Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Wednesday halved the jail sentence awarded to former Catholic priest Robin Mathew Vadakkumchery who was found guilty of sexually abusing and impregnating a minor girl. The rigorous imprisonment of 20 years decreed for the former priest by the Thalassery POCSO Court in 2019 has now been reduced to 10.
The POCSO court had charged Robin under Section 376(2)(f) of the Indian Penal Code and various sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Taken together, the defrocked priest should have been in jail for 60 years. But the POCSO Court ruled that the terms would run concurrently, and fixed a 20-year sentence. The High Court, however, shifted the IPC charge to Section 376(1) of the IPC, thereby reducing the sentence. The sentence under POCSO Act was, nonetheless, seconded by the High Court.
The POCSO Court's decision to charge Robin under 376(2)(f), and issue him an extended jail term, was based on its understanding that the victim was abused by Robin even before she was 12. Section 376(2)(f) is about rape committed on a girl under 12 years.
Robin's counsel seems to have convinced the court that Robin's physical contact with the girl had happened after that age. Under 376(2), the lowest jail term is 10 years and could go up to life. The POCSO court, in its wisdom, handed down a 20-year jail sentence. Under 376(1), the lowest jail term is seven years. The High Court settled on 10.
Robin was the vicar of St Sebastian's Church, Kottiyoor, Wayanad District, when the incident occurred.
The victim gave birth to a girl child in February 2017. Robin was arrested in 2017, just when he was planning an escape to Canada.
During the initial period, the case demonstrated the enormous power the Church could exert to have its way. The girl's father was coerced to confess in the Court that it was he who had impregnated his own daughter. Later, the man had broken down in the Court.
A DNA check then established that Robin had fathered the child. Consensual sex was the next argument trotted out in Robin's defence. Even the victim said that the sex was consensual. However, consensual sex was no defence at all considering the minor status of the victim.
"Here, it is not a moral issue that arises for consideration by this court. The question is whether there was legal justification for A1 (Robin) in having sexual intercourse with PW1 (the victim). I have no doubt in my mind that the act committed by A1 was legally wrong and it amounted to commission of offences punishable under various sections of the POCSO Act," the POCSO Court said while delivering its verdict on February 16, 2019.
The POCSO Court had also explained why it had settled on a severe punishment and yet stopped short of issuing a life sentence. "This is a case where A1 by his sexual adventures wrecked the life of a young girl. The wreckage was massive. I am of the view that the sentence to be imposed upon A1 has to match with the gravity of the offences. However, considering the fact that the child born to PW1 and A1 is growing and the child did not have the fortune of meeting his father till date, I desist from imposing life sentence upon A1."
Though the ex-priest had initially tried to evade responsibility and heap the blame on the victim's father, he later said he wanted to marry the victim. He wanted his sentence suspended to marry the victim. The victim also filed a plea in the Supreme Court saying that her child needed legitimacy. She also wanted to escape the social stigma of being a victim of a sexual crime, she argued.
The apex court rejected the appeal. The High Court, too, had earlier turned down the marriage proposal. The court had dismissed the plea stating that giving the convict bail and permission to marry will set a wrong example in society.