The Gujarat High Court in India has stated that sex without consent within marriage should be considered rape. The court demanded the abolition of the marital rape exemption in the penal code of India and stated that “the law must uphold the bodily autonomy of all women, irrespective of their marital status”.
The World Association of Sexual Health (WAS) supports the statement by the Gujarat High Court, and urges the Government of India to take steps necessary to criminalise marital rape. Violence within marriage is a widespread problem in India (NFHS-4), and it is connected to child or early marriages and forming marriages by force or coercion especially in rural areas. Even if the numbers have been declining, there is a dire need for enforcement of legislation that protects the rights of girls and women.
According to the Declaration of Sexual Rights (2014) everyone has the right to autonomy and bodily integrity (article 3), and everyone has the right to be free from all forms of violence and coercion (article 5). These rights apply to all women regardless of their marital status.
The Declaration also states that everyone has the right to enter, form, and dissolve marriage and other similar types of relationships based on equality and full and free consent (article 11). Thus it condemns practices like child marriage, early marriage and forced marriage along with all forms of coercion within marriage.
In order to fulfil the sexual rights of all women and girls, legislation that protects women’s bodily autonomy and sexual rights must be implemented and enforced actively on state level, in sub-districts and locally. But legislation alone is not enough. It must be backed up by sexuality education that promotes consensual sexual relations, privacy and gender equality.
WAS is an international organization, with more than one hundred member organizations across the globe, that promotes and advocates for sexual health and sexual rights throughout the lifespan and across the world by advancing sexuality research, comprehensive sexuality education, and clinical care and services for everyone.