India high court says sex with underage bride qualifies as rape

By Ed Adamczyk  |  Oct. 11, 2017 at 9:20 AM
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Oct. 11 (UPI) -- India's Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a husband having marital relations with a bride under the age of 18 constitutes rape -- eliminating a legal exemption in Indian law.

Previously, marital sex involving a bride between the ages of 15 and 18 did not qualify as rape, even though the country's age of consent is 18.

The ruling to change the Indian Penal Code now allows a wife under 18 to charge her husband with rape within a year of the offense.

The court also expressed concern over the practice of child marriage, saying laws regarding social justice are not implemented in the spirit with which they were enacted.

The petition to amend the law, by the non-governmental organization Independent Thought, challenged the exception in the law that said marital sex with brides between 15 and 18 didn't constitute rape. The group said it contradicted the legal age of consent.

The high court also requested that federal and state governments take steps to prohibit child marriage.

India's National Family Health survey noted that 46 percent of married women in India between 18 and 29 were wed before the age of 18.

India's government has called the issue of its 23 million teenage brides "an obstacle to nearly every developmental goal: eradicating poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; protecting children's lives; and improving women's health."

The court's verdict was commended by women's rights activists, but experts say it could be difficult to enforce. An underage bride in India is usually married with the consent of her parents, and filing rape charges against a husband is an unlikely scenario.

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