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‘Minor’ label till 18 years

New Delhi, Aug. 28: A minor will be defined as someone under the age of 18 if the Centre’s move to end discrepancies in a range of laws bears fruit.

The ministry of women and children has petitioned the law ministry to raise the age of a minor from 14 to 18 — in line with the definition under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“India is a signatory to the UN convention,” an official said. “The anomalies in legislation such as the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) as well as the special acts for women and children constitute a major problem for implementation of various laws,” said Renuka Chowdhury, minister of women and children.

For instance, the Child Labour Act prohibits employment of children under 14 in hazardous occupations and now also in households and eateries. However, the Plantation Labour Act allows children to work if they have a fitness certificate.

Under the IPC, a child kidnapped for prostitution is considered a minor if she is under 10. The rape of a child under 16 is considered rape of a minor.

“The IPC considers sex with a girl below 16 years of age with or without her consent as rape, ignoring girls between the ages of 16 and 18 years,” the ministry of women and children said.

The description of a minor in these laws comes into direct conflict with the definition in special acts for women and children — all of which put 18 as the cut-off age for a minor.

Under the IPC, sex with a wife under 15 years of age is considered rape. But the Child Marriage Restraint Act declares marriages under 18 as void. The Juvenile Delinquent Act, Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act and Child Marriage Act all define a child as one who is yet to reach 18.

Activists and the ministry of women and children say discrepancies in laws are allowing offenders to escape with light punishment.

“A person raping a 17-year-old can get away with less punishment because the IPC defines a child as under 16,” said an official.

“Similarly, delinquents above 16 booked under the IPC can be sent to a prison for adults because of the lower age definition of a minor in the IPC,” she added.

“Studies all over the world have shown that persons under 18 do not have mature emotional and physical development,” the ministry said.

It has written to the home ministry, the nodal agency for the IPC and CrPC, to take another look at the laws where the definition of a minor is hurting the child.

“We have not heard from them as yet,” said an official.

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