NEW DELHI - Indian Muslim community leaders have slammed the government proposal to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16 years, condemning it as a blow to family and social norms as well as the culture of the country.
We are of the view that sex (outside marriage) should be a crime," Nusrat Ali of Jamaat Islami Hindi told IANS on Saturday, March 16.
It must be a punishable offense irrespective of the age limit.
The government's decision to lower the age for consensual sex from 18 to 16 years was suggested by a group of ministers headed by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.
The central government formed the group to finalize the anti-rape law.
The suggestion followed a shocking case of a 23-year-old student, who was gang-raped on a bus in southern Delhi last December while returning with a male friend from the cinema.
It was immediately criticized by some Muslim groups including the Jamaat Islami Hind, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Muslim Majlis Mushwarat, an apex body of Muslim social and religious groups.
The groups asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to withdraw the proposal, saying the move will have "dangerous consequences" for the society.
"As for lowering the age limit for consensual sex, this will lead to an unimaginable socially corrupt situation in the society, Ali said.
He added that the provision would lead to "sexual anarchy" in India as school going children aged 16 and above will get involved in sexual activities.
"Not only this, this provision will increase crime against women rather than controlling it.
"We want the government to withdraw it and declare sex outside marriage a cognizable offence," he said.
New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, police figures show.
Reported rape cases rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to government data.
The Muslim groups argued that premarital sex or sex outside marriage was unacceptable not only in Islam but it was against India's social and cultural tradition.
"One must visualize its impact on the whole society," Maulana Ahmed Ali Quasi of the Muslims Majlis Mushwarat said.
"It will harms the Indian social system."
He said the government should have sought the opinion of religious groups on this sensitive issue.
The All India Muslims Personal Law Board also opposed the move, saying that pre marital sex was against social norms and culture.
"It is an irony that the government proposes to lower the age of sex to 16 when the marriageable age is for girls in 18," senior functionary Abdul Rahim Quereshi said.
Muslims account for 160 million of India's 1.1 billion people, the world's third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.
The Noble Qur'an supports the rights of women to be independent, to keep their own names, to inherit property and to practice their faith without coercion.
The Qur'an also says that men and women are created from a single soul.
Sexual relations are allowed only among the married couples. Sex outside marriage is not allowed in Islam.