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South Africa Convicts Man in Baby Rape Case - 2002-07-26

A South African court has convicted a man of raping a nine-month-old baby last year. The case horrified the nation and drew attention to South Africa's high rate of child abuse.

The judge sentenced 23-year-old David Potse to life in prison plus 18 years for the rape of the tiny infant in the Northern Cape town of Upington.

The judge in the case, Hennie Lacock, said he believe Potse deserved a death sentence, a penalty South Africa no longer allows. According to South African public radio, Judge Lacock called it the most gruesome human rights violation he has seen in his 32-year career.

Throughout the trial, Potse has denied he committed the brutal crime. But the prosecution presented DNA evidence linking him to the rape and his own girlfriend testified that she witnessed him committing the act.

Potse was arrested in March after DNA testing exonerated the six men who were originally accused of the rape.

The victim, now a year and a half old, is known as Baby Tshepang, which means "have hope" in the Tswana language. Her real name cannot be released under South African law. She underwent extensive surgery after her attack in October, spending nearly a year in the hospital. Her doctors said she has now made a full recovery, at least physically.

Local news reports say revenge might have been the motive for the rape. Baby Tshepang's 17-year-old mother, who has also not been identified, reportedly broke off a relationship with David Potse not long before the assault. She testified in court that he had abused and harassed her during and after their relationship.

The Baby Tshepang case focused public attention on the huge problem of child rape in South Africa. Police statistics say thousands of children are sexually assaulted every year, giving the country one of the highest rates of child rape in the world.