Pity if you're the child concerned though. Political correctness is very strange indeed in deciding to whom it extends its special favours
An Aborigine's jail term has been lifted on appeal to 18 months for having sex with his 14-year-old promised wife. The case has flamed debate about the role of customary Aboriginal law in the wider Australian legal system, as the traditional Aboriginal man believed his actions were allowed under tribal law. The man - who speaks English as his fourth language and lives in the remote NT outback - also did not know his actions were illegal under NT laws. The Northern Territory Court of Appeal today found the 55-year-old's earlier sentence was "manifestly inadequate".
The court had heard the girl was promised to the man - who cannot be named for legal reasons - when she was just four. He became angry after she struck up a friendship with a young man in June last year, during her school holidays. Believing the girl had a sexual relationship with the boy, the man beat her with a boomerang at the outback Aboriginal community, south-west of Katherine. He later took her to his remote outstation - where he lived with his wife and young children - threatened her with a boomerang and had anal sex with her. The child later told police: "I told that old man I'm too young for sex, but he didn't listen".
The man believed that intercourse with the girl was acceptable because she had been promised to him and had turned 14, the court heard. In August, the man pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated assault and a charge of carnal knowledge. At the time Chief Justice Brian Martin imposed a total two-year sentence, but suspended it after one month.
The Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the leniency of the sentence, and the Court of Appeal today imposed a total sentence of three years and 11 months, suspended after 18 months. In handing down the court's ruling, Justice Dean Mildren issued a stern warning that violence would not be tolerated by the courts. "The courts view very seriously and will not tolerate violence by Aboriginal men upon Aboriginal women or children, whether that violence is tolerated by Aboriginal law or not," Justice Mildren said. He said it was important Aboriginal people know sexual intercourse with a child under 16 was a serious offence. "The fact that the child has been promised in marriage according to Aboriginal customary law does not excuse such offending," he said. However, he said it was important to remember the man was not charged with rape.
Justice Mildren said the law had stopped short of making promised marriages illegal. "(But) such marriages cannot be consummated until the promised wife has turned 16," he said. "Plainly the purpose of (the law)... is to give Aboriginal girls some freedom of choice as to whether or not they want to enter into such a marriage, and to thereby empower them to pursue ... employment opportunities or further education rather than be pushed into pregnancy or traditional domesticity prematurely."
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