Maldives failed “at every level” to protect minor charged with fornication from years of abuse

Additional reporting by JJ Robinson.

Council heads and senior civil society figures have slammed the judiciary, state authorities and welfare groups over their systemic failure to protect a 15 year-old girl convicted of fornication and sentenced to flogging, despite her history of alleged sexual abuse dating back to 2009.

While the case has only recently received global media coverage, local councilors and woman rights groups told Minivan News that authorities failed for years to address “public uproar” over the child’s alleged abuse.

The girl from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll is currently in the care of the Ministry of Gender and Family. She was identified as a victim of child abuse last year after the body of a dead baby was discovered buried in the outdoor shower area of her family home.

Her stepfather was later charged child sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing premeditated murder, while her mother also faces charges for concealing the alleged sexual offences.

However, during the course of investigations into the case, officials told Minivan News that the state had no choice but to press fornication charges against the minor after she confessed to having what she claimed was consensual sex with an unidentified man.  She now faces 100 lashes in public when she turns 18 – a sentence the President’s Office this week said it would try to avert amid growing international censure and debate over corporal punishment and reform of the country’s Sharia-based judicial system.

The case has led to intense global media scrutiny and an online campaign by petition website, which gathered almost a million signatures in two days – more than the number of tourists who visited the country last year.

With Maldivian authorities and child protection bodies now in the global spotlight, Aneesa Ahmed, Chairperson for the Hope for Women NGO, said councilors from Shaviyani Atoll had been expressing concerns to authorities about the girl’s safety for several years.

Aneesa said the inaction of a wide variety of institutions in response to these concerns reflected the state’s failure “at every level” to try and protect from abuse.

“All institutions, including the counsellor – if she had one while being interrogated by police – failed, because I am told her case was reported as early as 2009,” she added.

Speaking on Thursday (March 21),  Atoll Council President Moosa Fathy said police had conducted numerous investigations into the girl’s situation since 2009 in response to concerns raised by councillors on Feydhoo.

However, Fathy said the girl had ultimately been left in the custody of her mother and stepfather even after she was found to pregnant. He blamed the “limited facilities” available to house and protect the girl, as well as a lack of budget, management and staff to shelter vulnerable young people.

“The police thoroughly investigated the matter, but the response of many organisations simply was not good enough,” Fathy said. “Even now the problem has not been solved.”

Fathy said that rather than blaming a single state or civil society organisation for the girl’s ongoing abuse, every institution charged with the girl’s care had to take responsibility for the matter.

“This girl needed special care. There are special shelters where she would have been safe, but I understand there is not enough budget or staff and general administrative mechanisms to run such programs,” he said.

Fathy said he had been raising concerns about the girl’s welfare for the last two years, and said he had also tried unsuccessfully to meet with former Gender Minister Dhiyana Saeed while she was still in her post to discuss the case.

Island uproar

Sources on Feydhooo have meanwhile told Minivan News that concerns had been raised by islanders since 2009 that the girl had potentially been the victim of sexual abuse not just by her stepfather, but a number of other unidentified men on the island.

However, the island council claimed the victim’s unwillingness to tell authorities about her alleged abuse meant she remained living with her mother and stepfather.

Island Councillor Ibrahim Naushaad told Minivan News that upon discovering the child was pregnant last year,  police and the Gender Ministry failed to remove the girl to a shelter.

“The police and gender ministry didn’t take responsibility or provide counselling to the girl,” he said. “The police and ministry investigated, but we don’t know what she said to them.”

Naushaad said the minor presently remained under the care of the Gender Ministry as she was unable to be returned to Feydhooo, as her biological father was being severely disabled and unable to support or look after his daughter.

“Same thing could happen again”

Naushaad alleged that several men on the island who were also believed to have had sex with the minor remained unidentified, leaving her at risk of further abuse should she return to the island.

“The Human Rights and Gender Ministry asked if they could send her back to the island, but I have explained that her father would be unable to look after her and keep an eye on her,” he said. “If they send her back here, the same thing could happen again.”

According to Naushaad, the minor was questioned by police on at least four separate occasions, but he said she had been unwilling to state whether she had faced sexual abuse from her family or other men on the island.

Sources on the island said that the perception was that the minor, along with her mother and stepfather, were believed to have been “lying” to police investigators.

Naushaad told Minivan News there remained concern among islanders that the girl had now been charged by the country’s court with fornication, after being found guilty of having sex with an unidentified partner.

“They did not identify who this man was and that is why we have concerns about what they are doing. This is not good,” he said.

Naushaad claimed the council done everything it could to try and take responsibility for the matter by continually raising concerns with authorities since back in 2009.

Legal review

After the minor was first charged with fornication in January, the government pledged to review the  use of flogging as a punishment and legal practices it claimed, in certain cases, criminalise victims of sexual abuse.

While there is no timetable for reforms to be put in place, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad expressed hope on that punishments such as flogging would be debated and one day repealed.

“I’m sure when we debate [punishing suspects for fornication with lashes], we will find an acceptable solution for all parties,” he said.

The Maldives constitution does not allow any law contradicting the tenets of Islam, and the legal system defaults to Sharia law in areas not covered by common law.

The last statistics available from the Department of Judicial Administration on flogging sentences show that 90 percent of the people found guilty of “Zina” – fornication – and sentenced to flogging in 2011 were female.

A total of 129 fornication cases were filed in 2011 and 104 people sentenced, out of which 93 were female. This included 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.

History of selective enforcement

Masood noted that the Maldives had a tradition of turning away from practices such as the death sentence and forms of corporal punishment, even where these were proscribed in Sharia.

According to Masood, punishments such as removing the hand of a suspect in the case of theft had not been used since the 1960s.

He maintained that there was a history of reviewing the country’s relationship with Sharia law in the past and that a similar process could be had with the debate about flogging.

However, Masood said that all authorities involved in proposed legal reforms would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.

“Reforms must be undertaken, but this must be done gradually considering we are dealing with a process embedded in society,” he said. “A certain amount of compromise may be needed.”

Masood said the state was committed to preventing the minor from facing her sentence, while also looking at the potential for reversing the use of flogging as a traditional punishment.

“The little girl will not be flogged for another two years, so we must look at what can be done [in the meantime],” he said.

However the conservative religious Adhaalath Party – the members of which largely dominate the Maldives’ Ministry of Islamic Affairs – has already publicly warned that “no one has the right to criticise any penalties specified in Islam.”

Quoting verses from the Quran, a statement from the party said that no citizen should be allowed to express ideas and opinions about a verdict made in accordance with the religion in a court of law in a 100-percent Muslim country.

The Adhaalath Party further cautioned that criticising issues such as the girl’s flogging sentence would “encourage enemies of Islam, create confusion among the general public and open up opportunities for people who aim to stop the practice of similar penalties commanded in Islam.

“The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Sharia is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts or torture,” the statement read.

The Prosecutor General’s (PG’s) Office has confirmed to Minivan News that it was not presently involved with any discussions over possible legal reforms of charges like fornication. Such a mandate lay with Attorney General Azinma Shukoor, the PG’s office said.

Shukoor, who was also recently appointed the current Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights, was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.


16 thoughts on “Maldives failed “at every level” to protect minor charged with fornication from years of abuse”

  1. So dear Adhaalath party: Who are these "enemies of Islam"??? Why always putting this mysterious fear into Maldivian citizens mind in the name of religion??? Everybody with clear senses knows that this flogging sentence is completely wrong and outdated in todays world, but again instead of looking into solving the obvious problem within the society about sexual abuse of women and minors you play the fearful card of religion blaming some "enemies", which "enemies" are you talking about??? Yourself?

  2. 950 Thousand signatories

  3. Over 200 THOUSAND ppl have shared this on Facebook around the world - over half the population of Maldives. Wonder how many Maldivians have shared this on Facebook. Who cares eh??

  4. I won't be surprised if 7 billion people signs the petition considering the wordings on that Avaaz thing, its so misleading.

    We all know that the girl will be saved at the end and government will do everything possible to make sure she gets justice.

    Avaaz should be responsible for what the poor tiny country will face after destroying its fragile economy!

    Destroy the economy, and tomorrow u see what will happen to the poor society here.

  5. again... Minivan has struck gold with story? I think this will be repeated every other day for the next year. Not they give a damn about about the girl or anything. They just want to destroy the country's tourism. Agenda of MDP. damaging politics. nothing else.

  6. Ann, you are right avaaz is not bringing out the full story about this specific case. But you have to look to the bigger picture:

    - Corporal punishment and any violation of human rights, are injustice and criminal on itself. It can not be used as punishment.

    - people who don't cause harm to others, should not be punished. Give our teenagers a decent sexual education and make them responsible young people. At least they will be better aware of the consequences of their deeds. You can not avoid young people to engage in romances, and everything that comes with it. But right now they have to hide it. if you would pull it out of the taboo sphere, make intimacy something they can talk about, then adults close to these teenagers will be able to keep track of their actions and are able to guide and advice them.

    Bottom line: Religion should not be more important than human welfare and human rights. It should go hand in hand with it instead of inflicting suffering.

  7. In a normal society of up-to-dated humans, she would never have been punished for whatever. She would have been taken care of by the authorities. They fail, because it's part of our backward society not to react against such abuse.

  8. The real failure is when PPM, MDP, then JP and again MDP could accept Jabir who is a well known child abuser into political core! So Minivannews SHUT UP if you guys cannot say the whole truth, but the truth!!! Child abuse is prevalent in US, UK, Saudi politicians! Paided lofty money and secrets well guarded! So Shut up!

  9. You are absolutely right. But that is just a subset.

    Bigger pictures paints a worse situation. Malidivian law makers, government and law enforcers has failed the whole nation.

    1: what about the indecent amounts of money funnelled to just handful accounts abroad. Financial policies have gaping holes!!
    2: the children have been molested by Quran teachers in every local madrasa. The kids have first been terrorised first, by hell-fire stories, out of their minds.
    3: the Governments model for easier management is to scare the wits out of all, and stifle innovation and then create and foster conflicts within communities. Wards against wards, islands against islands, atolls against atolls etc.
    4: For 30y Maumoon has ruled. Take for instance Samaru Blue Ibrahim Manik as Information Minister. His contribution towards growth of industry is Zero. If any, it's to weigh it down just so it never prospers.
    5: But the biggest failure is trying to convince public, if one so much as a whispers 'Christian' on the holy land of Maldives, it would bring down the Gods wrath so hard, all of Maldives will be destroyed.
    6: The government has utterly failed in prospering a caring community, with processes that public trusts.
    7: Far too often, Islam and its wildly conflicting threads, have been used by all politicians for nothing other than a wand, a tool, to stifle questions, innovation, creativity and worst of all, accountability for their stupid and lazy actions.

    LIST goes on and on. EVERYONE knows these....

  10. Adaalath doesn't Know bit of Isalm its a Party with Interest on Politics and take the religon upper hand.

    Many of the Maldivian are bee enplane half of realign seen in Islam not the whole book of Qur'an

    IF a women does not have food to live to eat and survive of force with sex or Having sex for her survival God is forgiving and will forgive her.

    The sentence is given to her is like any normal living woman who had have illegal sexual relation ship. Will be given the sentence with 100 time flogging and a sentence for not less than 1 year on banishment.The 15 year old rapist survival sentence is less than one year banishment with 100 times flogging the sentence is never according to Islam the thing Impotent on the sentence is flogging.

  11. why is it that always Adhaalath and islam get the bashing for every bad thing? Adhaalath is just another political party in Maldives. the smallest in size and influence. Islamic sharia is not enforced in Maldives. Maldives law is 90% secular. Only the occasional spanking is carried out which is really symbolic. Limbs are NOT cut, stoning is NOT carried out here. From top to bottom, our politicians are secularists and die hard at that. So why raise this ugly islamophobic theme all the time. Politics is the answer. This is not about girls right or women right or flogging or anything. This is about political score poiting.

    Its sad that MDP media promotes this negative campaign against Maldives. No responsible politican or political party will do negative campaign against his or her country. But our politician's and their media mouth pieces are so low as to drag their country down just to score a political point.

    The fact is that if its not for a dedicated bunch of atheists working for MDP and Minivan, this kind of negative stories wont simply get the publicity it anyhow doesn't deserve.

    For all those are patriotic and progressive, this is the time to leave MDP to teach it a lesson.

  12. The article failed to mention few things. Here are some of those:

    1- In 2009, the Gender Ministry didn’t take the child into their custody when they knew been repeatedly abused by “some” people. Gender Ministry claims they couldn’t because the parents denied she was been abused and that it is their policy to be a custodian of children who is been abused by family members. Gender Ministry didn’t probe further into this matter despite whatever the islanders were saying. When her stepfather was abusing her, this was reported to the Gender Ministry in 2011 and this was also investigated. But we don’t know why Gender Ministry violated its own policy and failed to take her into custody of the Ministry.

    2- Police: they were too quick to investigate what she said about having sex with another person (or persons?). The police treated her like a common criminal, while she was kept in isolation, probably interrogated more on the “crime” she committed rather than making her feel safe. I don’t believe this is the special investigative mechanism prescribed for children (as mandated under Section 9 of Law on Protection of the Rights of Children).

    3- Prosecutor General’s Office: failed to give priority to the protection of child abuse and sexual abuse victims by prosecuting her for fornication, even before the persons who abused her were prosecuted for the crimes they have committed. This is a clear violation of Policies 6, 10 and 11 of the Prosecution Guidelines prescribed by the Attorney General’s Office.

    4- Attorney General: the Attorney General did not even discuss this case with the PG when it was submitted to the Juvenile Court. The AG later commented that the victim's mental state must be considered, but only after the Juvenile Court decision. Word on the street is, her law firm Avant Garde was also her defence attorney! But that is beside the point. The AG must administer the guidelines the AG prescribe and when PG is in clear violation of the guidelines/policies the AG prescribed for PG, the AG failed to take any necessary action.

    5- Madam Aneesa can talk all she wants about child abuse and whatnot but when this case was going on in the court, neither her NGO or any NGO voiced against this. Didn’t even bother to meet with government officials and other relevant parties to voice their concern.


  13. @ Ann

    Just shocked at your comments."The girl will be eventually saved?" What about the trauma she is going through now? What about the fear,the shame that the abused always feel, the grief, the damage?

    The Prosecutor General should have dropped this case. I find it hard to believe that this case was not discussed in the corridors of power before it went to court.


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