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    Newly married Indian man Rohit Aggarwal (R) is watched by relatives and street vendors as he leads his wife Shally Aggarwal (2R) to their home after visiting a temple in New Delhi on February 16, 2017

    Bonds of Matrimony: Sex With Underage Wives Could Land Indian Men in Jail

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    India’s apex court has passed a historic judgment that seeks to resolve an anomaly in the rape laws that distinguished between the age of consent and the legal age of marriage.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — In a country where thousands of unreported child marriages occur every year, the Supreme Court of India has passed a historic judgment which makes men liable for rape charges if they are found guilty of having sexual intercourse with their wives if the women are under 18.

    This judgment ends the disparity in Indian law which had an exception clause in Section 375 (applied in rape cases) which allows a man to have sex with his wife as long as she's 15 or older. The verdict also complies with a recent law formulated by the Narendra Modi government which states that anyone younger than 18 is a ‘child’.

    The judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court following a petition filed by an NGO, Independent Thought, which challenged the exception to the rules of rape law. The petitioner argued that the exception was a violation of the fundamental right to life and equality of minors.

    "We do not want to go into the aspect of marital rape. It is for the Parliament to see if they want to increase or decrease the age of consent. But once Parliament has decided to fix 18 years as the age of consent, can they carve out an exception like this?", Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta asked the central government during the hearings.

    “The Supreme Court Judgment is a laudable step but in the absence of an absolute ban on child marriage, I do not think this will make a larger impact in the society. There is also some concern that the law will be misused by women, as anyone can incite her to file a case against her husband,” Aishwarya Bhati, senior advocate of the Supreme Court, said.

    Child marriage remains widespread in India, although the proportion of child marriages as a proportion of total marriages has fallen, from 47 percent in 2006 to 27 percent in 2016. According to Unicef India, the practice, which enjoys the consent of elders and social leaders in most Indian villages, remains popular in rural areas, where the rate is still 48 percent. Social customs, tradition, illiteracy, poverty, the low status of women in society, and a lack of awareness about the consequences of child marriage are some of the primary reasons women marry young.

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