The Supreme Court has handed down a 3-year prison sentence to a 30-year-old bus driver convicted of engaging in unlawful sexual activity with an underage girl during the Christmas holidays.

On November 2022, Harrison Lawi transported the victim and her cousin from a kava nakamal near the University of the South Pacific (USP) to a guest house at Erakor Half Road, where he engaged in sexual intercourse with her that night.

While the complainant entered the guest house, her cousin remained in the bus. Upon returning home, the victim admitted to having sexual intercourse with the defendant when questioned by her relatives.

The minor had come to Vila to spend the Christmas holidays with her relatives, who operated the kava nakamal near USP. Lawi was arrested earlier this year and subsequently pleaded guilty in court.

Unlawful sexual intercourse with a child under 15 years old, but over the age of 13, carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment. Lawi, being 28 years older than the complainant, received a starting point of 6 years imprisonment. The sentence was reduced by one third due to his early guilty plea. Additionally, his sentence was further decreased by 12 months based on his lack of prior convictions and personal circumstances. Lawi, a father to a 5-year-old son from a previous relationship, works as a bus driver to support his son and parents.

In delivering the verdict, Supreme Court Judge D. Aru acknowledged that Lawi had taken advantage of the complainant’s immaturity to engage in sexual activity. The judge stated, “Mr. Lawi, your sentence will not be suspended.

“A custodial sentence is warranted to hold you accountable for your actions and to deter you and the public at large from such offending. As you have been on bail prior to your sentence, you must present yourself to the Centre of the Correctional Centre in Vila by no later than June 21, 2023, unless you choose to begin serving your sentence immediately.”

Lawi has been given a 14-day window to appeal the sentence.