By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI, Nov 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indian court on Thursday sentenced to life in prison two Indian men who were convicted of raping their 10-year-old niece in a case that caused a global furore when the girl was denied an abortion and had to give birth earlier this year.
A fast-track court in the northwestern city of Chandigarh also imposed a fine of 350,000 rupees ($5,416) each on the two men, who are brothers.
"This is an appropriate punishment for such a heinous crime and should be a strong deterrent," said Sangita Vardhan, head of the Chandigarh Child Welfare Committee that is counselling the girl, who continues to live with her parents.
"That the conviction and sentencing took place so quickly is encouraging," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The girl was 30 weeks pregnant in July when the court turned down her abortion plea as she was too far advanced. Indian law does not allow terminations after 20 weeks unless the mother's life is in danger.
The girl did not know she was pregnant and was unaware she delivered a baby girl in August as her parents told her she was undergoing stomach surgery to remove a stone. The baby was put up for adoption.
The girl, whose identity has been kept secret, initially told police and child welfare activists that she had been raped several times by the first uncle, who is aged in his 40s.
But after DNA tests did not link him to the baby, police began searching for more suspects and a second uncle was arrested.
An increasing number of such cases have come to the courts in recent years, with as many as 10,854 cases of child rape reported in India in 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
In May, a court allowed another 10-year-old girl allegedly raped by her stepfather to undergo an abortion.
Activists say awareness of, and reporting of, sexual violence against women has risen since a fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012, which sparked nationwide protests and a tightening of the law.
But sexual violence against children remains a taboo topic, with most cases going unreported.
Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a decades-old clause in the country's rape laws permitting a man to have sex with his wife if she is aged between 15 to 18 - ruling that it was rape, and therefore a criminal offence.
($1 = 64.6189 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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