NEW DELHI —
In India, the youngest rapist convicted of fatally attacking a 23-year-old student in New Delhi three years ago is set to walk free, after the Delhi High Court ruled Friday that it could not delay his release under current laws.
The prisoner, only a teenager when the attack took place, is due to be released on Sunday. This has prompted an outcry by those who say he should face stiffer punishment for the rape that caused the death of Jyoti Singh.
Six men attacked Singh on a bus on December 16, 2012. Police said the youngest attacker, then only 17 years old, was the most brutal of the rapists, who beat their victim with an iron rod before sexually assaulting her.
After a trial held behind closed doors to protect his identity, the teenager was sentenced to three years of detention – the maximum penalty allowed. Four of the other men arrested were sentenced to death.
Victim's parents disappointed
The High Court verdict Friday came in response to the federal government's plea to extend the rapist's incarceration. Jyoti Singh's anguished parents said they were deeply disappointed.
“The assurance we had been given that we would get justice, but we have not got justice," the young physiotherapy student's mother said. "A criminal is being set free.”
Singh's father said the court had its own logic, but the family's was for the sake of all society.
“Our [fight] will not end," he said, adding that, without tougher action by the courts, all young women, "even 2-year-olds," are potential victims of rape.
Women activists also joined the chorus of protest against the attacker's pending release.
The head of the Delhi Commission for Women, Swati Maliwal, expressed concern about laws that forbid revealing a juvenile’s identity.
'Kind of a threat'
“This kind of a threat that each and every woman is feeling, that this person is somebody we could be meeting in our lives without knowing that he is Nirbhaya’s rapist, I think this kind of an issue needs to be dealt in the severest of manner at the highest of places," Maliwal said.
Nirbhaya is the pseudonym that Indian media have used to to refer to Jyoti Singh.
Indian lawmakers responded to the horrific incident in 2012 by toughening criminal laws against sexual violence, but juveniles cannot yet be tried as adults in such cases.
After activists demanded lowering of the age of adult criminal responsibility, an amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act was drafted allowing 16-year-olds to be charged and tried as adults if heinous crimes are involved.
However, the bill is stuck in the upper house of parliament, and has done little more than draw attention to the slow pace of legislative reform in India.
The teenaged rapist in the Singh case left home when he was 11 and never returned. His mother has said she thought he had died.
Before his detention three years ago, the young man had been supporting himself by working at odd jobs. The High Court directed authorities to keep the convict under observation after his detention ends.
Although the teenager's role in the rape case turned the spotlight on juvenile criminals in India, official data show that Indian teens commit far fewer crimes, on average, than those in many other countries, including the United States.