Perspectives from ISB

Abstract: Sexual crimes in Meghalaya are on the rise, and it is alarming to see adolescents indulge in sexual relationships with their partners without realising the legal consequences. Often these relations impact their health and careers. The lack of knowledge of adolescents around the age of consent has serious implication from the standpoint of law. This blog aims to explore these implications and underline how the state government, educational institutions are crucial in creating awareness around the issues emanating from adolescent relationships.


Meghalaya is known for its matrilineal society in India, which values females and upholds the tradition of considering daughters as a blessing to the family. However, the state is facing a paradox despite this societal structure, as sexual crimes against young girls (below 18 years) have increased over the years (As per Meghalaya Police statistics on POCSO Act cases, the number increased from 118 in 2015 to 371 in 2022). Although the incidence of crimes against young girls has risen, certain cases are consensual but conflict with the law. This dichotomy necessitates a critical analysis of the legal framework, social practices, and their efficacy in addressing consensual relationships in the state.

 Adolescence Love in Conflict with the Law

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 aims to safeguard children from sexual abuse and exploitation. However, implementing the Act faces unique challenges across Indian states, including Meghalaya, where social practices may conflict with its provisions. Adolescent love is common in the state, driven by mutual feelings and consent. Unfortunately, these relationships occasionally lead to teenage pregnancies, further complicating matters. The state teenage pregnancy rate stands at 7.9%, which is higher than the national average of 6.8%. One of the reasons driving adolescents into relationships is the lack of love and attention at home.

The enforcement of the Act in such a context becomes particularly challenging. On one hand, there is a need to protect minors from exploitation and abuse. On the other hand, there is a reality of consensual relationships among adolescents that the law currently does not differentiate from exploitative acts. This has led to legal actions in cases that may be considered consensual, particularly when involving relationships between young men and girls (aged 16 to 17 years), thus raising questions about the balance between child protection and respecting personal relationships. 

Although the Act defines a “child” as a person below the age of eighteen years, there have been instances where the Meghalaya High Court has considered consensual relationships involving partners aged about 16 to 17 years.

 In cases such as  Kwantar Khongsit v. State of Meghalaya, where the Meghalaya High Court quashed POCSO charges against a man accused of having consensual sex with his minor wife. The couple had been in a relationship since 2018 and began living together in 2019 with their family’s consent. The girl was 16 years old at the time, and when she became pregnant, the medical officer reported the matter to the police due to her minor status. The court’s decision to quash the charges reflects the ongoing debate about the flexibility of the POCSO Act regarding the age of consent.

Additionally, the Meghalaya High Court, in one of its judgements, has recognised the consent of sexual relationship of an adolescent.  Another   judgement held that looking into the physical and mental development of an adolescent of the age group of 16 years would consider it logical that such a person is capable of making a conscious decision as regards to his or her well -being as to the actual act of sexual intercourse. 

From these judgments, it is clear that the judiciary plays an important role in interpreting laws within the understanding of societal problems and cultural conditions with the thoughts and needs to balance the approach to protect children from sexual offences while also considering the evolving thinking capabilities of the adolescent to engage in relationships.

Judicial Dilemma

The establishment of special courts, as per the provisions of the POCSO Act, was a step towards ensuring speedy trials and swift justice for sexual abuse victims. Nevertheless, the staggering number of pending cases stresses a systemic backlog obstructing justice. In 2022, there were 1809 cases for trial under the Act, with 1692 still pending from 2014 to 2022; the judicial system is under immense pressure to ensure justice and timely disposal of cases. Currently, the state will require 21 years to conclude pending trials. The delay is partly due to the insufficient number of special courts only 11 statewide, and a mere two in Shillong, East Khasi Hills District. This indicates a pressing need for more efficient legal processes and additional resources to expedite justice.

The Way Ahead

Sexual crimes in Meghalaya are rising, and it is alarming to see adolescents indulge in sexual relationships with their partners without knowing the effects of these relations that impact their health and careers. The lack of knowledge of adolescents on the age of consent has legal implications, and the male counterparts must face legal action as per the law. The only way to eradicate this social evil is to start imparting sex education within the family and in schools to educate the children.  Outreach programmes in society through various engagements, such as social media and women’s groups, sex education as part of the curriculum and a separate subject on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, in the educational institutions will go a long way. Traditional institutions hold the power to maintain welfare and settle societal disputes. The state government must work with these institutions in implementing schemes or programme as these institutions can be vital in educating youths to take the right steps. It takes careful consideration of social realities, cultural norms, and legal efficacy to address the complexities of the POCSO Act in Meghalaya. It is essential to protect children while recognising the complexities of adolescent love. 

Author’s Bio: Kenneth Nongsiej is a fellow of the Meghalaya Legislative Research Fellowship of the Bharti Institute of Public Policy and the Meghalaya Institute of Governance. He holds a law degree (BA LLB (Hons)) from the University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya. Before joining the fellowship, he was a practising lawyer and has also worked as a research fellow under the P. A. Sangma Fellowship for Legal and Policy Research, Law Department, Government of Meghalaya. His areas of interest are law and politics.

DISCLAIMER : The views expressed in this blog/article are author’s personal.

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