The Criminal Court has charged a couple from Seenu Atoll with murder after they allegedly aborted a pregnancy and buried the five month-old foetus on the beach of Maradhoo-Feydhoo.
Twenty-one year-old Aminath Shaahee Aalam was 20 weeks pregnant when she gave birth on December 12, 2012, according to local media. Shortly after she gave birth, her husband, 26 year-old Ibrahim Wisam, stands accused of placing the foetus in a plastic bag and burying it on the beach.
Police discovered the foetus buried on a Maradhoo-Feydhoo beach after local witnesses reported a motorist acting suspiciously in the area on the evening of December 14, according to local media. Abortion in the Maldives is illegal unless it is proved the conception is the result of rape, or that the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s health.
The Prosecutor General’s Office forwarded the couple’s case to the Criminal Court on May 2, however a trial date has not yet been scheduled.
The young married couple from Maradhoo-Feydhoo – an administrative district of Addu City – are both being charged with murder, Criminal Court Spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Manik confirmed to Minivan News today (May 5).
The prosecution accused Aalam of taking abortion pills, and alleged the couple did not seek medical care during the woman’s pregnancy, labour, or after giving birth to the five month-old foetus.
Police have stated that the buried foetus was found with its heart beating, but later died after being taken to the hospital, Manik explained.
Police said the couple had said they chose to bury the foetus because they did not want to have a child at that point in time, according to local media.
A medical authority in the Maldives informed Minivan News that a five month old foetus would be incapable of surviving outside the mother’s body.
In previous similar cases in the Maldives, a lack of post-mortem services and an absence of visible wounds on the body was observed as making it difficult to prove charges of infanticide without a confession from suspects.
In 2006, the Juvenile Court acquitted a woman from Dhabidhoo island, who police alleged had killed her newborn and disposed of the body in the lagoon, ruling that her three confessions contradicted each other. The woman gave birth out of wedlock in 2008.
Cases of abortion, infanticide and discarded infants have been widely reported in local media over the past two years, particularly a spate of discoveries over several weeks in May 2011. One foetus was discovered in hidden in a milk tin, while the other was found at the bottom of Male’s municipal swimming pool area.
Later the same month, the corpse of a newborn infant was found discarded in some bushes with underwear tied around its neck.
A further two newborn children were discovered abandoned but alive the same year, and were placed under state care.
In December 2012, a newborn was found abandoned on a pavement in Male’, while in June the same year police recovered the body of a newborn infant buried in the outdoor shower of a house on Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll. The baby’s mother was identified as a 15-year old school student, who had allegedly been abused by her stepfather. The girl’s stepfather was himself later charged with child sexual abuse and premeditated murder.
The 15 year-old meanwhile confessed to an unrelated instance of premarital sex during the police investigation and was sentenced by the Juvenile Court in February 2013 to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest for the crime of fornication. At present, the minor will be lashed once she has turned 18.
The girl’s case has garnered international attention and a petition by Avaaz for the government to appeal the sentence and issue a moritorium on the flogging of women for extramarital sex. The petition has so far reached over two million signatures.
Birth out of wedlock remains heavily stigmatised in the Maldives. An unreleased 2007 study by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) found that the stigma of having a child out of wedlock compels Maldivian women and girls to opt for abortions, and while a taboo subject, the practice was found to be widespread.
Some of those interviewed for the study said they knew of girls as young as 12 who had undergone abortions, and each knew at least one person who had terminated a pregnancy.
Abortion is illegal in the Maldives except to save a mother’s life, or if a child suffers from a congenital defect such as thalassemia. Many women unable to travel to Sri Lanka resort to illegal abortions performed by unskilled individuals in unhygienic settings, or even induce abdonminal trauma or insert objects into their uterus.
Other studies focusing on HIV have identified associated risk factors contributing to unplanned pregnancy including high levels of promiscuity and limited use of contraception.
The Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) has described these incidents, as well as the figures detailing an increase in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, as evidence of a sexual health crisis in the Maldives.
Nazeera Najeeb, who leads the reproductive health unit of the CCHDC, told Minivan News in an 2012 interview that the centre was witnessing an “alarming” increase in cases of underage and unplanned pregnancies, where some girls are getting pregnant “without even knowing it”.
“These unwanted pregnancies are subsequently resulting in more unsafe abortions, baby dumping or infanticide,” she noted.
To curb these perceived problems, Najeeb stressed the need for implementing a comprehensive sex education curriculum in and outside educational institutions to create greater awareness on sexual and reproductive health subjects.
Though the concept of sex education is widely supported by health authorities, including Health Minister Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, efforts to implement such practices nationally have been limited.