Rape suspect labelled minor

New Delhi, Jan. 28: The sixth accused in the Delhi gang rape and murder case has been declared a minor, which rules out detention beyond three years if found guilty and raises the possibility of transfer to a "place of safety" in four months.

Delhi police have sought the death penalty for the other five accused.

Reuters quoted the victim's father, who watched the news flash across his TV screen, as saying: "A sudden current ran through my body in disbelief. I can't believe this. How can they declare him a minor? Do they not see what they did?"

The Juvenile Justice Board today accepted a certificate issued by the principal of a school at Badaun in Uttar Pradesh. The document says the accused, who studied there till Class III, was born on June 4, 1995. This means he was 17 years, 6 months and 12 days old when the crime was committed.

The maximum punishment he can be awarded if found guilty is three years' detention at a home for young convicts.

The acceptance of the date also means the accused will turn 18 on June 4 this year ' which will prevent him from being kept in a juvenile detention centre any longer. The usual practice then is to release the convict on probation but that may not happen in this case.

"This is a 'rarest of the rare' case, and I do not think the board will grant him that leniency," said juvenile law expert Anant Kumar Asthana.

The board has the option of moving the convict to an institution called a "place of safety" ' a home for juvenile-turned-adult convicts or accused (whose trial hasn't been completed). As in a juvenile detention centre, here too the focus remains on reforming and rehabilitating the inmates.

An under-18 accused is covered not by the Indian Penal Code but by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000, which provides for a maximum punishment of three years' detention even for murder.

The proceedings ' called an "inquiry" and not a "trial" ' are conducted by the board.

The board rejected the police plea for an ossification test to verify the age of the accused. The Supreme Court had recently ruled that an ossification test should be done only if the age documents were inconclusive or dubious. Besides, an ossification test leaves a margin of error and is of little help in borderline cases.

The juvenile, allegedly the most brutal among the six, had fled his home in Badaun six-and-a-half years ago and arrived in Delhi in search of a job, according to a police report.

The boy ' the eldest of two sisters and four brothers ' would have been 11 then. His father is mentally challenged and his mother works as a farm labourer.

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