Very recently, an Indian-American headmistress of a private school in New York was convicted of having sexual relations with

an underage male student. During the past two years, in fact, a number of school teachers have been charged for having sex with their students. The teachers usually end up being convicted of a felony; and the determining factor is always the age of the sexual partners. Although the sex is usually consensual, it is legally indefensible if one of the parties is under 18. Is it, perhaps, time to have a relook at the legal minimum age of consent? It is still 18 in most countries, although some states in the USA have reduced it to 16. Does anyone even know how the magic figure of 18 was arrived at in the first place? What is known that it was fixed almost a century ago. Perhaps it was logical then, but is it now - in the radically different world we inhabit? Morals were more rigid then; and information was severely limited. Most children still depended on parents and teachers to learn about the birds and the bees - and that knowledge was not normally imparted until the kids were well into puberty. Perhaps it was reasonable to presume, in those days, that children under 18 did not know better and, hence, could be easily seduced. But is it a reasonable assumption now? Thanks to the information explosion on the internet, movies and television, most kids today are sexually savvy even before they reach puberty. And more than just savvy - some are sexually aggressive. They don't wait to be 'seduced' - they go out looking for action. It is an established fact - especially in rich, Western countries - that an increasing number of girls are losing their virginity by the time they reach the age of 14: many of them quite willingly. It is not an uncommon sight, especially in big cities, to wander into a bar or singles club; and see a group of heavily made up and skimpily dressed young girls giving the come on to older men. From the men's point of view, it would take a keen eye to guess that the young nymphets flaunting their assets are legally underage - and most of the guys have their cognitive powers too fogged by alcohol to notice. So a sexual encounter takes place - heartily encouraged by the young lady - and the next thing the man knows, he is being charged with statutory rape. I am not condoning the man's behavior. Maybe he should have exercised better judgment: but rape? Come on! The teenager knew exactly what she was doing and where it would lead to. Even if does not serve a jail sentence, the label of sex offender follows him throughout his adult life. Does the man really deserve to have his life, his reputation, even his marriage, irretrievably ruined because of that one indiscretion? Maybe he does and maybe he does not. What I’m saying that the judgment – and penalty – should be decided on a case to case basis – and not on a blanket application of an arbitrary law. So am I suggesting that teenagers be denied all legal protection? Of course not. However, I would submit that we need to take a relook at the legal definition of an adult. I know many will argue that just because a girl of 15, say, is fully developed physically, it does not make her an adult. I agree; but even mentally and emotionally, many 14 year olds today are as mature and savvy as their mothers were at 18. Moreover, a 12 year-old has access to more information than her parents did even as young adults. Sex is no mystery to her. She may not be mature enough to realize the consequences, but she is aware of them. All I am suggesting, then, is that we consider whether 18, or 16, is still a realistic legal age for consensual sex – and whether one-rule-fits all legislation is still relevant; considering the changed ground realities. For sure, sexual predators and perverts deserve no leniency, no matter what the age of their victims. But a man who slips, maybe once, should not automatically have three

strikes against him, because the law says so. The circumstances surrounding his transgression need to be heard and given due weightage.