The had been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for sexually assaulting his 14-yr-old niece, who he subsequently married and has two children with.

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news Court Tuesday, May 17, 2022 - 17:25

Stating that the court cannot disturb the “happy family life” of a Tamil Nadu man who was found guilty in a case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the Supreme Court (SC) set aside his conviction. The order was passed by a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai, on May 9, while hearing the relief petition filed by the man. The man was convicted in 2018 for sexually assaulting his minor niece.

The man was booked under Sections 5(j)(ii), 5(I) and 5(n) read with section 6 of the POCSO Act, 2012, and was convicted and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a period of 10 years by the Fast Track Mahila Court in Tiruppur on October 31, 2018. The next year, both the conviction and the sentence were upheld by the the Madras High Court, following which the man approached the Supreme Court.

The man had sexually assaulted his niece when she was 14 after “promising” to marry her and he later married her, and they have two children. Advocate MP Parthiban, appearing for the man, asked the court to intervene stating that it would not be just to “disturb the family life”. Notably, some states like Karnataka have declared child marriages voidable — meaning that the the marriage can be declared void (invalid) if the aggrieved party (the person who was a minor at the time of the wedding) within two years of them becoming an adult at 18. While the Union government has mulled making all underage marriages void, child rights defenders have argued that it could end up harming girls and young women who have been married as minors by depriving them of a choose whether they want to remain in the marriage as adults. Thus, it may leave them vulnerable to denial of social security benefits and welfare measures.

The Supreme Court then asked the District Judge to record the statement of the woman about her present status, in which she is reported to have stated that she has two children and they are being taken care of by the man and she was “leading a happy married life.” However, advocate Dr Joseph Aristotle, representing the state of Tamil Nadu, opposed the court granting any relief stating that the woman was 14 years of age on the date of the offence and gave birth to the first child when she was 15 and second child was born when she was 17. He further argued that the marriage between them was not legal and that there was no guarantee that he will take care of the woman and the children after getting relief from the court.

After hearing the arguments, the court said that “the conviction and sentence” of the man, who was the “maternal uncle” of the woman “deserves to be set aside in view of the subsequent events”. The court also observed that it cannot “shut its eyes to the ground reality” and “disturb the happy family life” of the couple. “We have been informed about the custom in Tamil Nadu of the marriage of a girl with the maternal uncle,” the court stated and set aside the conviction of the man. The court also said that if he does not take proper care of the woman, she or the state on behalf of her can move this court for modification of the order.

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