The Parliamentary Standing Committee on home affairs, examining the three new criminal law bills set to replace the Indian Penal Code, code of criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Acr, recommended the criminalization of adultery on gender neutral lines.

This comes after five judge constitutional bench of supreme court unanimously decriminalized adultery in 2018 on several grounds including discrimination.


Adultery refers to the act of engaging in sexual relations with someone other than one's spouse when they are married. It's often considered a breach of trust within a committed relationship and can have significant emotional, psychological, and sometimes legal consequences. Every culture and legal system may have its own perspective and consequences regarding adultery.

Adultery Laws

Adultery laws vary significantly across countries and cultures. In some places, adultery might be considered a criminal offense, while in others, it's primarily dealt with as a civil matter, often within the context of family or divorce law.

For instance:

  1. Criminal Offense: Historically, some countries had laws that criminalized adultery, imposing penalties such as fines or imprisonment. However, in many jurisdictions, these laws have been repealed or deemed unconstitutional due to changes in societal norms and legal interpretations.
  2. Civil Matter: In countries where adultery isn’t a criminal offense, it might still have implications in civil law, particularly in divorce cases. Adultery could be considered as grounds for divorce or might influence issues like division of property, child custody, or alimony.
  3. Different Treatment: Laws regarding adultery can also differ based on gender. In some places, historically, laws were biased, often penalizing men for adultery but not necessarily women. However, there have been movements toward gender-neutral laws in many jurisdictions.

It's important to note that while laws exist, their enforcement and societal attitudes toward adultery can differ significantly. Some cultures might have strict legal consequences or social stigmas attached to adultery, while others might be more lenient or indifferent.

Always consult legal professionals or resources specific to the region in question for accurate and updated information regarding adultery laws. Additionally, societal attitudes toward adultery can vary widely, influencing how individuals, families, and communities perceive and respond to such situations.

Significance of Adultery Laws

Adultery laws have been historically significant for several reasons:

  1. Social and Moral Order: Adultery laws were often designed to maintain social and moral order within a society, reinforcing the sanctity of marriage and family. They were seen as a means to discourage behavior that could potentially disrupt the stability of families and communities.
  2. Property Rights and Lineage: In many cultures, adultery laws were linked to property rights and lineage. They aimed to ensure that children were legitimate heirs and that property was passed down within recognized family structures.
  3. Gender Dynamics: Adultery laws often reflected and reinforced gender dynamics within societies. Historically, many laws were biased, penalizing women more severely than men for adultery. However, these biases have been challenged and changed in many legal systems over time.
  4. Legal Framework for Marriage Dissolution: In regions where adultery was a legal ground for divorce, these laws provided a structured way to dissolve marriages, offering legal recourse for individuals whose marriages were affected by infidelity.
  5. Shifts in Society: The significance of adultery laws has evolved over time, often reflecting changing societal norms and attitudes towards marriage, relationships, and individual freedoms. Many jurisdictions have moved away from criminalizing adultery, focusing more on the civil aspects within divorce or family law.
  6. Personal and Emotional Impact: Despite legal significance, the impact of adultery often extends beyond legal implications, affecting individuals, families, and communities emotionally, psychologically, and socially.

In modern times, the significance of adultery laws has diminished in some societies, with a greater emphasis on individual autonomy and privacy in personal relationships. However, these laws still hold relevance in various cultures and legal systems, albeit with varying degrees of enforcement and impact.

Adultery in India

Adultery laws in India have undergone significant changes in recent years. Historically, adultery was considered a criminal offense under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The law stated that a man who engaged in sexual relations with the wife of another man without the husband's consent could be prosecuted for adultery. Importantly, the law didn't consider women as offenders or punishable for adultery.

However, in September 2018, the Supreme Court of India made a landmark decision and struck down Section 497 of the IPC, declaring it unconstitutional. The court ruled that the law violated the fundamental rights to equality and freedom, treating women as the property of their husbands and perpetuating gender inequality.

As a result of this ruling, adultery is no longer a criminal offense in India. The focus has shifted more towards civil proceedings, primarily within the context of divorce cases, where adultery might be considered as a ground for divorce under personal laws.

Although it's no longer a criminal offense, adultery can still have implications in civil cases, particularly in divorce proceedings. It might impact issues such as alimony, child custody, and the division of property. It's essential to note that societal attitudes towards adultery can vary widely across different regions and communities in India.

Way ahead for adultery laws

The evolution of adultery laws continues to be influenced by societal changes, legal reforms, and evolving perceptions of relationships. Here are some potential ways forward for adultery laws:

  1. Focus on Civil Resolution: With the decriminalization of adultery in many jurisdictions, the emphasis has shifted towards addressing adultery within the realm of civil law, particularly in divorce proceedings. Future developments might involve refining legal frameworks for handling adultery-related issues within family law, such as property division, child custody, and alimony.
  2. Gender Neutrality: Many legal systems have been moving towards gender-neutral laws regarding adultery. This shift aims to treat both men and women equally under the law, eliminating historical biases and stereotypes associated with adultery.
  3. Emphasis on Consent and Mutual Understanding: Future laws and societal attitudes might emphasize the importance of mutual consent and understanding within relationships. This could involve discussions about the nature of marriage, fidelity, and the rights and responsibilities of individuals within a partnership.
  4. Education and Counseling: There might be increased emphasis on relationship education and counseling to prevent or address issues related to infidelity. Providing resources and support to couples to navigate challenges within their relationships could be an essential aspect of future strategies.
  5. Continued Debate and Reform: Adultery laws will likely continue to be a subject of debate and reform as societies evolve. Changes in societal norms, cultural perceptions, and individual rights will shape the ongoing discourse and potential revisions of these laws.
  6. Privacy and Individual Autonomy: There might be an increasing recognition of individual autonomy and privacy within relationships. Future laws may respect personal choices regarding relationships and prioritize personal freedoms while ensuring fairness in matters such as divorce settlements.

The future of adultery laws will likely involve a balance between upholding societal values, protecting individual rights, and adapting to changing relationship dynamics. It will also depend on continued discussions, legal reforms, and the evolving social landscape.

Posted by on 4th Dec 2023