In an infamous case of sexual assault whereby the priest of the St. Sebastian Church had impregnated a minor girl, the Hon’ble Judge R. Narayana Pisharadi, upheld the conviction of the accused; however, reduced the sentence of 20 years rigorous imprisonment to 10 years rigorous imprisonment.
The appellant/accused, a Vicar of St. Sebastian Church was indicted for committing the offences of penetrative sexual assault and rape on a teenage girl of the parish; consequently, the victim became pregnant and gave birth to a male child. The Trial Court convicted and sentenced the appellant for the offences punishable under Section 376(2)(f) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Section 3(a) read with Section 4 and Sections 5(f) and 5(j)(ii) read with Section 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (“POCSO Act”). The Trial Court had sentenced the accused to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of 20 and to pay a fine of Rs.1,00,000.
In the instant appeal, the appellant contended that the sexual intercourse took place with full and unqualified consent of the victim. On cross-examination by the accused, the victim categorically stated that it was with her full consent that the accused made sexual intercourse with her and that she had no complaint against the accused.
Observations of the Court-
- The Court observed that the victim girl told the police that her own father had committed rape on her and that the father of her child was her own father, while the medical report had proved the accused was the father of the child and the paternity was admitted by the accused himself.
- The Court remarked that “In the instant case, from the very beginning, there has been attempt on the part of the family of the victim to save the accused, who was the vicar of the local church, from the clutches of law.”
- On the question of whether the victim was a ‘child’ (as defined under Section 2(d) of the POCSO Act) at the time of the incident; the Court perused the birth register and certified copy of the school’s admission register and concluded that the victim was minor at the time of the incident and therefore, the sexual act between the accused and the victim would not fall under the definition of consensual act.
- However, noting that Section 376(2)(f) of IPC is attracted when a person who being a relative, guardian or teacher of, or a person in a position of trust or authority towards the woman, commits rape on such woman, the Court held that “merely for the reason that the accused was the priest/vicar of the local church, it could not be found that he had held any position of trust or authority towards the victim.”
Consequently, the appeal was allowed in part and the Court sentenced the accused to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of ten years and to pay a fine of Rs.1,00,000 and in default of payment of fine, to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of one year for the offence under Section 5(j)(ii) read with Section 6 of the POCSO Act.
– Vaishali Jain, Advocate & Associate – Child Safety at Work