Activists urge India to amend law against gays

September 4th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) Over 120 rights groups, including those championing gay rights, have written an open letter to India’s law ministry saying consenting sexual acts between adults should not be treated as a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).They wrote this while clarifying they weren’t asking for a repeal of the provisions of the IPC that classify sex between two men as a criminal offence.

“We write this letter to clarify some common misconceptions and to humbly urge you to view the matter more favourably please,” said the letter signed by over 120 child rights groups.

Under Section 377 of the IPC, sex between two men is considered ‘unnatural’. The Delhi High Court is hearing a petition by the Naz Foundation, an NGO that has challenged arrests under the act.

Pointing out that the plea does not ask for its repeal, the NGOs and activists said: “It seeks to read down the section in order to remove consenting sexual acts between adults from its purview.”

It would still be possible to prosecute instances of child sexual abuse under an amended section, they said.

Though the health ministry had supported their call to remove the law and Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has repeatedly over the past months said the law “must go”, the home ministry does not seem to be in favour of it.

Considering the matter to be “serious”, the court had asked the two ministries to sit together and sort out the matter. The case will be heard next Sep 18.

Contrary to the view of the law ministry, the activists said in their letter that this section was not an effective deterrent against paedophiles.

“Section 377 is not an effective deterrent against paedophiles. It was not intended to prosecute child sexual abuse, but has served as a partial means to do so in the absence of a specific law on the subject,” they said.

In a statement issued here, the groups said while the section has been used to deal with child sexual abuse that involve non penile-vaginal penetration, it cannot be used to respond to other rampant forms of abuse.

Unfortunately, such grave abuses in the case of girls can only be prosecuted under Section 354 IPC (a lesser offence on outraging modesty) that has much lower punishment or at most, under section 319 or 320 (for simple or grievous hurt), both very inadequate for addressing the offence, it said.

They expressed concern about the absence of a comprehensive law on child sexual abuse.

“For child sexual abuse to be addressed in all its dimensions, for children to be protected and for child molesters and paedophiles to be dealt with appropriately, there is an urgent need for a new law,” they added.

The NGOs said the legislative scheme of Sections 377, 354, and 376 are grossly inadequate to cover the range of sexual violence that children and women are subjected to.

Quoting the 172nd Law Commission Report and the National Commission for Women, they said the two bodies in the “Recommendation on Amendments to Laws Relating to Rape and Related Provisions”, had sought deletion of Section 377.

“In view of the injustice resulting from the absence of law on child sexual abuse, as well as injustice resulting from the criminalisation of adult, consensual sex by Section 377, we urge your support and urgent action in this matter of public interest,” they added.

The activist groups from all over India include those working on child sexual abuse, women’s rights, sexual rights - especially those working for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people - and NGOs working on health issues.

Among some of the prominent ones are Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi; India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai; Askios, a group for adult survivors of child abuse, Bangalore; Sahayog, a group working on gender equality and women’s health in Uttar Pradesh; and Saheli, a women’s organisation in Delhi.

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