EDITORIAL: The age of consent
THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) - The legislative committee of the Assembly proposed to amend the Penal Code. In it was a proposal to reduce the age of consent from 18 years to 16.
It sparked a debate, mostly online. The general feeling was that reducing the age of consent, the legal age considered to consent to sexual acts, would do more harm to girls. It would make children vulnerable to sexual predators, result in more teenage pregnancy problems and it was unfair to girls.
Then there were others who argued that the law surrounding the age of consent was harsh, digressing from the legislative purpose and that the Penal Code has been misused to punish people. All attention was on the debate yesterday. There were also others who are unaware of the implications of the debate.
The Assembly took a middle path. They decided to put the provision to the committee again before endorsing the amendment. It was the best way out given the pressure and also disagreement among members. There were others who were ready to pounce on the parliamentarians if the amendment was made.
The section on the age of consent had been a topic of discussion long before it was brought to the parliament. Those interpreting the provision felt the need to reduce the age. The national law review taskforce found practical problems in the provision, as many became criminals accidently under the law.
Young lovers and married couples suddenly became casualties of the law, no matter how well-intended the law was. A young mother with her baby strapped on her back came to Kuensel after her husband was sentenced to nine years. She wanted him out to help her raise the baby. There are 133 men serving sentence for similar “crime”, as reported in the Assembly.
All arguments make sense. This indicates that there are problems with our legislation. Laws are intended to bring order not cause hardship or ruin families and communities.
With time in our hand to relook into the provisions, it is wise to look at the consequences of the amendment. One thing is very clear. A rape is a rape whether the victim is a 16-year-old or a 40-year-old. Even if the age of consent is reduced to 15, we can define rape and consensual sex provided we also have the expertise including in the judiciary.
Similarly, sexual harassment or predation is a crime notwithstanding the age. Rape of a child, below the age of consent, is defined and is a different degree of crime. We should differentiate these things.
The proposal to add an age difference of three years, for consensual sex, in the provision of “Rape of a child above12 years of age” sounds the way out in preventing what is now perceived as miscarriage of justice- in penalising the boy even if the sex is consensual.
This also provides a solution to the age of consent disagreement. If this provision is amended, the age of consent need not be even changed. Perhaps, one discussion could be on the degree of crime and the punishment if the provision is being misused depending on the age of the perpetrator, boy or girl.
The debate is not about men against women. Some women parliamentarians are proposing to reduce the age of consent. They have seen the problem first hand in the villages, not on social media.