Almost 90 percent of the people found guilty of “Zina” – fornication – and sentenced to flogging in 2011 were female, according to new statistics published by the Department of Judicial Administration last week.
A total of 129 fornication cases were filed last year and 104 people sentenced, out of which 93 were female. This includes 10 underage girls (below 18), 79 women between age 18-40 and and four women above 40 years.
Of the 11 males who were sentenced, only one was a minor, with the others aged between 25-40.
Compared to 2010, the overall sentences in fornication increased by 23 percent in 2011, but the number of males sentenced for flogging decreased by 15 percent while the women increased by 30 percent.
According to Maldivian law, a person found guilty of fornication is subjected to 100 lashes and sentenced to one year of house arrest or banishment while a minor’s flogging is postponed until she or he reaches 18.
It takes four witnesses or a confession to prove the offence in court based on Islamic Sharia. The Maldives’ legal system consists of elements of both common law and Sharia.
Earlier this year, the Maldives made international headlines when a 16 year-old girl was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months house arrest by Hulhudhufaaru Magistrate Court in Raa Atoll, for fornication while the 29 year-old man was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after finding him guilty of sexually abusing the girl.
Being a minor, the court stated that the girl’s sentence would be implemented when she turned 18.
After visiting the country in November last year, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay called for a moratorium on corporal punishment, describing it as “inhumane and degrading.”
“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,” said Pillay.
However, her statements and calls for discussion on the issue were met with outrage from the opposition and religious Adhaalath party, giving rise to protests and demonstrations. The Foreign Ministry itself 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.”
Minivan News could not verify if all the people sentenced last year had been flogged at the time of the report’s release, although former Former Minister of Gender and Family Aneesa Ahmed confirmed that the sentences were being carried out.
The Judicial Sector Statistics Report 2011 highlights the sheer scale of the long-known and unaddressed issues of gender bias in the justice system.
A 2004 UNICEF study titled “Gender issues in the Maldives Criminal Justice System” raised serious concerns over cases of ‘Zina’ – both consensual and non-consensual alike.
As rape was at the time and is still defined as “forced fornication”, as with any other fornication case, four witnesses or a confession is still required by the court to prove rape.
“In these cases a woman’s accusations need to be verified by two men or four women, thus, rape and sexual violence remain impossible to prove in virtually all cases,” the 2004 study noted.
The prosecutor general’s office had earlier confirmed that as these two necessary elements are almost impossible to find, in all rape cases the suspects are charged with forced sexual misconduct, which carries a lesser punishment.
However if the victim is a minor, the PG says that such cases are tried under the 2009 Act on Stipulating Strict Punishment for Child Abusers.
This is the major reason why no rape cases were found in the new statistics revealed by the judiciary despite the high number of reported rape cases. It is also likely that rapes involving minors have fallen into the category of child abuse while others have been categorised under forced sexual misconduct.
However, its also noteworthy that in 2010, eight men were convicted for forced sexual misconduct but the following year the sentenced decreased by 50 percent. Out of the men charged with forced sexual misconduct in 2011, six walked free while only four were sentenced.
The 2004 study further added at the time the current law establishes a minimum age limit of 18 for a person to receive adult punishments, but one of the three exceptions is “if the woman has had a child.”
The Judicial report 2011 says that 10 females were convicted for “giving birth outside a wedlock”, including a minor – a criminal offense which explicitly is directed at women and carries a sentence of maximum one to two years house arrest.
The UNICEF study explained that the current law allows for a young woman under the age of 18, who has been a victim of sexual abuse and is consequently pregnant, to receive lashings in a public setting.
“The victim must then endure the pain and public humiliation of her situation, both the illegitimate pregnancy and the public lashings, which have significant ramifications for her subsequent life opportunities. The perpetrator, on the other hand, is likely to remain publicly unidentified.” it noted.