The government has agreed to the Parliamentary Standing Committee's recommendation against treating 16 years as the age of consent for girls and classifying sexual acts with children aged 16 to 18 years as consensual. Such acts, feels the committee, should be treated as offences.
Conceding to the unanimous recommendation of the panel that comprises Parliamentarians from all political parties, Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath said every person under the age of 18 would be treated as a child under a landmark bill introduced in Rajya Sabha in March to protect children from sexual assault and pornography.
The panel had rejected the government's stand that children now acquire sexual awareness at an early age and hence the age of consent should no longer be 18. The committee insisted that the law defines everyone up to the age of 18 years as a child and therefore the element of consent should not be put in the bill.
"By having the element of consent, the focus will be on the victims, leading to his or her re-victimisation. Children cannot be exposed to lengthy cross-examinations on issues of consent," the committee had said in its report tabled in Parliament in December.
Tirath also indicated that the government may agree with the committee's other recommendation to include domestic servants under the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill introduced last year.
The National Commission for Women is also insisting on inclusion of domestic servants under the law, while the government had earlier pleaded that it is difficult to define households as workplaces. The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council has also endorsed the parliamentary panel's insistence to cover domestic servants under the bill and so have the governments of Gujarat and Punjab.
The government tried to wriggle out during submissions before the Parliamentary panel that inclusion of the domestic servants will impinge upon the privacy of those engaging them. The panel rejected the argument as unfounded, pointing out that the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act enacted in 2005 had shown that legal scrutiny can be offered in homes.