The Maldivian government has today said it will review and potentially “correct” laws in the country it claims victimise young women and minors who have suffered sexual abuse.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News the government would be holding consultations with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and other relevant authorities to discuss how minors who have been sexually abused were being treated in the country.
The comments were made as the Prosecutor General (PG’s) Office today confirmed it had pressed charges against a 15 year-old girl from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll for having “consensual sexual relations”.
A spokesperson for the PG’s Office said the charges against the minor were unrelated to a separate case against the girl’s stepfather over allegations he had sexually abused her.
“Protected, not punished”
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad said that from government’s perspective, the 15 year-old girl was a victim who needed to be protected, not punished by authorities.
“We will be talking with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs over this manner and will review and correct the problem,” he said.
Masood claimed that the Maldives had experienced a number of similar cases of late where young women had been victimised and punished by authorities – a situation he said the government was looking to prevent.
“We are reviewing this right now and if we have to go to the extent of changing existing laws then we would look to do this,” he said.
While unable to comment on specific cases at time of press, Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal told Minivan News that he was hugely concerned about the number of reports of sexual abuse against minors in the country.
Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human rights Dr Mariyam Shakeela and Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed were not responding to calls at the time of press.
The reported handling of the case by authorities has garnered significant attention this week in both local and international media.
A PG’s Office spokesperson today confirmed that the charges against the minor were related to a separate offence of Sharia Law, which had been filed back on November 25, 2012.
The 15 year-old last year gave birth to a baby that was discovered buried in the outdoor shower area of a home on Feydhoo – her stepfather was later charged with sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing murder without intent.
The spokesperson said that another charge was filed against the girl’s mother over claims she had failed to inform authorities of the alleged sexual abuse of her own child.
Judicial authorities told Minivan News earlier this week that the charges against the 15 year-old were yet to be filed with the Juvenile Court at the time.
Director of the Department of Judicial Administration Ahmed Maajid was not responding to calls at time of press.
The charges against the 15 year-old girl have been slammed as an “absolute outrage” by NGO Amnesty International.
In a statement released yesterday, Amnesty International’s Maldives Researcher Abbas Faiz stressed that suspected victims of rape and sexual abuse required counselling and support rather than facing prosecution.
“We urge the Maldivian authorities to immediately drop all charges against the girl, ensure her safety and provide her with all necessary support,” the NGO’s statement read.
Amnesty Intentional also raised concerns that should the minor be found guilty of “fornication” as reported in the media, she could potentially be flogged in line with sentencing for similar cases held in the country.
“If found guilty of ‘fornication’ the girl could be punished with flogging. She would likely be kept under house arrest until she turns 18 when, under Maldivian law, the flogging can be carried out. Flogging is a violation of the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment,” Amnesty International stated.
“The Maldivian authorities should immediately end its use regardless of circumstances. The fact that this time a 15-year old girl who has suffered terribly is at risk makes it all the more reprehensible. Flogging is not only wrong and humiliating, but can lead to long-term psychological as well as physical scars.”
Back in September 2012, a 16 year-old girl was sentenced to house arrest and 100 lashes for fornication with a 29 year-old man.
Permanent Magistrate of Raa Atoll Hulhudhuhfaaru, Magistrate Abdul Samad Abdulla, sentenced the girl to eight months under house arrest, and for public flogging once she reaches the age of 18.
Ali Rashid, an official of the Hulhudhuhfaaru Magistrate Court, said at the time that the girl had been sentenced for fornication because she had confessed to it. However, the 29 year-old male with whom she was co-accused had denied the charges.
“The man said he hadn’t committed fornication, but he admitted to having hugged and done certain other things with the girl. This amounts to sexual assault of a minor under the law. That’s why he has got the minimum sentence possible under the relevant law, 10 years in jail,” Rashid explained.
The official of the Hulhudhuhfaaru Magistrate Court referred Minivan News to Article 25 of the act detailing special actions to be taken in cases of sexual offences against children (Act number: 12/2009).
Article 25 says: “Unless proven otherwise, it cannot be considered that a child between ages 13-18 had given consent to committing a sexual act. And unless proven otherwise, it will be considered that the sexual act was committed without the child’s consent.”
In November 2011, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, speaking in parliament, raised concerns about the issue of flogging in the Maldives.
Speaking on the issue, Pillay said at the time, “This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”
Her statements and calls for discussion on the issue were met with outrage from then political opposition and religious conservative Adhaalath party, giving rise to protests and demonstrations. The Foreign Ministry, under the former government, dismissed the calls for discussion on the issue, stating: “There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God.”