Rape and Domestic Violence: Laws that came into effect in 2014 regarding sexual harassment and sexual offenses criminalize spousal rape and gender discrimination in workplaces, including in educational institutions and service providers such as hospitals. A man may be convicted of rape in the absence of a confession only if there are two male witnesses or four female witnesses willing to testify. In the case of a child, the burden of proof is lower.
As of October 31, the MPS received seven reports of rape, one of which it had forwarded for prosecution. It also received 262 reports of various sexual offenses and forwarded 44 of these to the PGO. Eight of these cases led to prosecution and charges.
Media reports of violence against women and rape were common. Most rape and abuse cases reported in media involved minors, and attackers usually knew their victims. NGOs believed many more cases remained unreported due to fear of reprisals, losing custody of children, lack of economic independence, insensitivity of police in dealing with victims, absence of regulation in media concerning victims’ privacy, the stigma of being a victim, and low conviction rates.
As of October 31, 553 cases of domestic violence were reported to the MPS. The MPS forwarded 30 of these cases to the PGO for prosecution, one of which led to a conviction. The law covering all types of domestic relations prohibits physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. It also extends protection to wives against being forcibly impregnated by their husbands against medical orders and includes an extensive list of other abuses for which protection is provided. The act allows courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. Officers were nevertheless reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family, reportedly believing such violence was justified. A World Bank report, Understanding Gender in Maldives, found that, despite the passage of the domestic violence legislation, a majority of women named gender-based violence as one of their major concerns.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no data on the frequency of FGM/C, although religious leaders called for the practice to be revived in 2014. Local NGO Hope for Women reported the practice persisted, but societal stigma restricted public discussion of the issue.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In September 2015 the president ratified the third amendment to the Penal Code, which stated only Maldivian Islamic law penalties may be imposed for hadd (robbery, fornication, homosexual acts, alcohol consumption, apostasy) and qisas (retaliation in kind) offenses. Penalties could include hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery. In October 2015 the Supreme Court annulled a death by stoning verdict of one woman. Prior to the amendment, the Penal Code only allowed for the implementation of milder penalties in limited cases, including flogging for fornication and optional flogging for consuming alcohol and pork, not fasting during Ramadan, and for perjury.
In its February 2015 submission to the second UPR on the country, Amnesty International called for a moratorium on flogging as a form of punishment. In the government’s response to the UPR in May 2015, the secretary of legal affairs defended the practice of flogging, stating, “Maldivians believe that Islamic principles and human rights go hand in hand” and that flogging is a useful crime deterrent.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, but the government did not enforce the law. There were allegations of sexual harassment in government ministries and the private sector.
The MPS reported 19 filed cases of sexual harassment from January to October 31 under the Sexual Harassment Act, one of which it forwarded for prosecution.
To streamline the process of reporting abuse against women and children, there were family and children’s centers on every atoll. According to the HRCM, these centers also provided services for neglected children, support for families unable to take of their children, and women with mental or other disabilities. The Ministry of Gender and Family reported the need to establish residential facilities at family and children’s centers on every atoll to provide emergency shelter assistance to domestic violence and other victims, but these were yet to be established.
Reproductive Rights: Married couples by law have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, or violence. There were some reports of employment discrimination based on a woman’s perceived reproductive plans. Unmarried couples and single women did not have the legal right to access contraception but could obtain contraception over the counter on larger islands. Access to information on contraception and skilled attendants at delivery and in postpartum care were widely available on larger islands but more difficult to find on smaller, more remote islands. According to UN Population Fund (UNFPA) statistics released in October, the country’s maternal mortality rate declined 90 percent in the last 25 years, with only 68 women dying out of every 100,000 live births in 2015 when compared with 677 deaths out of every 100,000 live births in 1990. UNFPA attributed this improvement to developments in the country’s health and emergency obstetric care, as well as to increased public awareness about the importance of prenatal care.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women remained a problem. Authorities more readily accused women of adultery, in part because visible pregnancies made the allegedly adulterous act more obvious, while men could deny the charges and escape punishment because of the difficulty of proving fornication or adultery under Islamic law.
Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily than wives may divorce their husbands. Islamic law also governs estate inheritance, which grants male heirs twice the share of female heirs. According to the PGO, however, property was generally divided equally among siblings unless the men in the family demanded a larger share.
In March the government adopted the National Gender Equality Policy, and on August 23, parliament passed a Gender Equality Law, to become effective in February 2017. According to the HRCM, however, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. According to a World Bank report, Understanding Gender in Maldives, women tended to be clustered in low-growth sectors and lower-paying positions than men and tended to earn less than men for equal work. The absence of child-care facilities made it difficult for women to remain employed after they had children and social stigma about some industries and jobs limited women’s job opportunities. Societal disapproval also discouraged women from working at tourist resorts for extended periods. According to the World Bank report Women, Business, and the Law, employers can legally ask employees about their marital status and reproductive plans, leading to reports received by the HRCM that some employers discouraged women from marriage or pregnancy, since it could result in termination or demotion. The HRCM reported the government fell short of promoting women’s equality by failing to establish childcare centers and child-friendly working environments, and failing to implement affirmative action.
Although women historically played a subordinate role in society, they participated in public life. Women accounted for 55 percent of civil service employees and 34 percent of the senior jobs as of July 31.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents. A child born of a citizen father or mother, regardless of the child’s place of birth, may derive citizenship.
Education: Girls’ access to secondary education was sometimes limited because of a lack of access to sanitation and separate facilities to study. NGO sources stated there were increasing reports of families preventing girls from going to school. According to NGO sources, school curricula reflected an increasingly “restrictive” interpretation of Islam.
Child Abuse: The Ministry of Gender and Family is in charge of following up on reports of child abuse, including cases of sexual abuse. The law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years in prison for those convicted of sexual offenses against children. If a person is legally married to a minor under Islamic law, however, none of the offenses specified in the legislation is considered crimes. The courts have the power to detain perpetrators, although most were released pending sentencing and allowed to return to the communities of their victims. In 2015 the Ministry of Gender and Family first published the online child sex offenders’ registry that, as of September 18, listed 77 individuals and their photos, full names, identification card numbers, addresses, dates of conviction, dates of imprisonment, dates of scheduled release, and current whereabouts.
Reports of child abuse were on the rise, according to a 2015 release from the local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC). The organization noted existing cultural norms were creating a high-risk environment for children and called on the government to enact and enforce all the policies under the Child Rights Bill. In May 2015 the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched an abuse-prevention program to increase awareness of child abuse, and in support of UNICEF’s program, the Ministry of Gender and Family set up a child abuse reporting hotline where all calls were investigated and reported to police.
The Ministry of Gender and Family stated reports of sexual abuse were increasing, and underage marriage was a major concern. The increase in reported cases of sexual abuse appeared to result from increased public awareness, although the ministry noted there was still hesitation to report abuse occurring within the family.
Early and Forced Marriage: According to a September amendment to the Family Regulation, the Family Court must petition the Supreme Court for approval for girls and boys under age 18 to marry. The Ministry of Gender and Family must also submit an assessment of the proposed marriage to the Supreme Court and the marriage can only proceed after the Supreme Court grants the Family Court approval for the union. Three cases of underage marriage were reported to the Ministry of Gender and Family as of August, but the Department of Judicial Administration reported an increase in the number of cases where authorities failed to check the birth certificates of the underage bride and groom before they officiated the marriage. According to the NGO Hope for Women, Islamic scholars invited to speak at government-organized public events and on television and radio often endorsed early and forced marriage.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act prohibits child prostitution and the use, procurement, or provision of a child (below age 18) for the production of pornography or for pornographic performance. The crime is punishable by imprisonment between 15 and 25 years. The act stipulates that a child between ages 13 and 18 involved in a sexual act is deemed not to have given consent, “unless otherwise proven.” The law also treats the prostitution of children by a third party as a form of human trafficking with exploitation under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act with a 15-year maximum sentence. The law, however, generally requires the acts of exploitation be predicated on movement and does not criminalize it in the absence of coercion. The new Penal Code came into effect in July 2015 allowing the PGO to lodge multiple charges against a perpetrator for a single offense. For sex trafficking, this means the PGO can file charges for human trafficking under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act and for prostitution under the Child Sexual Abuse Act, and aggregate the penalties so perpetrators serve longer sentences for a single offense.
Institutionalized Children: Local NGO ARC released a report in March detailing abuses in government-run “safe homes.” These facilities were intended to be temporary stopovers for children being taken into state care, but ARC reported children routinely spent many months at these homes. According to ARC, the “safe homes” were inadequately furnished and equipped, lacked basic essentials, and were often understaffed, resulting in inadequate care, protection, and education for institutionalized children. Reiterating the findings from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s January report on Maldives, ARC also expressed concern about children living in the same living quarters as adults with serious mental disabilities in the government-run Home for People with Special Needs. The Ministry of Gender and Family reported it housed 163 children in its Kudakudhinge Hiya and Fiyavathi facilities. Police and the HRCM were investigating the October death of a five-month-old baby who was living at the Fiyavathi home but had not yet published their findings.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
By law citizens may not practice any religion other than Sunni Islam; there were no Jewish residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law provide for the rights and freedom from discrimination of persons with disabilities. The Disabilities Act provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, and financial assistance. Since the establishment of the National Registry of People with Disabilities in 2011, 6,417 persons had been registered as of August. The Act mandates the state to provide a monthly financial benefit of not less than 2,000 MVR ($130) to each registered individual.
Government services for persons with disabilities included special educational programs for those with sensory disabilities. Inadequate facilities and logistical challenges related to transporting persons with disabilities between islands and atolls made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce or consistently attend school.
Multiple NGOs worked to increase awareness and improve support for persons with disabilities. The Child Advocacy Network of Disability Organizations, established by ARC, launched a website in December 2015 containing detailed information on common types of disabilities in Maldives, and the services available for persons with disabilities from government authorities and NGOs.
The government integrated students with physical disabilities into mainstream educational programs. Children with disabilities had virtually no access or transition to secondary education. One mental health clinic in Male and several private health clinics employ psychiatrists and psychologists. They focused on a broad range of issues but service availability remained limited. There also was a lack of quality residential care.
Families usually cared for persons with disabilities. When family care was unavailable, adult individuals with disabilities lived in the Health Ministry’s Home for People with Special Needs, which, as of July, housed 175 persons, 21 of whom were new placements during the year. The home accepted elderly persons and children as well. The government also provided assistance devices, such as wheelchairs, crutches, spectacles, hearing aids, and adapted seats for children with cerebral palsy.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct. Under the new Penal Code, the punishment includes imprisonment of up to eight years, as well as a provision for a supplementary punishment of 100 lashes imposed under Maldives Islamic law. No organizations focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) problems in the country. There were no reports of officials complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons, although societal stigma likely discouraged individuals from reporting such problems. Due to societal intolerance of same-sex sexual relationships, there were few openly LGBTI individuals in the country, and no information was available on official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. NGOs reported several members of the LGBTI community sought refuge in Sri Lanka after societal shaming related to their sexual orientation.