School Leaving Certificate Has No Independent Evidentiary Value In Determining Age Of Victim In POCSO Cases: Orissa HC
The Orissa High Court observed that School Leaving Certificate (SLC) cannot be the sole evidence in proving the age of a victim as it does not hold any independent evidentiary value.
The Court asserted that the highest-rated option for determining the age of a child is the matriculation (or equivalent) certificate. If this certificate is not available, the next option is the date of birth entered in the school first attended by the child. If this entry is not available, the next option is a birth certificate issued by a corporation or a municipal authority or a panchayat. Only in the absence of any of these documents can the age of the child be determined by a medical opinion, through a ossification test.
The Bench of Justice S.K. Sahoo observed, “It is apposite on my part to clear the clutter as far as the position of law regarding proof of date of birth through S.L.C. is concerned. S.L.C. has no independent evidentiary value which can be solely put to use to prove someone’s date of birth”.
Advocate Minati Behera appeared for the Appellant as Amicus Curiae and Additional Standing Counsel Priyabrata Tripathy appeared for the Respondents.
In this case, The father of the victim lodged an FIR against the Appellant. The Appellant, allegedly, approached the victim and informed her that the parents have asked him to escort her to the house. She was reluctant to go but the Appellant took her on a motorcycle. Thereafter the Appellant took the victim into a forest and raped her. The victim was shouting which caught the attention of two people (who became prosecution witnesses in the case) who spotted the victim and rescued her. The victim, a Class 9 student at the time, stated she was 15 years old, but her exact date of birth was uncertain. The school headmaster produced a register showing her birth date as 16.11.2003, but due to the lack of reliable evidence, the victim's age remained a significant consideration in the charges against the accused.
The Court placed reliance on Supreme Court Judgement in the cases of Birad Mal Singhvi v Anand Purohit (1988 Supp SCC 604) and Sunil v State of Haryana ((2010) 1 SCC 742) and held that it was unsafe to rely on the admission register of the subsequent school or the SLC to determine the accurate age of the victim. The Court concluded that in the absence of concrete proof of age, it is proper to extend the benefit of the doubt to the accused.
“The Court held that it would be unsafe to rely merely upon the S.L.C. as a conclusive proof of the date of birth of the prosecutrix. Further, much similar to this case, there the father of the victim was unable to give accurate date of birth of her daughter and was providing some wild estimation. Thus, the Court deemed it proper in that case to extend benefit of doubt to the appellant in the absence of concrete proof of age of the victim”, the Court noted.
Additionally, the Court relied on Supreme Court Judgement in the case of Jarnail Singh v State of Haryana ((2013) 7 SCC 263) and asserted that in order to determine the age Rule 12(3) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007 must be analysed.
Accordingly, the Court partly allowed the Appeal and acquitted the Appellant of the charges under section 376(3) of the IPC and section 6 of the POCSO Act. The Court convicted the Appellant under section 376(1) of the IPC and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for ten years.
Cause Title: Duryodhan Majhi @ Durja v. State of Odisha