The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has submitted its Universal Period Review (UPR) report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), raising concerns over a growing tide of religious conservatism.
“There are roughly 400 children being withheld from attending school by their parents due to religious beliefs,” revealed the report made public yesterday, referring to an estimate from the education ministry in a 2011 assessment by the HRCM on child participation.
In a section titled ‘religious extremist ideologies,’ the HRCM referred to “reports of unregistered marriages encouraged by some religious scholars claiming that registering marriages with the courts are un‐Islamic and unnecessary.”
“State institutions acknowledge this information and raised concerns that children born to such marriages could face serious legal issues. Similarly women in such marriages are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the report stated.
“Conservative beliefs that promote women as inferior to men are being spread at an alarming level. Many women believe that their role in society is to be submissive wives and in raising children.”
In addition to outlining 18 thematic areas, the report provides updates on implementation of recommendations of the first UPR review in 2010, the HRCM noted.
The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs and human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.
“Increase in religious conservatism, cultural norms and stereotypical roles depicted by society inhibit women’s equitable participation in public life,” reads the section on women’s rights.
“Women remain under represented in all branches of the state and efforts to secure legislative quotas remain unsuccessful.”
The enforcement of the anti-Domestic Violence (DV) Act was meanwhile hampered by absence of procedures, inconsistencies in application by institutions, and “lack of sensitivity among law enforcement and judiciary”.
The police also failed to meet a legislative deadline on submitting a report to the family protection agency (FPA), the report noted.
“Limited capacity of investigators and their belief that such cases are family matters inhibit victims from getting redress,” it continued.
“FPA with a mandate to combat DV is not provided with necessary financial and human resources. Reporting of DV cases remain low as a result of lack of confidence in the system, fear of intimidation by perpetrators, stigmatisation and inadequate information on protection measures. There is no proper reintegration mechanism.”
Despite reports to the contrary from the state for the mid-term assessment of implementation of UPR recommendations, the HRCM said there were “no strict punishments to perpetrators of DV”.
The report observed that children born out of wedlock faced discrimination.
“Paternity testing is not admissible evidence in court and such a child would be denied father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance,” it stated.
While most reported cases of child abuse did not result in convictions, victims often “remain re‐victimized due to systemic failures” including “delays in obtaining evidence and overly strict evidentiary requirements.”
“The legal age of consent, along with societal attitudes to treat child abuse as private matter or to force child abuse victim to deny testimony in court to protect family honour as perpetrator is usually a family member providing financial support are factors that cannot be disregarded,” it explained.
“Moreover, state has fallen short to publish child sexual offender‘s registry. Additionally, overall functioning of victim support system is effected due to a weak child protection system that is under resourced, with inconsistencies in capacity and coordination.”
The report also noted that child marriages were registered in some cases as “the Family Act allows marriage of minors under specific conditions.”
Children were also “involved in commercial sex work,” the report noted.
Civil and political rights
The report noted the absence of laws to guarantee freedom of expression despite its assurance in the Constitution.
“Parliament Privileges Act can be used to force journalist to reveal their source, which could undermine the constitutional protection that journalists currently enjoy,” the report observed.
“There have been many reports of death threats to media persons and parliament members. State is yet to take realistic action to address these threats. The recent disappearance of Ahmed Rizwan Abdullah, a journalist and human rights advocate is of critical concern.”
The HRCM also raised concerns regarding the Freedom of Assembly Act, including “provisions of geographical limitations, lack of guidance on control of counter assemblies and requirement to accredit reporters.”
Human rights NGOs have faced intimidation from the state, it continued, while worker’s association perform the role of trade unions.
“Union members face numerous difficulties in exercising collective bargaining, tripartite consultations and work stoppage, as proper legal mechanism is not in place for dispute resolution,” the report stated.