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"A rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim", a decisive observation of European Commission of Human Rights on sexual assault by relatives was aptly used by the Supreme Court today, as it criminalised sexual intercourse with minor wives. A bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, however, made clear that it was not dealing with the question of marital rape with women above the age of 18 years as it was not seized of it. The top court also used certain observations of the Justice J S Verma panel suggesting amendments in criminal law post the December 16 gangrape-cum-murder case. Justice Verma had said that even the United Kingdom has left 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... "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 the Report it was stated that the outdated notion that a wife is no more than a subservient chattel of her husband has since been given up in the United Kingdom.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 which endorsed the conclusion that 'a rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim'," the court said in its 127-page verdict. It referred to various foreign judgements and said the immunity granted to husbands in marital rape cases has "now been now been withdrawn in most major jurisdictions." "In England and Wales, the House of Lords held in 1991 that the status of married women had changed beyond all recognition since Hale (J) set out his proposition. 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'," the top court said. It today held that sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years of age, even by the husband, would amount to rape and criminalised sex with a wife who is not a major.
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