Minors unable to consent to sexual relations


In late February, a 17-year-old singer accused actor Purna Bikram Shah, better known as Paul Shah, 32, of raping her with a false promise of marriage. Earlier this month, the Nawalparasi (East) District Court sentenced Shah to two years and six months in prison and a fine of 25,000 rupees.

Shah was not convicted of rape but of assaulting a minor.

On the same day Shah’s sentencing was announced in Nawalparasi, a rape complaint was filed in Kathmandu against another popular figure, Sandeep Lamichhane, the 22-year-old captain of the Nepal men’s national cricket team.

Like Shah, Lamichhane was accused by a 17-year-old girl, who is legally a child.

In the aftermath of the charges, there were protests in favor of the accused, with many arguing that the age of consent should be lowered.

Lowering the age of consent, however, will not lead to a reduction in cases of sexual violence, said experts with whom the Post spoke. This will only reduce the number of crimes reported, leaving children more vulnerable to abuse while protecting perpetrators, they said.

“The men in power mostly abused women and young girls. Lowering the age of consent will make it easier for men to access minors and let them off the hook, maintaining the status quo,” said Pooja Pant, women’s rights activist and media artist. “It will also set impossible standards for victims to access justice.”

The age of consent is the minimum legal age for young people to be able to make informed choices and participate in activities, including sexual behavior.

According to the National Penal (Code) Act 2017, consent can be expressed verbally or in writing or by gesture or behavior. It states that the age of consent in Nepal is 18 years and that consent given by a person under ‘mistake of fact or fear or threat of any type of injury or harm, or in a state of mind or undue influence is invalid’.

While consent is often called a “touchy” topic, experts argue otherwise. Narratives of consent as something “complicated” are prevalent to maintain unequal power dynamics in relationships and eliminate sexual agency from partners, they say.

“This consent is tricky, it’s a bad idea,” said Sameera Singh, a sexual and mental wellness advocate. “There is nothing difficult to ask. People say it’s a gray area, that having a proper conversation while engaging in sexual activity is awkward. But this discomfort or disturbance prevents so much trauma and harm.

Singh added, “Most of the men who spread these consent narratives as a gray area are keeping the power dynamics in place by suppressing women’s agency.”

Consent, according to experts, can be understood with the acronym FIRES – “Freely given, Informed, Reversible, Enthusiastic and Specific”.

No one factor should influence an individual’s consent decision. For example, the individual should not be under the influence of alcohol or feel pressured because the partner is wealthy, older or influential. People need to know what ‘touching’ means in context, whether it means touching the arms and shoulders or the genitals.

The consent is reversible and can be revoked at any time, even if both partners are naked. In addition, the consent must be enthusiastic, expressed as follows: “Yes, I want to have sex. I want to hold them. I want to do things.

However, children cannot freely give their consent because they are structurally disadvantaged within the social hierarchy. In an adult-child relationship, unequal power structures compel children to engage in sexual activity.

Children are instead vulnerable to various risks and harms, including abuse, grooming and sexual violence, where consent cannot be given freely, according to gender experts.

“The fact that an individual is a known personality already lays the groundwork for sexual coercion. And when these men are older and privileged, there are unequal power dynamics, creating subtle pressures against children and young girls – who can’t say “no” – to engage in sexual activity. said Madhurima Bhadra, senior lecturer in gender studies. at Tribhuvan University. “Consent is therefore never freely given, nor informed, nor specific, nor enthusiastic.”

The age of consent is thus codified to protect children with developing brains from making irrational decisions, according to gender experts.

Biologically, the adolescent brain is not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex — an important part of the brain in terms of social interactions that affects emotion regulation, controls impulsive behaviors, and assesses risks and long-term plans — develops well into your late 20s.

“Young children are still developing to a certain point and they don’t have the ability to make decisions. They are rebellious and can make rash decisions without thinking about the consequences,” said Pant, the women’s rights activist who is the executive director of Voices of Women Media, a feminist media house.

According to WOREC (Women Rehabilitation Center), the majority of reported rape cases involve minors. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, approximately 45% of reported rape cases involved girls under the age of 16 and 37% aged 17-25.

However, many cases of rape of minors go unreported, due to various factors such as lack of awareness of what constitutes child sexual abuse, fear of blaming the victim, inaccessibility of the justice system, etc

Moreover, the argument for lowering the age of consent completely negates the existence of marital rape or domestic violence, experts say. To think that by lowering the age of consent, rape will not happen is a “deeply rooted patriarchal and misogynistic mindset”, they say.

Experts say the burden of not engaging with a minor falls on famous national figures like Shah and Lamichhane. They are responsible for knowing and acting in accordance with the laws of the country they represent.

“Yes, the girl might have wanted to have a relationship with Paul Shah, but as an adult, that doesn’t absolve Shah of his responsibility to be aware of the laws of the land,” says Bhadra, a practitioner. public health with a focus on sexual and reproductive health.

“Even in the case of Lamichhane, he must at all times know and act in accordance with the law.”

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