A child watchdog on Monday described the four-year jail sentence for a man found guilty of child abuse as insufficient and said it failed to take into account the aggravating factors of the case for which the law provides for a maximum sentence of life.
The court jailed a 48-year-old man to four years after being found guilty on two counts of sexual assault of a girl, with mild mental disabilities, who was 14 at the time.
The man was found guilty of sexually assaulting the minor in his home, which the victim would visit as she was friends with the defendant’s children.
The sexual offences were committed in the period between June 2016 and May 2017 when the girl was 14-15 years old.
In its ruling, the court took into account the 48-year-old’s clean criminal record, and the fact that he remained in custody for 18 months because he was unable to fulfil his bail conditions.
The court said it recognised the severity of the case, and the fact that the defendant took advantage of the minor’s innocence, her youth and disregarded the trauma he would inflict upon her.
The necessity for the imposition of strict penalties for offences of a sexual nature was also acknowledged by the court, which expressed its “dismay over the defendant’s profane acts, which render society’s concern over the increasing trend of sexual offences justified.”
But child watchdog Foni (Voice) criticised the court for ignoring the aggravating factors of the case when deciding the punishment.
The council for the implementation of the national strategy to fight sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography expressed disappointment over the criminal court’s decision to impose a four-year jail sentence in an offence that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
According to the law, anyone participating in a sexual act with a child, during which the child’s position is abused, mainly because of a mental or physical handicap or state of dependence, is guilty of a criminal offence punishable with life imprisonment in the event of conviction.
“It is disappointing to see a court decision, which, while referring to the law, the aggravating factors like the use of violence and the child’s vulnerable position, and while noting the increase of such offences, went ahead and imposed a penalty of only four years, conveying a message of tolerance to such offences.”
Children with mental and physical handicaps are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation than other children, the council said, urging the authorities to ensure these children were protected.
It also urged courts to reflect their repugnance to such crimes in the sentences they impose.
On November 24, an Amnesty International report showed that while Cyprus recorded the highest rate among EU member states of reporting incidents of sexual violence to the police (27 per cent), the island is also among the countries exhibiting ‘classic attrition’, which the report defined as “a rise in reporting and a decrease in convictions over a sustained period of time.”
In fact, in reference to many EU countries’ failure to effectively persecute perpetrators of sexual violence, Amnesty International referred specifically to a case from Cyprus in 2016, which “illustrates well that barriers to accessing justice for rape often persist despite legislation being in line with human rights standards and based on lack of consent.”