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Stay on release of Swiss couple hailed

By Our Special Correspondent

MUMBAI, APRIL 2. Child rights groups have welcomed the Supreme Court's stay on a Bombay High Court order releasing the Swiss couple, Loshiar and Wilhelm Marty, who were convicted three years ago by a sessions court in Mumbai of using street children for child pornography.

The Bombay High Court had commuted the seven-year sentence of the couple to three years and three months — the time they had already spent in jail — increased the compensation amount for the six victims from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 1 lakh and ordered the release of the couple.

However, before the Martys could leave the country, the Maharashtra Government acted swiftly in response to a plea from child rights groups and appealed first in the High Court, where the appeal was dismissed, and thereafter in the Supreme Court, where a stay was granted. The matter would come up for hearing on April 5.

Veena Gowda, an advocate with the organisation Majlis, told presspersons today that the issue was of grave significance because of the nature of the offence. She pointed out that although the sessions court did convict the couple, who was literally "caught in the act" with three street children (subsequently another three testified against the Martys), they could only be charged under the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code as there was no law that dealt specifically with child sexual abuse.

The High Court ruling, she said, commuting the sentence without reasonable grounds set a bad precedent in law domestically and sent out the wrong message internationally — that in India such abuse could go unchecked. She said that the alacrity with which the State Government acted demonstrated what could be done if the State decided to move and recognised the seriousness of the offence and its long-term implication.

Nishta Desai of the Child Rights Group in Goa, a destination that is increasingly being frequented by paedophiles, said that paedophilia was not specific to Goa but was prevalent in other tourist spots. In response to campaigns by groups such as hers, the Goa Government has enacted the Goa Children's Act 2003, which defined sexual offences against children and laid down stringent punishment. Unfortunately, rules under the act have still not been notified nor have the institutions, such as a Children's Court, been established to implement the law.

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