A special panel has ruled that an Indian teenager accused of taking part in last month's gang rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi will be tried as a juvenile, meaning he will face a maximum term of three years in a reform facility if convicted.
A lawyer present in the court said India's Juvenile Justice Board announced the decision Monday after accepting the suspect's school documents indicating that he was under 18 years of age at the time of the December 16, 2012 attack.
The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, does not possess a birth certificate, which is a common occurrence in India where many babies are not born in a hospital.
Five other men accused of the premeditated rape and killing of the 23-year-old student could face the death penalty if found guilty. A fast-track court held a separate pre-trial hearing Monday to determine what charges the men will face when the case goes to trial.
Police allege the 17-year-old and five men raped and severely beat the victim on a bus in New Delhi before dumping her and a male friend in the road. They also penetrated her repeatedly with a metal bar, injuring her so badly that she died of massive organ failure in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.
The assault set off a wave of protests across India, opening a debate on the country's widespread violence against women.
Public outrage about government and police handling of the case is still evident.
A government-appointed panel issued a scathing report last week highlighting the system's failure to enforce laws that protect women from violence and harassment.
Acting upon thousands of suggestions from the public and rights activists, the commission called on police to register every rape case and said trials should be held in a speedy manner. The panel also suggested that stalking, voyeurism and other forms of sexual harassment be punishable by prison terms.
Many Indian women say they travel in groups, only leave home during the day, and carry sharp objects to stab men who grope them on public buses.
A government panel set up after the gang rape blamed police negligence for a climate of insecurity in New Delhi, which is known as India's "rape capital."