The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday said that adolescent girls must control their sexual urges, and adolescent boys must train themselves to respect women.

A bench of Justices Chitta Ranjan Dash and Partha Sarathi Sen made the observations while acquitting a man accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl. In September 2022, a sessions court in the South 24 Parganas district had convicted him under sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to kidnapping and under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The girl told the court that she had physical relations with the man of her own will, and that she subsequently married him. The girl added that she and the man hailed from a rural area and did not know that their relationship and marriage constitute an offence.

The age of consent for sex in India is 18. Consent given by a person aged below 18 is not regarded as valid and sexual intercourse with them amounts to rape.

The High Court, while setting aside the verdict of the sessions court, said that the case was about a “non-exploitative consensual sexual relationship” between two consenting adolescents. However, the court said there was a need to guide adolescents about matters related to sexuality.

The bench said that young girls must protect their right to integrity of their bodies, as also their dignity and self-worth. It also said that every adolescent girl must control her sexual urges as “in the eyes of the society, she is the [loser] when she gives in to enjoy the sexual pleasure of hardly two minutes”.

The court added: “It is the duty of a male adolescent to respect the aforesaid duties of a young girl or woman and he should train his mind to respect a woman, her self worth, her dignity and privacy, and right to autonomy of her body.”

The High Court said that parents must help their daughters to recognise “bad touch, bad signs, bad advances and bad company”. The court stated that similarly, parents must also teach sons to respect women’s dignity and teach them how to “befriend a woman without being aroused by sexual urge even if there is advances from the other side till he becomes capable to maintain a family”.

The bench observed that a legal amendment is necessary to decriminalise consensual sexual acts involving adolescents above 16 years of age.

The judges, however, said that the law must also ensure that all children under 18 years of age are protected from sexual offences under the POCSO Act.

The High Court said that while it was not proposing that the age of consent should be lowered, cases involving the criminalisation of romantic relationships between adolescents should be left to the wisdom of the judiciary.

Last month, the Law Commission advised the Central government against lowering the age of consent from 18 to 16 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The commission, however, said it considers certain amendments to the Act necessary to address cases where there is tacit approval from children aged between 16 and 18.