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Daily Current Affairs 20.12.2022 (COP-15 summit adopts historic biodiversity deal, Monetary policy is hostage to veg prices: PMEAC member, The minimum tax on big businesses, What are carbon markets and how do they operate?, A planet in crisis, Criminalising consensual relationships)

Daily Current Affairs 20.12.2022 (COP-15 summit adopts historic biodiversity deal, Monetary policy is hostage to veg prices: PMEAC member, The minimum tax on big businesses, What are carbon markets and how do they operate?, A planet in crisis, Criminalising consensual relationships)

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1. COP-15 summit adopts historic biodiversity deal

Kunming-Montreal Agreement is aimed at saving the lands, oceans and species from pollution, degradation and climate change, and is being compared to the landmark Paris Agreement

After four years of fractious talks, nearly 200 countries, including India, approved a historic Paris-style deal on Monday to protect and reverse dangerous loss to global biodiversity, following an intense final session of negotiations at the UN COP-15 summit here in Canada.

Amid applause, Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu, the president of the COP-15 biodiversity summit, which started on December 7, declared the Kunming-Montreal Agreement adopted.

The Chair manoeuvred to ignore Congo’s last-minute refusal, demanding greater funding for developing countries.

The Chinese-brokered deal is aimed at saving the lands, oceans and species from pollution, degradation and climate change. Monitored wildlife populations have seen a devastating 69% drop on average since 1970, according to the Living Planet Report (LPR) 2022 of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Environment Minister, Bhupender Yadav, who was part of negotiations, told The Hindu that broadly the agreement was “positive” as far as India was concerned. On Saturday, he laid out India’s position that goals and targets set in the Global Biodiversity Framework ought to be ambitious, as well as “realistic and practical”.

Highlighting a principle enshrined in climate change negotiations that countries historically responsible for global warming must pay for remedial measures more than developing countries, he said that the same ought to be applied with respect to conservation of biodiversity too as climate change also had an impact on biodiversity.

One of the proposed recommendations is reducing the overall risk from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals by at least half by 2030.

One of the most contentious issues in the negotiations was the finance package to support conservation efforts globally.

The deal commits to progressively increase the level of financial resources from all sources by 2030, mobilising at least $200 billion a year. This represents roughly a doubling from a 2020 baseline.

A major achievement is the commitment to $20 billion in international finance flows by 2025 and $30 billion by 2030.

The accord’s 23 targets include axing environmentally “destructive” farming subsidies, reducing risk from pesticides and tackling invasive species.

Last week, India said a numerical global target for pesticide reduction in agriculture sector was unnecessary and must be left for countries to decide. It said the sector in India, and other developing nations, was the source of “life, livelihoods, and culture for hundreds of millions,” and support to it could not be targeted for elimination.

The deal is being compared by many to the landmark plan to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius under the Paris Agreement.

While environment groups welcomed the potentially transformative impacts the new agreement could have, many still feel that crucial details around finance and conservation are missing. “Agreeing on a shared global goal that will guide collective and immediate action to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 is an exceptional feat for those that have been negotiating the Global Biodiversity Framework, and a win for people and planet,” said Marco Lambertini, Director-General, WWF International.

“It is the equivalent to 1.5 degrees Celsius in climate and vital to catalysing action toward a nature-positive world and holding everyone accountable,” he added.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) welcomed the agreement reached at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to agree on a new plan to preserve and protect nature with the new Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). “This agreement means people around the world can hope for real progress to halt biodiversity loss and protect and restore our lands and seas in a way that safeguards our planet and respects the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” said UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner.

COP 15 of Convention on Biodiversity

  • The Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Shri Bhupender Yadav delivered India’s National Statement at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at Montreal, Canada. It is being held from December 07 to 14.
  • At COP 15 of the CBD, the ministers are supposed to support the final stages of the negotiations on the Post-2020 GBF and related decisions with a view to ensuring a successful outcome of the conference, including the adoption of an effective Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

Aim of COP 15

  • Members of the Convention on Biological Diversity have gathered together for the 15th conference (COP15) to finalise the ambitious Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which would ensure that the three objectives of the convention are achieved by 2030.
  • COP 15 will set global goals and targets, and detailing steps to be taken for people to live in harmony with nature up to the year 2030 and set in motion an ambitious 2050 vision. 
  • To reach this objective, the GBF will consist of four goals and 20-22 targets which will also be agreed on during COP15.

Convention on Biodiversity (CBD)

  • The CBD is an international legally binding treaty, which commits governments worldwide to safeguard biodiversity.
  • It covers all life on Earth – ecosystems, animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms and focuses on achieving sustainable development – that is, human progress without threatening biodiversity.
  • The CBD was signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993.
  • The governing body meets every two years to review what has been achieved and what still needs to be done to protect biodiversity around the world.

COP15 important

  • While the climate crisis is grabbing headlines, we are in the midst of an even more ominous – and perhaps even faster-moving – biodiversity crisis.
  • Over a million plant and animal species are on the brink of extinction. WWF’s latest Living Planet report found that wildlife has dropped by 69% since 1970.
  • If we fail to stop the biodiversity crisis, it will have serious consequences for our global systems, with a likely breakdown of nature’s ability to provide clean air and water, food, medicines and materials, which are vital for humanity’s survival.
  • With the future of our planet and ourselves hanging in the balance, the stakes could not be higher.
  • The challenge can feel insurmountable, but the reality is our fate is not yet sealed.
  • This is why COP15 is so important because it has the potential to reverse this alarming trend, but only if coordinated global action is taken – now.

What India is doing to Save Biodiversity?

  • Despite India having 17 per cent of the global population, but only 2.4 per cent of the land area and only 4 per cent of its water resources, we are forging ahead in our efforts.
  • Rising Tree and Forest Cover: Our forest and tree cover is steadily rising, together with our wildlife population. Definitive steps are being taken to return the iconic cheetah to Indian habitats.
  • Ramsar Sites: India has taken a quantum jump in the number of declared Ramsar sites to the current figure of seventy-five.
  • Forest Policy: As a large developing country, our forest policy is challenging to implement but our forest surveys are testimony to its success.
  • Aichi targets: India’s balance sheet in implementing the Aichi targets is pro-active and forward looking and India is on track to meeting its commitments.
  • LiFE Campaign: Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi’s clarion call for a people’s movement centred on LiFE – Lifestyle for Environment launched on 20th October 2022 at Ekta Nagar in Gujarat in the presence of UN Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres assumes significance.

How should be a new Global Biodiversity Framework look like?

  • The Global Biodiversity Framework must be framed in the light of science and equity, and the sovereign right of nations over their resources, as provided for in the Convention on Biodiversity.
  • If climate is profoundly linked to biodiversity, then the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities must equally apply to biodiversity.
  • We cannot only conserve, preserve and restore. We must also promote sustainable use and it is in this context that.
  • The provision of the means of implementation must match our ambition. The MDGs had 8 goals, the SDGs have 17 goals, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were 20 and the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) may have 23 targets.
  • The increased expectations through these targets call for matching means of implementation, especially through public finance.
  • Modern technologies, especially information technology, can assist our goals. Hence the Digital Sequencing Information must be linked to access and benefit sharing in a just and fair manner.

2. Monetary policy is hostage to veg prices: PMEAC member

Poonam Gupta urges price stabilisation efforts to balance demand and supply of vegetables, moots steps to buffer economy from shocks such as high inflation, oil prices, capital outflows

India’s economic growth is likely to be subdued in the coming year, but inflation will also subside partly due to monetary policy effects and partly due to base effects, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council member Poonam Gupta said on Monday, mooting steps to buffer the economy from recurrent shocks like high inflation, oil prices or capital outflows.

Ms. Gupta, also director general of the National Council for Applied Economic Research, said global growth would slow down as predicted by most agencies. India’s inflation acceleration to close to 7% this year has been mainly driven by high vegetable prices, which is a domestic issue and not an ‘external’ one, she said.

“It is really sad in a way that our monetary policy is held hostage by vegetable prices. And monetary policy is a blunt instrument to address that kind of inflation,” she underlined, suggesting price ‘stabilisation’ efforts to balance domestic demand and supply issues for vegetables.

“Surely, our economy, which is more than $3 trillion, can manage its vegetable prices better than it has,” she concluded at a discussion on the upcoming Budget hosted by the Ananta Centre.

Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC)

  • PMEAC is a non-constitutional and non-statutory, non-permanent and independent body.
  • It is constituted with the prime and sole aim to analyse all critical issues, economic or otherwise, referred to it by the prime minister and advising him thereon.
  • It is mandated to give advice to prime minister on economic matters such as inflation, GDP changes, export-import changes, creating supporting environment for increased trade and commerce.
  • Functions
    • Submit periodic reports to PM related to macroeconomic developments and issues which will have implications of the economic policy.
    • Analyse any topics, issues assigned by the PM and provide advice to them.
    • Analyse macroeconomic issues having high importance and present the views to PM and any other task which is assigned by Prime Minister.

Its inception

  • PM Indira Gandhi, who had returned to power in 1980, faced formidable economic challenges.
  • The global oil shock and drought had led to a decline in the national income, and soaring prices.
  • In this situation, Finance Minister R Venkataraman stressed to the PM the need to arrest the slide and set the economy on the path to stability and growth.
  • Indira decided to rope in Prof Sukhamoy Chakravarty, a man who had taught alongside Amartya Sen and Manmohan Singh at the Delhi School of Economics, and who had, in the mid-1970s, headed the Policy Perspective Division in the Planning Commission.

Early years

  • In the initial years of its existence, the members of the Council included the famed economist K N Raj, besides C Rangarajan, who would later become the Governor of the RBI.
  • Vijay Kelkar was the first Secretary of the PMEAC during 1982-83.
  • Chakravarty who briefed the Prime Minister occasionally on the state of the economy, continued in the post after Rajiv Gandhi succeeded Indira in 1984.

First case of reference

  • Around 1986-87 the government had opened up the economy a little and allowed liberal foreign borrowings while spending to boost growth.
  • The Council made a presentation to the PM flagging emerging faultlines, and warning of an emerging fiscal imbalance.
  • Rajiv acknowledged the input, and announced that the government had decided to accept the report of a committee appointed in 1985 by then RBI Governor Manmohan Singh to review the working of the monetary system and Budget deficit.

The 1990s

  • Manmohan Singh himself headed the Council briefly when Chandra Shekhar was Prime Minister, before moving on to become Advisor to the PM in the months leading to the balance of payments crisis of 1991.
  • Bimal Jalan, who was finance secretary in the V P Singh government and, for a while in the Chandra Shekhar government as well, was moved to head the Council.
  • When P V Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister, and Manmohan Singh his Finance Minister, the Council held only a few meetings.

The Vajpayee years

  • Things changed after Vajpayee became PM for the second time in 1998.
  • The economy was again in trouble after the Asian crisis, and the PMEAC was expanded with the Prime Minister himself at its head.
  • A 12-member Council for Trade and Industry was also appointed. Vajpayee’s PMEAC had heavyweights such as I G Patel, the former RBI Governor; P N Dhar, a former Secretary in Indira’s PMO; and noted economists.
  • At a meeting of the Council in July 2002, Vajpayee unveiled an economic agenda for 8% growth — featuring plans to provide 10 million job opportunities annually, re-target subsidies and spending.
  • Through this period, the Finance Ministry remained dominant in economic policymaking.

The Manmohan years

  • After he became PM in 2004, Manmohan Singh, conscious that he could no longer afford to focus on multiple economic issues, got his former RBI colleague Rangarajan to head the PMEAC.
  • The EAC by this time was more compact, with fewer than a half-dozen members. The Council was seen as the advisory group best equipped to provide independent advice to the PM.
  • During the 2004-14 decade, the Council often brought out its own review of the economy, besides reports on a range of issues.
  • Singh’s Council was the most influential in the over three-decade history of the institution.
  • It drew its strength, most importantly, from the confidence and trust that the economist PM had in the head of the Council.

Revival in 2017

  • One of the early decisions that the new government under PM Modi took was to dismantle the Planning Commission.
  • However, the PMEAC was not restructured under the new government.
  • The Council was later reconstituted during first Modi government, with Debroy, then a member of the NITI Aayog, as chairman.
  • The revived PMEAC had economists Surjit Bhalla, Rathin Roy, and Ashima Goyal as members, and former finance secretary Ratan Watal as Secretary.

3. The minimum tax on big businesses

Why have 136 countries and members of the EU agreed to implement a 15% tax rate on large multinational corporations? What are the particulars of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s global tax agreement? Will low tax jurisdictions concur with the plan?

Members of the European Union last week agreed in principle to implement a minimum tax of 15% on big businesses. Last year, 136 countries had agreed on a plan to redistribute tax rights across jurisdictions and enforce a minimum tax rate of 15% on large multinational corporations. It is estimated that the minimum tax rate would boost global tax revenues by $150 billion annually.

What is it?

EU members have agreed to implement a minimum tax rate of 15% on big businesses in accordance with Pillar 2 of the global tax agreement framed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year. Under the OECD’s plan, governments will be equipped to impose additional taxes in case companies are found to be paying taxes that are considered too low. This is to ensure that big businesses with global operations do not benefit by domiciling themselves in tax havens in order to save on taxes. Pillar 1 of the OECD’s tax plan, on the other hand, tries to address the question of taxing rights. Large multinational companies have traditionally paid taxes in their home countries even though they did most of their business in foreign countries. The OECD plan tries to give more taxing rights to the governments of countries where large businesses conduct a substantial amount of their business. As a result, large U.S. tech companies may have to pay more taxes to governments of developing countries.

What is the need for a global minimum tax?

Corporate tax rates across the world have been dropping over the last few decades as a result of competition between governments to spur economic growth through greater private investments. Global corporate tax rates have fallen from over 40% in the 1980s to under 25% in 2020, thanks to global tax competition that was kick-started by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The OECD’s tax plan tries to put an end to this “race to the bottom” which has made it harder for governments to shore up the revenues required to fund their rising spending budgets. The minimum tax proposal is particularly relevant at a time when the fiscal state of governments across the world has deteriorated as seen in the worsening of public debt metrics.

What lies ahead?

Some governments, particularly those of traditional tax havens, are likely to disagree and stall the implementation of the OECD’s tax plan. High tax jurisdictions like the EU are more likely to fully adopt the minimum tax plan as it saves them from having to compete against low tax jurisdictions. Low tax jurisdictions, on the other hand, are likely to resist the OECD’s plan unless they are compensated sufficiently in other ways. It should be noted that, even within the EU, countries such as Poland have already tried to stall the adoption of the global minimum tax proposal citing various non-economic reasons. Since the OECD’s plan essentially tries to form a global tax cartel, it will always face the risk of losing out to low-tax jurisdictions outside the cartel and cheating by members within the cartel. After all, countries both within and outside the cartel will have the incentive to boost investments and economic growth within their respective jurisdictions by offering lower tax rates to businesses. This is a structural problem that will persist as long as the global tax cartel continues to exist.

What good will the OECD’s tax plan do to the global economy?

Supporters of the OECD’s tax plan believe that it will end the global “race to the bottom” and help governments collect the revenues required for social spending.

Many believe that the plan will also help counter rising global inequality by making it tougher for large businesses to pay low taxes by availing the services of tax havens. Critics of the OECD’s proposal, however, see the global minimum tax as a threat. They argue that without tax competition between governments, the world would be taxed a lot more than it is today, thus adversely affecting global economic growth.

In other words, these critics believe that it is the threat of tax competition that keeps a check on governments which would otherwise tax their citizens heavily to fund profligate spending programs.

4. What are carbon markets and how do they operate?

What are the Opposition’s concerns about the Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2022? What are carbon credits and how will they help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases?

The Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2022 was passed in Parliament on December 12, despite the Opposition’s demands to send it for scrutiny to a parliamentary committee. The Bill empowers the government to establish carbon markets in India and specify a carbon credit trading scheme.

What are carbon markets?

Article six of the 2015 Paris Agreement provides for the use of international carbon markets by countries to fulfil their nationally determined contributions (NDC) to keep global warming within 2°C. Carbon markets are essentially a tool for putting a price on carbon emissions — they establish trading systems where carbon credits or allowances can be bought and sold. A carbon credit is a kind of tradable permit that, as per UN standards, equals one tonne of carbon dioxide removed, reduced, or sequestered from the atmosphere. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) release this year noted that interest in carbon markets is growing globally — 83% of NDCs submitted by countries mention their intent to make use of international market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are broadly two types of carbon markets that exist today — compliance markets and voluntary markets. Voluntary markets are those in which emitters — corporations, private individuals, and others— buy carbon credits to offset the emission of one tonne of CO2 or an equivalent greenhouse gas. Such carbon credits are created by activities which reduce CO2 from the air, such as afforestation. In a voluntary market, a corporation looking to compensate for its unavoidable emissions, purchases carbon credits from an entity engaged in projects that reduce, remove, capture, or avoid emissions. For instance, in the aviation sector, airlines may purchase carbon credits to offset the carbon footprint of the flights they operate. Compliance markets on the other hand which are set up by policies at the national, regional, and/or international level are officially regulated.

What are the challenges?

The UNDP points out serious concerns pertaining to carbon markets — ranging from double counting of greenhouse gas reductions, quality and authenticity of climate projects that generate credits to poor market transparency. There are also concerns about ‘greenwashing’ — companies may buy credits, simply offsetting carbon footprints instead of reducing their overall emissions.

What are concerns about new Bill?

The Bill empowers the Centre to specify a carbon credits trading scheme. Under the Bill, the central government or an authorised agency will be able to issue carbon credit certificates. These carbon credit certificates will be tradeable in nature. Other persons would be able to buy carbon credit certificates on a voluntary basis. Opposition members pointed out that the Bill does not provide clarity on the mechanism to be used for the trading of carbon credit certificates and about who will regulate such trading. Members also raised questions about the right Ministry to bring in a scheme of this nature, pointing out that while carbon market schemes in other countries are framed by their environment ministries, the Indian Bill was tabled by the Power Ministry.

Another important concern raised is that the Bill does not specify whether certificates under already existing schemes would also be interchangeable and tradeable with carbon credit certificates. Two types of tradeable certificates are already issued in India— Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and Energy Savings Certificates (ESCs).

5. Editorial-1: A planet in crisis

Tangible outcomes from biological diversity convention are far away

A month after the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Egypt, diplomatic retinue went into a contentious huddle again to save the planet — in Montreal, Canada, this time, and as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). While both these conferences can trace their origins to the Rio summit of 1992, the CBD does not get anywhere near the media attention COP commands. There are no world leaders and heads of state making grandiloquent commitments because the CBD largely continues to be framed as an ‘environmentalist’ concern, much like what COP used to be, until the forces of capitalism managed to reimagine the idea of a planet being inexorably slow-cooked in greenhouse gases to one that may yet be saved by renewable energy sources — and at the very least — make some entrepreneurs rich.

Unlike cyclones and melting glaciers that have become visual aids to bring home the climate crisis wrought by invisible gases, biodiversity loss continues to be largely invisible despite its victims being extremely visible. Based on current trends, the UN reckons, an estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species, including one in eight of the world’s bird species, face extinction. About 30% of breeds of main farm animal species are currently at high risk of extinction. Forests are home to much of the known terrestrial biodiversity, but about 45% of the earth’s original forests are gone, cleared mostly during the past century. Yet, because much of this extinction is not finely accounted for as the rise in per capita carbon emissions or temperature swings, it fails to evoke the urgency it deserves. In this light, India’s stance, i.e., of not wanting hard targets on proposals such as reducing the use of pesticides, given that their effects on impacting biodiversity are documented, and conserving 30% of land and sea, seems anachronistic particularly when it sees itself as a champion of conservation and living in harmony with nature. While India, adopting a negotiating tack from climate conferences, has argued that different nations have differing levels of responsibility towards biodiversity conservation (which requires richer nations to be more generous funders of global conservation efforts), it is well known that such demands are a dead end unless countries agree to definite targets. What cannot be measured, as the adage goes, cannot be understood or addressed. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the CBD, has described the negotiations as one that should result in a “Paris moment for nature”; while this was not quite what happened, countries have agreed on preparing concrete road maps by 2024 and the richer ones, committing $30 billion an annum by 2030. But seeing tangible outcomes is a long time away.

6. Editorial-2: Criminalising consensual relationships

India is home to the largest adolescent population in the world. The National Family Health Surveys indicate that a significant proportion of Indian teenagers are sexually active.

Misuse of POCSO

According to an analysis by Enfold Proactive Health Trust, ‘romantic cases’ (where the relationship was consensual, according to the girls, their family members, or the court) constituted 24.3% of the total cases registered and disposed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act between 2016 and 2020 by special courts in Assam, Maharashtra and West Bengal. While POCSO’s objective is to protect children below 18 years from sexual abuse, its unintended effect has been the criminal prosecution and the deprivation of liberty of young people in consensual relationships. The law is also used by parents of adolescent girls to curtail sexual expression and “safeguard family honour”. The ensuing criminal investigation and trial and the simultaneous inquiry under the child protection system have an adverse impact on the adolescents’ development, education, employment, self-esteem, social reputation, and family life. For the adolescent boys, the long-term consequences of a conviction for statutory rape are incarceration and inclusion in the sex offenders registry.

The law casts adolescent girls as “victims”, thus rendering them voiceless. These girls are institutionalised in children’s homes when they refuse to return to their parents. Adolescent boys are by default treated as children in conflict with the law and can even be tried as adults. Such blanket criminalisation of consensual sexual acts among or with adolescents is in gross oversight of their sexual development, bodily integrity and autonomy, and violates their right to life, privacy, and dignity. The penal approach also impedes adolescents’ right to barrier-free access to sexual and reproductive health services and information recognised under the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram. The mandatory reporting obligation under the POCSO Act and the fear of the partner being reported to the police deters girls from availing themselves of medical services and inadvertently pushes them towards unsafe abortions.

The inclusion of consensual and non-exploitative acts involving adolescents detracts from the purpose of the POCSO Act and diverts time and resources from the investigation and trial of actual cases of sexual violence and exploitation. The median time between the lodging of the FIR and the disposal of such romantic cases was 1.4 years in Assam and 2.3 years each in Maharashtra and West Bengal.

According to Crime in India, 2021, 92.6% of cases under the POCSO Act were pending disposal. Consensual cases among these are overburdening the criminal justice system. The futility of using the criminal law to regulate adolescent sexuality is also evinced by the abnormally high acquittal rates (93.8% in romantic cases) and the fact that the girl did not say anything incriminating against the accused in 81.5% of the cases. Further, in 46.5% of the cases, the victims were married to the accused. The acquittal rate in these cases was 98.1% as many courts did not wish to disturb the marital life of the couple.

Many High Courts have recognised that adolescent relationships are normal and criminalisation of such acts affects both parties. In Vijayalakshmi v. State Rep. (2021), the Madras High Court cited evidence that “adolescent romance is an important developmental marker for adolescents’ self-identity, functioning and capacity for intimacy”.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in General Comment No. 20 on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence urged states to balance protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse with respect for their evolving autonomy and recommended that “[s]tates should avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity.” In 2019, it urged states to remove status offences, which criminalise adolescents who engage in consensual sexual acts with one another.

The way forward

Comprehensive sexuality education is needed to bridge knowledge gaps, build positive skills and attitudes so as to enable adolescents to make informed decisions and navigate through interpersonal relationships, while also realising the importance of their health and dignity. Equal efforts need to be directed towards imparting knowledge, skills and attitudes to vulnerable groups such as children with disabilities or those out of schools.

An amendment needs to be considered to the POCSO Act and the Indian Penal Code to decriminalise consensual acts involving adolescents above 16 years, while also ensuring that those above 16 years and below 18 years are protected against non-consensual acts. A provision recognising consent by those above 16 years may be considered, while criminalising acts against them if it is against their will, without their consent, or where their consent has been obtained through fear of death or hurt, intoxication, or if the accused is in a position of authority. Till such time as the law is amended, law enforcement agencies, child welfare committees and juvenile justice boards may consider exercising the discretion available to them under existing provisions in the best interest of children, so as to avoid/minimise the harm caused by arrest, apprehension, and institutionalisation of adolescents in consensual cases.

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