New Delhi, Oct. 11 (PTI): The Supreme Court today referred to the European Commission of Human Rights' observation on sexual assault by relatives that "a rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim", while criminalising sexual intercourse with a wife below 18 years.
A bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, however, made it clear that it was not dealing with the question of marital rape of women above the age of 18 years.
The top court also referred to certain observations of the Justice J.S. Verma panel, which had suggested amendments to criminal laws after the December 16, 2012, gang rape and murder of a paramedic in Delhi.
Justice Verma had said that even the UK had abandoned the legal principle that "a wife is no more than a subservient chattel of her husband".
"While we are not concerned with the general question of marital rape of an adult woman but only with marital rape of a girl child between 15 and 18 years of age in the context of Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC, it is worth noting... the view expressed by the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law chaired by Justice J.S. Verma," the court said in its 127-page verdict. The exception, which the Supreme Court altered today, used to grant immunity to husbands from the charge of rape.
"In... the report it was stated that the outdated notion that a wife is no more than a subservient chattel of her husband has since been given up in the United Kingdom. Reference was also made to a decision of the European Commission of Human Rights that endorsed the conclusion that 'a rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim'," the Supreme Court said.
It referred to various foreign judgments and said the immunity granted to husbands in marital rape cases had "now been withdrawn in most major jurisdictions".
The Supreme Court said: "In England and Wales, the House of Lords held in 1991 that the status of married women had changed beyond all recognition.... Most importantly, Lord Keith, speaking for the Court, declared: 'Marriage is in modern times regarded as a partnership of equals, and no longer one in which the wife must be the subservient chattel of the husband.'"
Following the Supreme Court ruling, Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane said deliveries by underage girls at government hospitals would be monitored.
"This is a decision which needs to be welcomed. We have come across several cases of delivery in government-run hospitals where the mother is as young as 16 years," Rane said.