Anti-rape law: group of ministers lowers age of consent to 16 years

A group of ministers assigned to finalise tough new anti-rape laws has decided that the age of consent will be lowered from 18 to 16 years; there will be no punishment for false cases filed that allege crimes against women and sustained stalking will be made a non-bailable offence while the first offence of voyeurism could be a bailable offence.

The ministers, headed by P Chidambaram, were given 24 hours to decide these and other points of dispute between different government departments. The cabinet will review the bill tomorrow, which will then be discussed by leaders of all parties on Monday.

The government has been keen to amend laws with stricter punishment for a wider range of crimes against women since the shocking gang-rape of a medical student on a bus in Delhi. She died in December of the horrific injuries.

Last month, in a signal of its determination to improve safety for women, the government cleared a package of laws through an ordinance. The ordinance has to be approved by Parliament before its recess from March 22, failing which it would lapse on April 4.

The government has been criticised for the delays in managing consensus among its senior ministers. The cabinet was divided over whether the bill should refer to the gender-neutral term of "sexual assault" or "rape"-it has decided on the latter, stating that sodomy will be addressed in a separate bill.

Lowering the age of consent was also disputed, the child and women's welfare minister Krishna Tirath argued that it would encourage child abuse but others said that lowering the age from 18 to 16 will prevent false accusations of statutory rape in cases where teenagers have consensual sex. 

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