The 2012 Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POSCO) in India is intended to safeguard children from sexual abuse. Among its key tenets are ensuring that children are not re-traumatized or re-victimized while navigating the criminal justice system, but misapplication of the law is causing unintended consequences and putting girls at risk of forced child marriage.
The age of consent in India is 18 years old, meaning that all adolescent sexual activity–even if consensual–is technically illegal under POSCO. Open Democracy reports that since the passage of this law:
“There have been cases of parents of adolescent girls who disapprove of their romantic relationships using POSCO against their boyfriends. They can register a kidnapping case and make a claim of penetrative sexual assault which carries a mandatory minimum seven-year sentence. The girl may then be forced into marriage with a man considered suitable by the family.”
Although India has laws against child marriage, about 50% of Indian women between 20-24 years old were married before they turned 18. Marital rape is not criminal in India if the bride is 15 or older.