Supreme Court to hear petitions for Criminalization of Marital Rape

Why in News? 

  • The Supreme Court is set to begin hearing a series of petitions seeking to criminalize marital rape from March 14.

What is Marital Rape?

  • Marital rape is the act of sexual intercourse with one’s spouse without her consent.
  • It is no different manifestation of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
  • It is often a chronic form of violence for the victim which takes place within abusive relations.

Status in India

  • Historically considered as right of the spouses, this is now widely classified as rape by many societies around the world.
  • In India, marital rape is not a criminal offense (as protected under IPC section 375).
  • India is one of fifty countries that have not yet outlawed marital rape.

Reasons for disapproval of this concept

  • The reluctance to define non-consensual sex between married couples as a crime and to prosecute has been attributed to:
  • Traditional views of marriage
  • Interpretations of religious doctrines
  • Ideas about male and female sexuality
  • Cultural expectations of subordination of a wife to her husband
  • It is widely held that a husband cannot be guilty of any sexual act committed by himself upon his lawful wife on account of their mutual matrimonial consent.

Why it must be a crime?

  • Associated physical violence: Rape by a spouse, partner or ex-partner is more often associated with physical violence and sexual mutilation.
  • Mental harassment: There is research showing that marital rape can be more emotionally and physically damaging than rape by a stranger.
  • Compulsive relationship: Marital rape may occur as part of an abusive relationship.
  • Revengeful nature: Furthermore, marital rape is rarely a one-time event, but a repeated if not frequent occurrence.
  • Obligation on women: In the case of marital rape the victim often has no choice but to continue living with their spouse.

Violation of fundamental rights

  • Marital rape is considered as a violation of FR guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian constitution which guarantees the equal protection of laws to all persons.
  • By depriving married women of an effective penal remedy against forced sexual intercourse, it violates their right to privacy and bodily integrity, aspects of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

Problems in prosecuting marital rape

  • Lack of awareness: A lack of public awareness, as well as reluctance or outright refusal of authorities to prosecute is common globally.
  • Gender norms: Additionally, gender norms that place wives in subservient positions to their husbands, make it more difficult for women to recognize such rape.
  • Acceptability of the concept: Another problem results from prevailing social norms that exist.

Present regulations in India

  • Indian Penal Code criminalizes rape in most cases, although marital rape is not illegal when the woman is over the age of 18.
  • However, until 2017, men married to those between 15 and 18 could not be convicted of rape.
  • Marital rape of an adult wife, who is unofficially or officially separated, is a criminal offence punishable by 2 to 7 year in prison; it is not dealt by normal rape laws which stipulate the possibility of a death sentence.
  • According to the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act (2005), other married women subject to such crime by their husband may demand for financial compensation.
  • They also have the right to continue to live in their marital household if they wish, or may approach shelter or aid homes.
  • However, marital rape is still not a criminal offense in this case and is only a misdemeanor.

Arguments against criminalization:

  • Subjective: It is very subjective and intricate to determine whether consent was acquired or not.
  • Prone to Misuse: If marital rape is criminalized without adequate safeguards it could be misused like the current dowry law by the dissatisfied wives to harass and torture their Husbands.
  • Burden on Judiciary: It will increase the burden of judiciary which otherwise may serve other more important causes.

Way forward:

  • Sanctioning marital rape is an acknowledgment of the woman’s right to self-determination (i.e., control) of all matters relating to her body.
  • In the absence of any concrete law, the judiciary always finds it difficult to decide the matter of domestic rape in the absence of solid evidence.
  • The main purpose of marriage is procreation, and sometimes divorce is sought on the ground of non-consummation of marriage.
  • Before giving a final interpretation, the judiciary must balance the rights and duties of both partners.
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