A 13-year-old boy in Kerala has been booked under POCSO, after he allegedly impregnated his 15-year-old neighbour. The case came to light when the girl went to a hospital in pain – and when the hospital ‘referred’ her to a ‘better’ facility, she went back home and gave birth to a child.
The police, who came to know about the case, took a statement from the girl – and on its basis, they’ve now booked a boy, barely in his teens, for a criminal offence.
Earlier, a 14-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were booked for sexual assault against each other under POCSO, after the girl delivered a baby in November last year. The DNA evidence proved that the boy was the father of the child – and while the sexual intercourse seems consensual, the police booked the minors as per the law.
In light of these incidents – and several others across the country – it’s important to talk about two things: Firstly, children are sexual beings too. And secondly, we need to start talking about safe sex in our homes and schools.
Children discover pleasure very early
Research shows that children have sexual reflexes and enjoy sexual pleasure from a very young age.
According to researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, in the book Sex and Human Loving, sexual reflexes are ‘already operating at the very start of infancy’, and probably even before birth. They write:
By age two… most children discover (if they have not already) that genital stimulation is a source of pleasurable sensations. Genital play first occurs as a solitary activity and later in games like “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” and “doctor.”
It’s crucial therefore to understand that children, too, have sexuality. And once we get that straight, parents must communicate to them what behaviour is okay and what is not, and why.
Why criminalise sexuality?
While Indian law criminalises all sexual activity with a minor – it’s statutory rape to have sex with someone under the age of 18 – it’s important to make some distinctions. In many instances – like in the recent cases in Kerala – it might be two children experimenting with each other.
In many others, it’s consensual sex between older teens that turns into ‘rape’ when parents of the girl come to know about it.
In neither case is it okay to criminalise sex, because doing so just makes us ostriches who are unwilling to acknowledge that children and teens have sexual curiosity.
When child marriage is rampant in India – and the Indian law ‘understands’ much older husbands having sex with their minor wives, criminalising consensual sexual activity between minors is just hypocrisy.
Instead, what we should be doing is to ensure that these early sexual encounters don’t lead to health complications or unplanned pregnancy.
Communication is key
What we should be doing is to have open, non-judgmental conversations in our homes and schools about safe sex.
We should be talking about consent, and why it’s important to decide for yourself when you’re ready to have sex. We should be talking about peer pressure.
We should also be talking about condoms and contraceptives. STIs are not fun, and a teenage pregnancy can be harmful to young parents. But instead of insisting on abstinence and virginity, instead of pretending that ‘good’ children will never experiment, parents and society should be telling them that they should be safe while doing so.
They should also be communicating to children that if they are in trouble, they can approach their parents, and that while there are consequences for unprotected sex – it’s not going to be a jail cell.
Note: Views expressed are the author's own.