Age of consent laws in India restrict access to sexual and reproductive health for young people, says new SRHM article

3 February, 2021


Hard-earned rights are being reversed when restrictive laws criminalize young people’s sexual exploration, according to an article published in the peer-reviewed journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters (SRHM).

Since India increased the age of consent from 16 to 18 it triggered a movement – which continues today – criminalizing young people’s sexuality. This protectionist law classifies sexual activity before 18 years old as rape. Mandating medical practitioners to report evidence of such activity, e.g. pregnancy, is hindering on young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“Even doctors feel constrained by this law since they are not able to fulfil their oath of caring for everyone, irrespective of the law” explains co-author Amita Pitre. “A lot of consensual relationships between young people are being framed as violence, and that’s where our problem is,” concurs co-author Lakshmi Lingam.

The authors say their review could help advocates lobby against restrictive laws which often try to resolve complex social issues without the nuance needed. Governments have a responsibility to protect and empower their citizens against sexual violence, but laws cannot be used as blanket provisions.

“The Indian state underestimates the value of educating young people about sexuality and instead is quick to come up with penalties through law,” says Lingam. “It’s very tricky to ensure that issues of safety and removal of all forms of violence do not take away from young people’s rights to explore their sexuality.”

At this time, the government of India is contemplating increasing the age of marriage to 21 years old – another decision which would restrict access to sexual and reproductive health even further. In their article, Pitre and Lingam talk about how women’s sexuality is found to be accepted only within the bounds of marriage.

The growing trend to pass conservative laws is going against young people’s mindsets according to the authors. The reality is that young people are exploring their sexuality and forming relationships. Pitre explains that the more the restrictive a society, the greater the risks of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, unsafe abortions, and more. In contrast, “we do not really see these kinds of issues in Nordic countries where the states have high levels of responsibility towards everybody, including young people. Teenage pregnancies are not an issue because people have access to information and contraception, and sexuality is accepted as a normal part of development.”


For an interview please contact:

Amita Pitre, Lead Specialist, Gender Justice, Oxfam India

[email protected]

Lakshmi Lingam, Dean & Professor, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences

[email protected]


The article is freely available via the following link: