Sex at 12?

Very soon, if the Bill is passed, Indian children will be permitted to have sex. I read this report a few days ago and am still trying to figure out what it means.

Twelve-year-old children may soon be legally permitted to have non-penetrative sex with children their age. That’s one of the proposals of a draft Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill, 2010, which has been sent to states by the ministry of women and child development for their views.

The Bill also seeks to introduce a gradation in the age of consensual non-penetrative sex (12-14 years and 14-16 years) against the existing age of consent for sex which is 16 years. It proposes that in case of the age group 12-14, the maximum age gap between partners should be two years. For the 14-16 group, the maximum gap should be three years.

What precisely qualifies as non-penetrative sex? Let me be clear: Is it restricted to vaginal or anal as well, given that with the legalisation of homosexuality sodomy is not a crime anymore? What is the reason for the reduction of age limit? How will it protect against sexual offences, when there are different forms of molestation that do not require penetration? What about oral sex? And soft child porn, which already has a huge market?

How will the authorities ascertain that it is consensual? Not many 12-year-olds are hooked on the internet and playing video games will blow-up dolls and preening guys. Imagine the consequences of children being subjected to a thorough physical ‘check-up’ in the school urinal or washroom. Will it change the norms of ragging? We will not even venture into such occurrences in small towns and villages.

The gap of two and three years will ensure that on paper there is no exploitation or paedophilia. But, an adult who has taken advantage of a youngster can well put the blame on a classmate of the victim or a neighbour or friend.

While a senior official of the ministry of women and child development confirmed that the Bill has been sent to state governments, law minister Veerappa Moily said he was not aware of it.

He had better wake up and not relegate his involvement to saying it is not right. For, these people have some silly ideas:

Aparna Bhat, an SC lawyer who was part of a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights group that drafted the latest bill said the gradation of age down to 12 years was to decriminalize sexual exploration by two children.

Under the existing law, if two 12-year-olds get physical and if one child’s parent complains, the other can be pulled up by the Juvenile Justice Board.

Sexual exploration? If they have attained puberty and are exposed to quite a bit of the stuff available, then they might progress beyond superficial exploration. It is ridiculous to assume that on the one hand there is talk of consent and then there is a mention about one child’s parent complaining. This can have vast social ramifications. How many kids will go and tell their parents they have agreed to have a doctor-doctor session with the girl/guy in school or down the road? If there is some bodily evidence or harm, then the complaint would be a matter of the parent taking over and crying foul even if it has been consensual.

We have a law against child marriage, even though such marriages made it mandatory for the children to reach a certain age before they could live together. This Bill is a regressive move under the garb of giving children the right to consent.

The minimum age in the US is between 16 and 18; in the UK, it is 16 and in Spain 13. We are truly starting young and putting the children, the future, on the block.