Nearly one out of four men in a United Nations study of 10,000 men in Asia admitted to having committed rape and marital rape was by far the most common type of rape, followed by the rape of an intimate partner. The UN Population Fund states that more than 2/3rds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49 years have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex. Studies also indicate that between 10 and 14% of married women are raped by their husbands: the incidents of marital rape soar to 1/3rd to ½ among clinical samples of battered women. Sexual assault by one’s spouse accounts for approximately 25% of rapes committed.

I read this morning in the Hindu that the debate to ciminalise marital rape began almost 125 years ago when a 11-year-old Bengali girl died after being brutally raped by her 35-year-old husband. The colonial government then proposed to increase the age of consent for sexual intercourse for a girl from 10 to 12 years. But some of India’s most prominent leaders opposed the measure.

2016. Panipat, Haryana. Meet Renuka* , she was married at the age of 3 years, but was sent to her husband within a month of getting her first period at the age of 12 years. Her husband, an adult was 14 years older than her. “I remember the first night of my marriage very clearly” she says. “I remember that when I learned that I had to share a room with my husband, I ran to my mother in law and asked her if I could sleep with her as I didn’t want to sleep with a strange man. She looked at me and told me that from today, my husband’s room and his bed are where my life is. I was taken back to his room. I don’t remember very clearly what happened that night. I think I must have even lost consciousness at some point. All I remember is the excruciating pain I experienced. I could barely walk the next day.”

Renuka was pregnant within 6 months.

Martha Farrell Foundation in partnership with PRIA and YWCA met 162 young girls and women between the age group of 14 – 25 years in 4 villages of Sonepat and Panipat between January and February this year. 72% of the girls were married before they were 17 years and some were even married before the age of 10 years.

It’s hard to imagine a situation like this isn’t it? It’s hard to imagine our own daughter of 10 years leaving her home dressed as a bride. It’s even harder to imagine our own daughter of 13 years as mothers. 9% of the girls who participated in the study had become mothers before the age of 15 years.
For all of them, their first sexual interaction was with their husbands and 70% of these were forced.

Today the current Indian law (Section 375 of India’s Penal Code 1860) reads “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years is not rape”

77 married women between the age group of 21 – 70 years were also interviewed by us during the same time. 65% of these women reported rape in their marriage.

So when the Ministry of Women and Child (Government of India) makes a statement that marital rape cannot be criminalized in India because “it is not suited to the Indian context due to various factors eg. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament”

It’s hard for us to believe it! (https://www.facebook.com/marthafarrellfoundation/)

Marital rape is a gender issue and men and boys cannot be seen as being separate from women and girls in this debate.  

Martha Farrell Foundation will be starting an intervention in partnership with PRIA and YWCA India in Sonepat and Panipat this month. The project #MoreThanJustBrides is a youth led intervention that will foster youth (both boys and girls) leadership to address the issue of early child marriages in these two districts in Haryana.


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