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India Supreme Court rules sex with minor bride is rape

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of India [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Wednesday that sexual intercourse with a girl who is under the age of 18 is rape regardless of the marital status of the girl.

Section 375 of the India Penal Code specifies that intercourse with someone under the age of 18 is considered rape. However, Exception 2 to section states that a husband can have intercourse with a girl between the ages of 15 and 18 if he is married to the girl, whether intercourse is consensual or not.

The court noted that there are an estimated 23 million child brides in India. Although India's laws require that the minimum age to be married is 18, other laws regarding how child brides and grooms can nullify marriages has in some ways legitimized these marriages in the country.

The court found that several laws passed in recent years with the intent of protecting women and children from violence and sexual offenses directly conflict with Exception 2 of Section 375. The court declared that "the Government of India must undertake all appropriate measures to prevent the sexual exploitation or sexual abuse of any person below 18 years of age since such sexual exploitation or sexual abuse is a heinous crime."

After ruling that Exception 2 was unconstitutional, the Court required that Exception 2 be now meaningfully read as "Sexual intercourse or sexual actsby a man with his own wife, the wife no being under the age of eighteen years of age, is not rape."The court explained that "we have not at all dealt with the larger issue of marital rape of adult women since that issue was not raised before us by the petitioner or the intervener."

In February 2013, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had criticized [JURIST report] changes India made to their criminal laws stating that the changes did not do enough to "criminalize the full range of sexual violence."

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