Dubai: A ruling by Indian Supreme Court on Wednesday, saying a man is committing rape if he engages in sexual intercourse with his wife who is aged between 15 and 18, will help discourage child marriages in the country, according to Indian expatriates in the UAE.
The action against child marriages may usher in an education revolution among girls in rural areas, where girls are denied education for an early marriage, said a cross-section of expatriates who spoke to Gulf News on Thursday.
The Supreme Court ruled the age of consent was 18 for “all purposes” after hearing a petition by Independent Thought, a non-profit group that sought to criminalise sex with under-aged wives.
“Sexual intercourse by a married man with their minor wife below 18 years is rape,” the court said in its judgement, which was also welcomed by Indian residents in the UAE.
Hadiya Hidayath, 18, university student, Dubai
Hidayath, who is from Mangalore, India, said the verdict would stop girls from getting into child marriage. ”Now girls, who were otherwise getting married at a young age, may pursue their dreams by continuing their studies,” she said.
A girl under 18 usually tends to be immature and people may take advantage of it. The verdict, to some extent, will help protect their rights. “It will actually allow the girls to live their life by their own decisions,” Hidayath said. “I believe everyone has the right to freedom and so the girls in our rural areas need to be treated equally just like the men of our country,” she said.
Arjun Gopakumar, 21, university student, Abu Dhabi
Gopakumar, who is from Kerala, said the verdict upheld the children’s rights to freedom and education. “Children under 18 are not capable to handle physical relationship and it will also ruin their education, which is vital for a person to be independent.”
He said the verdict would save many girls’ lives. “Girls under 18 are not mature enough to handle a household. They can’t cope with pressures of family and social life without education,” Gopakumar said.
Swati Khanak Pravin, 29, management trainer for working professionals, Abu Dhabi
Calling it a ‘milestone judgement’ Pravin, from the city of Mumbai, said it will provide a ray of hope for all the girls who are victims of child marriage, which is a vicious crime. “The girl goes through a lot of harassment in a child marriage. This law will act as a weapon to protect not only her rights but also the integrity of women, especially in rural areas.”
She said the law will instill fear in families of both the girls and boys, which may prompt them to give education to their children.
Arti Singhal, 38, teacher, Abu Dhabi
“Being a woman, I believe educating girls and enabling them with the right skills ensures a strong future for every society. But we just need to spread awareness [about the court verdict and its objectives]. I truly hope that this verdict will ensure the safety of girl child in their own families,” Singhal, who is from Uttar Pradesh, said.
Swati Aggarwal, 42, lawyer, Abu Dhabi
Aggarwal, who is from the union territory of Chandigarh, said the verdict will help improve literacy rate and reduce incidents of domestic violence. The girl under 18 is not prepared to lead a family life, she said adding pregnancy in early age put a lot of pressure on girls. “Now people will strictly follow the law, especially in rural areas. Instead of keeping girls at home, parents will send them for education,” Aggarwal said.
By protecting the rights of girl child, the verdict will help nurture a generation of independent women, she said.
Ravi Rai, 56, director corporate services at a private firm, Abu Dhabi
Awareness should be created among parents about the objectives of the judgement, said, who is from the state of Karnataka. “Only then can it be practically implemented.” He pointed out that it is a right move against child marriages and exploitation of girls. “Once parents are educated, this menace will end. That’s why this social evil is not much prevalent in urban areas where people are comparatively more educated,” Rai said.
Education empowers the girls and help them decide about their own life and destiny, said Rai. The verdict reminds people about equal rights of men and women, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, he said.
Jemy Mariam Jose, 19, a university student in Sharjah
Jose, who is from Kerala, said the judgement will give a new hope to girls across India. “It will actually allow them to spread their wings and fly!” she said.
Moidhooty V. Mandoth, 61, a radiology technologist in Abu Dhabi
Mandoth, who is from Kerala, said he hoped that the verdict would end the ‘uncivilised practice of child marriage’. He said the news about the judgement itself will help create awareness among people across India.