The Bloemfontein High Court has slashed the life sentence originally meted out to a now 22-year-old man convicted of having raped his cousin when the two were both teenagers, to ten years – saying his “absence of parental guidance, love and care is a factor that the trial court should have considered”.
Judge Nokuthula Sylvia Daniso said this month in ruling on appeals of both the conviction and sentence: “At the time of the incident, he had just turned 18 and was in Grade 9 … He was an orphan having lost both parents by the age of 12. He has siblings but there was no contact as they lived with other family members while he was moved around the other family members.”
The man’s conviction was upheld but the judge found there were compelling reasons justifying a deviation from the minimum prescribed sentence in his case.
She said rape was “a heinous, degrading and mentally debilitating crime”.
The man was staying with his uncle and aunt – his cousin’s parents – at the time of the rape and Judge Daniso said: “It was aggravating that the complainant was a 14-year-old child violated in the sanctity of his own home by the person who was not only a relative but he referred to him as his brother. ”
But she had “no doubt that life imprisonment is an unjust sentence”.
“Taking into consideration the [man’s] youthfulness and the fact that he was remorseful, [he] is indeed a candidate for rehabilitation. The trial court clearly neglected to individualise the sentence,” she said.
Child rights activist and the former director of Childline, Joan van Niekerk, this week lauded the judge’s ruling.
“One would like to see a certain amount of leeway given to youths of this age,” she said. “We do have to consider that some children are seriously compromised in terms of guidance. And so one would really like to see the kind of sentence that does take this into account.”
But she said “aftercare” was essential.
“Prison isn’t a good place to learn acceptable sexual behaviour,” she said. “And so guidance, services and assistance with developing moral behaviour is needed after one is released from prison.”
Van Niekerk said while there were support services offered by correctional services, they were “certainly not enough”.
She also urged the authorities to review certain aspects of the parole system.
“We see people coming out of prison without appropriate conditions being put in place to make sure that both the children and adults in our communities are safe,” said Van Niekerk.
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