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UNICEF withdraws policy brief on lowering age of consent after pushback by child rights body


NEW DELHI, OCTOBER 5: UNICEF has withdrawn its policy brief on the age of consent in adolescents following objections by the National Commission on Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which had claimed that its interpretation of the implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) was “misleading”.
Enfold Proactive Health Trust, UNFPA and UNICEF had jointly published the policy brief in 2022. In the policy brief, they had said that consensual sexual acts involving adolescents above 16 years of age should be decriminalised.
After NCPCR flagged the policy brief ‘Implication of the POCSO Act in India on Adolescent Sexuality’, UNICEF in a letter to the child rights body said that “the report will not be publicly available”.
“UNICEF does not endorse any representation or portrayal of the conclusions of the brief as the official UNICEF position.”
In a letter to NCPCR, Arjan de Wagt, Deputy Representative Programmes, UNICEF, also confirmed that the “distribution of the report has been suspended and that the report is no longer available on official websites.”
“We are pleased to confirm that the paper is not UNICEF’s policy position on the complex issue of the age of consent and the conclusions are not endorsed by UNICEF India as policy recommendations. UNICEF does not endorse any representation or portrayal of the conclusions of the brief as the official UNICEF position.”
In its letter to UNICEF on September 19, the NCPCR said that no international law has defined the age of sexual consent.
In contrast, international legal frameworks like recruitment, trafficking, sale, prostitution and pornography have a well-defined threshold in their definition.
The child rights body had also said that even in international human rights laws, the age of consent is yet to be established.
There is a general belief that when the age of sexual consent is too young, it fails to protect the child from exploitation. The age of consent in trafficking is already 18 per the United Nations Convention RC, the letter, written by NCPCR Chairman Priyank Kanoongo, had said.
The NCPCR highlighted WHO’s concerns about the risk of unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted diseases because of the initiation of sexual activities at an early age.
It also cited a Lancet Child and Adolescent Health report on India’s national family health survey, saying that children born to adolescent mothers are at risk of being undernourished.
Even young boys and girls involved in romantic relationships have negative changes in behaviour, according to a study in 2016, the letter said.
The study concluded that issues about romantic relationships experienced by adolescents can impact their overall well-being, increasing the need for them to seek mental health assistance.
Kanoongo in his letter had requested them “to approach the issue in a holistic manner, within the spirit of the law and withdraw the said policy brief and the report in the best interest of children”.
(Courtesy: TNIE)