Ossification test in rape cases

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What is the ossification test for determination of age? Does it apply in rape cases?

Question from - Criminal Law

Section 375 of The Indian Penal Code defines offence of rape. Sixth paragraph of this section says that consent of victim is immaterial in offence of rape when the age of victim is under 18 years. If accused takes plea that victim was above the age of 18 years when offence was committed. Therefore in this condition determination of age is necessary. Court may order for ossification test of rape victim if no other direct is available regarding her age.

Generally when victim appears to be above 18 years and some records show that she is below 18 years then contradiction towards age arises. Ossification test is conducted by medical expert. This test is based upon the fusion of joints in the human body. Generally all joints of bones become fused at or after the age of 25 years.

However it is scientific evidence but not conclusive in nature because it may be possible that bones take more time in fusion. It is almost admitted by law that 2 years should be given as grace period to the person examined.

In Ramdeo Chauhan alias Raj Nath v. State of Assam (2001) SCC it is held by the supreme court that:

“The statement of the doctor is no more than an opinion, the court has to base its conclusions upon all the facts and circumstances disclosed on examining of the physical features of the person whose age is in question……In this vast country with varied latitudes, heights, environment, vegetation and nutrition, the height and weight cannot be expected to be uniform.”

In Vishnu alias Undrya vs. State of Maharashtra (2006) 1 SCC the Supreme Court rejected the plea of defense that ossification test is scientifically proved and it deserves acceptance. Court held that:

“We are unable to accept this contention for the reasons that the expert medical evidence is not binding on the ocular evidence. The opinion of the Medical Officer is to assist the court as he is not a witness of fact and the evidence given by the Medical Officer is really of an advisory character and not binding on the witness of fact.”

Court shall examine all the physical evidence of the person concerned. Its decision can’t be based solely upon the opinion of doctor. If there is any doubt regarding the age, benefit of doubt must in all cases be given to accused. Medical opinion is not binding on the court. This view is reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Parhlad And Anr. Vs. The State of Haryana (2015) SCC.

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