Facing strong opposition from various political parties on lowering the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years, the government has agreed to stick to 18 years and also water down provisions on stalking and voyeurism in a bill which seeks to hand down stringent punishment for crimes against women.
The age of consent for sex was 16 years under the Indian Penal Code before the government promulgated an ordinance on February 3 this year, raising it to 18 years. But the proposed Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 had again lowered the age of consent for sex to 16 years. Several political parties had demanded that the age be increased to 18 years.
Sources said agreeing to the demands, the age of consent will now be 18 years with certain riders. The Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party and some others demanded that the age of consent for sex be 18 years and not 16 as envisaged in the ordinance. They contended that since the age of marriage is 18 years, the age of consent should be the same.
Other parties, however, said pre-marital sex is a reality and the age of consent should be 16 years. It is learnt that on the issue of stalking and voyeurism, the government has agreed to water down some of the provisions such as not putting the entire onus on the accused to prove his innocence.
Most parties were of the view that the clauses about stalking and voyuerism be tweaked further to prevent misuse. There should be sufficient safeguards against filing of false cases by political opponents and those wanting to settle scores, they said.
The bill had provisions for safeguard against misuse. But the Group of Ministers to which it was referred to decided to drop it, maintaining the existing provisions in the IPC have sufficient safeguards.
"Some political leaders said the law could be misused ahead of Lok Sabha elections. They wanted safeguards to be specified," a Minister, who attended the meeting, said.
The criminal laws ordinance, which made the anti-rape laws more stringent, was promulgated by the President on February 3 in the wake of public outrage over the December 16 Delhi gang rape.
The ordinance lapses on April 4 and the government and most parties are of the view that the bill be passed with suitable changes before the Budget session goes into recess on March 22.