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Pretoria - A 29-YEAR-old man who had a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old learned the hard way that appearances can be deceiving.

The man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the minor, said when he started his relationship with her, he had not asked her age, as he believed she was older than 18.

The girl, on the other hand, claimed that when he professed his love for her, he had asked her how old she was and she told him she was 13.

The teenager’s parents got to hear about their relationship and reported the man to the police.

In June 2015, the man was convicted of statutory rape in the Klerksdorp regional court and sentenced to six years imprisonment.

He appealed his conviction and sentence in the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, where he told two judges that he had no idea at all that his young lover was a minor.

The judges gave him the benefit of the doubt and said looking at the teenager and considering the circumstances under which they met, it could possibly be true that he thought she was older. 

The court overturned the conviction and sentence and ordered the man’s release after he had spent four years of his sentence in jail.

The minor said she was had been sittign on the stairs outside an establishment speaking to a friend, when she first saw the man. He told her that he loved her and she responded that she also loved him. From there their relationship prospered.

According to her, they had to keep their sexual relationship a secret from her mother.

The man told the court that as he met the girl at a tavern and only by looking at her, he was under the belief that she was older than 18. 

It emerged that his former girlfriend and mother of his child told the girl's mother that she was having a relationship with the man. The furious mother laid a charge against him and he was arrested the next day.

On appeal, the man said the lower court should not have accepted the version of the minor. He said she probably only told the court that as her mother was furious with her.

The judges referred to the evidence of a doctor, who testified that the teenager was at “Tanner stage 5”, indicating a sexual maturity beyond her years.

Acting Judge NN Bam, who delivered the judgment, said the lower court had not questioned what this level of maturity meant, adding that stage 5 marked the end of a child’s physical maturation. This usually happens around the age of 15 and continues to 18, when girls take on the physical form of a young woman.

The judge said despite the magistrate’s insistence that the girl appeared to be a child to him, medical evidence pointed otherwise.

“Tanner stage 5 would tend to suggest that the complainant looked like a fully grown girl,” the judge said.

He also questioned the fact that the two met at a tavern and usually went to the establishment on dates. He said a tavern was hardly the place for a child in Grade 7 at the time.

The court said it was thus not impossible that the man thought that his girlfriend was older than she was.