturned Exception 2 of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which declared that, although 18 is the age of consent, sex with a 15- to 18-year-old girl who is one’s wife is … just marriage. A better future begins with a better present.

There are 1.1 billion girls in the world. According to a recent report, around 12 million children in India were married before the age of 10. Of that 12 million, 7.84 million were girls; 65% of those in India married under the age of 10 are girls. Meanwhile, in 1978, India outlawed so-called “child marriages”, and did so again in 2006.  In many areas of the country, little to nothing has been done to enforce the ban.

Kriti Bharti is a children’s rights advocate and rehabilitation psychologist, based in Rajasthan, which in any given year has among the highest rates of so-called “child marriage” in the world. In 2011, Bharti established the Saarthi Trust, to help young girls figure out ways to avoid being married off. Quickly, she realized that education was not enough, and so she developed a new, additional strategy: child marriage annulment. Since 2011, Kriti Bharti has annulled and prevented hundreds of child marriages. In response to today’s court decision, Bharti says it’s a start but there’s more work to be done: “A minor girl being abused by her husband will tell her mother: ‘I’m feeling pain. [Sex] is uncomfortable. Please help me’. But mothers say: ‘It’s your destiny. You are a female so you have to go through this.’”

It’s not destiny, and it’s not marriage. Under the old law, if a 17-year-old boy and girl engaged in consensual sex, that was statutory rape, but if a 50-year-old man raped his 15-year-old “wife”, that was all fine. That is not marriage.

Women’s groups have announced that they will now focus on marital rape. Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, said, “This is a timely and positive step in the right direction for the discourse on marital rape and the subject of consent. I would urge the courts to take cognisance of the predicament of adult women who live in fear of rape or sexual violence at the hands of their spouse and in the security of her home.”

Today is International Day of the Girl Child. After decades of struggle, harm, and femicide, the Indian Supreme Court decided that raping girls is wrong. It is a small step forward … for millions and millions of girls. When millions and millions of girls step forward as one, the earth trembles.

 

(Photo Credit: Girls Not Brides)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.