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In the trial of a Catholic priest of Kerala, more than a year after he was arrested on charges of raping and impregnating a 17-year-old schoolgirl, the senior counsel appearing for the state of Kerala told the Supreme Court that the girl must have been a minor during time of conception, hence the case should be heard under the POCSO Act.

He said that the prosecutrix at the time of delivery was told to be 18 years of age as shown in the records, but the doctors were bound to report the matter in compliance with Section 19 of the POCSO Act, as the prosecutrix must have been a minor at the time of conception and sexual intercourse where consent or not is immaterial under the act.

Hence the doctor was duty bound to report such pregnancy.

The case is being heard by the bench of Justices A  K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.

Father Robin Vadakkancherry of Mananthavady Diocese was parish priest of St. Sebastian’s Church in Kottiyoor at the time of the alleged offense. The 49-year-old priest was arrested and placed in custody in February 2017 after the girl gave birth to a boy.

His diocese, part of the Syro-Malabar Church, suspended him following his arrest.

Seven more people are facing trial on charges of trying to hide a sexual offence against a minor girl. All are on bail. They are the administrator, gynecologist and pediatrician of the church-run hospital where the delivery was conducted, a diocesan priest, a midwife who assisted the birth and two nuns at a church-run orphanage who arranged care for the baby.

Today, while hearing two petitions, one filed by the gynaecologist and a paediatrician, arraigned as accused in the rape case, and another petition filed by the chairman and a member of the child welfare committee allegedly accused in that same case as conspirators, the bench discharged he doctor and the paediatrician.

The counsel stated that although the girl was 16 years 6 months at the time of incident as per the FIR, the girl when taken to the hospital was told to be of 18 years in age. While upraising the submissions commenced by senior counsel Basant appearing for the gynaecologist and the paediatrician, the bench expressed that the doctor cannot be tied, on a mere fact that the patient was 18 years whereas there was no suspicion of rape as the mother of the prosecutrix accompanied her and nobody raised any alarm.

The doctor in such cases cannot be expected to investigate unless there is any suspicion, submits Basant and the bench upraised the argument.

The child was taken to a home after he was born as a result of connivance between doctor, paediatrician, two sisters of the church to hide the heinous crime committed by the father of the church, is the case advanced by the prosecution.

– India Legal Bureau

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