In what could be the harshest sentence under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, since it came into effect, a special court judge in Thrissur has sentenced a priest to 40 years of rigorous imprisonment for raping a minor girl.
Thirty-five-year-old Sanil K James, a pastor attached to the Salvation Army, a Christian denominational church structured in a quasi-military fashion, was also fined Rs 20,000.Special Court Judge K P Sudheer ordered that the girl, 14, be given compensation of Rs 3 lakh. The girl attended the church where James was a priest. The pastor was convicted of raping the girl in his quarters in April 2014, when she had come there along with her siblings. James reportedly turned on the TV to distract the others and took the girl to an adjacent room, where he raped her.
The assault was exposed only in February 2015, during a counselling session held at her school by a child welfare committee.
Special Public Prosecutor Pious Mathew said another girl first approached the counsellors and told them about being raped by James. “During further sessions, she revealed the story of the other victim. Her own case is still under trial,” Mathew said.
Explaining why James’s alleged victims hesitated to come forward, the prosecutor said, “They were not even able to imagine reporting this incident to their parents as he was a priest, a man who stands next to God.”