|"Indian women hold a protest in New Delhi after the fatal gang rape of a student there in December." (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images, January 2, 2013)|
By Mark Magnier
The Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2013
"Vijendera Kumar has been sentenced to work and live in a cow shed for six months, feeding and bathing the animals and shoveling their dung 10 hours a day, seven days a week, after eloping at 17 with his girlfriend. That is in addition to a year the laborer spent in jail. 'They didn't even investigate my case,' Kumar said, surrounded by 300 lumbering beasts. 'Punishing young people for having consensual sex is unfair and backwards.' Among the most controversial provisions of anti-rape legislation passed Thursday in India's Parliament -- in hurried response to public anger over the fatal mid-December gang rape of a 23-year old physiotherapy student -- was a provision setting the age of sexual consent at 18. But even before the law passed, Indian law was flexible enough, as Kumar learned, to make consensual sex among teenagers risky, a paradox in a society where rape has often gone unpunished and marriages are still arranged among the young. Reformist lawmakers argued in recent days that the age of consent should be 16 to prevent wrongful arrests in a changing society, but conservatives prevailed, fearful that a lower age would encourage premarital sex and undermine Indian morality. It was fixed at 16 from 1983 until February, when an ordinance moved it higher. Critics say the higher age opens the way for further abuses because parents frequently file rape and kidnapping charges against boys who have consensual sex with their daughters, consigning the boys to jail and the girls into quickly arranged marriages to 'protect their honor.'