Human rights watchdogs, concerned citizens, and horny teens are all equally concerned with the possible implementation of an Indian law that would criminalize sexual contact with a person under the age of 18 — with no exception made for the age of the other party or the consensual nature of the act. This means that soon, sex between two teens in India could result in Romeo writing letters to Juliet from juvie.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Bill's intentions are good, according to the Times, and according to the unassailable cause implied by its name. Over 50% of children in India have faced some form of sexual abuse. But because the bill is meant to address such a pressing concern and because the bill was rushed to parliament, some good old fashioned governmental sloppiness has resulted in a bill that's written in such a way that would allow what advocates are calling abusive misapplication.
The bill explicitly lists things that would be verboten in all but two states in India, ranging all the way to sexual harassment of a child to penetrative sexual assault. An early version of the proposed law contained a provision that took the underage party's consent or lack thereof if the "child" in the scenario was between 16 and 18, but eager-to-be-hardass committee members struck that provision from a final version of the bill.
The result? A law that has passed through Parliament and will likely be signed in the coming weeks that effectively criminalizes all sex with anyone under 18, regardless of whether or not the underage party consented and the age of the the parties involved. And consensual boyfriend-girlfriend sex isn't the only type of doing it that could be criminalized — according to the Times, half of women in India are married before they reach their 18th birthday, which may cause some awkward bedtime moments between married couples. Minimum sentencing for anyone caught having sexual contact with a minor? Three years in the clink, with the potential to be sentenced to life in prison.
Proponents of the blanket approach say that writing in exceptions to the "no doing it with people under 18" law assures that all children will be protected from sexual harm until they're at an age that's internationally recognized as physically and mentally mature enough to handle sexual activity (to be fair, most people aren't mature enough to handle the emotional aspects of sex until they're, like, 26). And juveniles India wouldn't be sent to prison if they were caught consensually cavorting; they'd be given counseling and sent to a juvenile center instead. But Human Rights Watch doesn't agree that the law avoids harming children it's supposed to be protecting. A spokesperson for the organization gave what is probably the most hilariously worded reaction possible to a ham-fisted law: "There needs to be more thinking."
Not only does there need to be more thinking, there needs to be a more enlightened view of sex — who wants it, and who has it — and how teenage behavior problems should be addressed, not only in India, but stateside as well.
As anyone who used to be a teenager knows, human beings between the ages of 16 and 18 are not excellent at considering the physical or legal ramifications of their pleasure-seeking behavior; if they were, paint huffing, stage diving, and Skrillex wouldn't exist. And refusing to acknowledge that human nature exists, we end up punishing behaviors in a way that's disproportionate to the harm the behaviors cause to society. Laws in the US that punish boys who have consensual sex with their girlfriends who are below the age of consent have resulted in long legal battles and a lifetime of stigma for some men who, at the end of the day, were just being dumb kids with other dumb kids. This isn't to say that children shouldn't be protected or that it's impossible for an older teen to take advantage of a younger teen or that underage kids should be sent off in the world to get their fuck on, just that the entire process needs more nuance, more acknowledgement of a reality that doesn't resemble the idealized vision of what people think teens should be. It needs more thinking.
Further, people who believe that girls must be tricked into sex (which they absolutely don't want on their own) and that boys are unflappable horndogs with no respect for women's boundaries must either be A- women who have only had sex with jerks who don't know about the clitoris or B- men who have only had sex with women who hated it because they don't know about the clitoris or C- people who learned everything they know about people from talking to other people in groups A or B. All three scenarios are disconcertingly grim, no matter where they occur.