Children’s Rights Commissioner Leda Koursoumba on Tuesday said she was disappointed by a recent court decision sentencing a 48-year-old man to a four years in jail for the sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl with mild mental disabilities, given that he could have been jailed for life.
Such lenient decisions, she said, are contrary to the commitment of the state to fight one of the “most hideous crimes plaguing society.”
Later in the day, Attorney-general Costas Clerides told Sigmalive that the state legal service was looking into appealing the decision. On whether this was because the penalty was considered lenient, the AG replied they are looking into the possibility of an appeal.
In a written statement, Koursoumba said the decision by the Nicosia criminal court “to impose a prison term of just four years on an adult who was found guilty of sexual abuse of a child with a mental disability challenges the notion of justice for any concerned and sensitised citizen.”
The sexual abuse of a child is one of the most hideous crimes, she said, adding that the state had made sure to modernise the relevant legislative framework by laying down, among other things, provisions for severe penalties for crimes of this kind.
Koursoumba said that based on what has been made public, as she did not have access to the court’s decision, the nature the offence, the age of the girl, the relationship with the adult through her friendly contact with his children, and her partial mental disability, was enough to show that the penalty imposed “can reasonably be regarded as at the very least lenient.”
The court, she said, did not appear to have taken into account law provisions “according to which, sexual abuse of a child, which, due to mental or physical disability is in a vulnerable position, is subject to life imprisonment.
“I am sad to note that judgments in cases of sexual abuse and / or exploitation of children which, instead of exhausting the rigour of the law, are moving to the limits of leniency and are in contradiction with the state’s commitment to combat one of the most hideous crimes that plague our society,” Koursoumba said.
The commissioner also said that justice officials “have a duty to act and make their decisions based on the letter and the spirit of the law, and when they relate to children, mainly on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
She added that they have a duty, “to make decisions that reflect the determination of the state and society to put an end to the sexual abuse of children.”
Main opposition Akel too expressed its shock and dismay at the court decision. The party said the state had ensured the possibility for the courts to impose harsh and deterrent penalties.
“No matter how blind justice may be, it cannot turn a blind eye to such sick crimes, but also to the need of the Cypriot society to deal with them effectively,” the party said.
The case was brought to the fore on Monday after child watchdog Foni (Voice) criticised the court for ignoring the aggravating factors of the case when deciding the punishment. The watchdog described the four-year jail sentence for the man as insufficient saying the law provided for a maximum sentence of life.
The court jailed the 48-year-old man after he was found guilty on two counts, of sexually assaulting the minor in his home, which the victim would visit as she was friends with his children.
The sexual offences were committed 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.