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Gang rape suspect ruled a ‘minor’

'Most brutal' of six accused may walk free

Gang rape suspect ruled a ‘minor’
Demonstrators protest in Delhi
Swati Deb, New Delhi

January 29, 2013

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The sixth person accused in the recent gang rape of a medical student in New Delhi has been declared a ‘minor’ by the Juvenile Justice Board in India, sparking a debate over current laws. 

The ruling would allow the suspect to be freed by June 4 when he turns 18. 

Lawyers for the prosecution said they would appeal against the order in a higher court.

The accused, who was described as the most brutal of the six by the Delhi police on its charge sheet, was declared as 17 years, six months and 24 days old (as of Tuesday) by the board.

In India, a person less than 18 years of age is considered a minor.     

Sources said the police are likely to challenge the juvenile board’s ruling and "have sought legal opinion" on the age issue and trial of the juvenile along with others accused in the gruesome case.

The father of the victim, who died earlier this month following serious injuries due to the incident, demanded the death penalty for the juvenile accused.

"The punishment should not be less even if he is a juvenile,” he said.

Subramanian Swamy, president of Janata Party (people’s party), said, "It will be erroneous to set him free like that. When somebody commits a crime, which affects the rights of somebody else in a grave way, there has to be retribution. He should be subjected to a proportionate punishment."

Senior political commentator Ram Bilas said, "The law should be changed. A modern child or a youngster of 16-17 years of age is mentally more advanced than what he used to be over 40 years back.”

The government should reconsider how the law treats juveniles, as has been done in countries like Australia and the US, he added.

However, others shared a different view.

Amod K. Kanth, a retired police official, told the ruling of the juvenile board is according to the law of the land.

Kanth, the chairperson of the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Children, said that a juvenile has to be treated differently.

"A person till the age of 18 is a child, he has to be dealt with differently in a reformist mode'" he said. "Below the age of 18, a child has no right to marry or vote so how can we submit the person to the same justice system?" 

The board relied on the suspect's birth certificate and school documents. It rejected the police's plea for a bone ossification test of the accused for determining his age.

The December 16 gang rape incident in the national capital shook the nation, with people coming out on streets demanding security for women and stricter laws for those indulging in crimes against them.

A panel formed to review the rape laws after the incident also refused to lower the age of minor from 18 to 16 years.

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