Police are investigating the rape of a 14 year-old girl on Muli island of Meemu Atoll, the latest incident in an increasing number of sexual crimes against women and girls in the Maldives.
According to the police the incident was reported around 1.30am Sunday night, and a 19 year-old man was arrested on charges of rape.
The suspect has a history of criminal behaviour including assault and theft, police stated.
Rise in rapes
The 14 year-old’s rape comes less than two weeks after a 19 year old girl was snatched from the streets of Hulhumale’ and allegedly raped by a man believed to be an expatriate on the early morning of August 3.
More than 1000 expatriate workers have been searched and interrogated in the ongoing hunt to find the foreign national accused, according to police.
Just two days later on August 5, the police stated that two minors and two men have also been arrested in connection with the rape and filming of an underage girl in a house in Male’. The rape incident occurred on July 27.
Meanwhile, on July 30, the police arrested four men and one minor in connection with the gang rape of a 17 year-old girl on the island of Milandhoo in Shaviyani Atoll.
Police acknowledged that an increasing number of rape and sexual abuse cases had been reported this year.
“We urge parents to be more careful with children’s whereabouts, and check who they meet and hang out with,” a police spokesperson noted. “Parents also need to be careful of people who visit their homes.”
Surveys indicate that most of the sexual perpetrators are known persons, including family members and friends.
Last year three cases of rape incidents were reported to the police while in 2011 a total of 13 cases were investigated, according to the annual police statistics report 2011/2012.
Most cases were gang-rapes and the victims included girls as young as 13.
Tip of the iceberg
Sharing her concerns over the increasing number of sexual crimes against women, Assistant Representative of UNFPA Maldives Shadiya Ibrahim warned an increasing number of rape cases were just “the tip of the iceberg”.
She suggested that many of rape and abuse cases go “unreported and uninvestigated” .
“The culture of impunity is one factor why sexual violence against women and girls is increasing,” Shadiya observed.
While a number of rape cases are reported in the Maldives, few are prosecuted – especially if the victim is 18 or above.
Rape cases involving minors are prosecuted as child abuse cases with a maximum penalty of 20 years depending on the magnitude of the offence. In contrast, rape cases in which the victim is an adult, are deemed as “forced fornication” under the existing regulation on sexual offences, according to the Prosecutor General Office. To prove fornication – whether forced or not – requires a confession or four witnesses.
“Due to this burden of proof, proving rape cases becomes next to impossible,” a state prosecutor told Minivan News in an earlier interview on the subject.
Therefore, adult rape victim’s cases are detracted to a sexual assault or harassment offence, in which the four witnesses and confession is not required. However, penalty for sexual assault is only two to three year long imprisonment.
The amended penal code and sexual offences bill currently being deliberated by parliament committees provide a legal remedy to the problem of inadequate legal definition of rape, and if passed will ease the existing burden of proof, making it easier to prosecute rape cases.
Meanwhile, the UNFPA also named other underlying issues contributing to the surge in sexual violence against women; including gender-inequalities that makes women and girls particularly more vulnerable to abuse and secondly, men’s attitude.
“A recent survey based on men’s experiences of violence shows that entitlement is one of the main reason for men to rape,” Shadiya pointed out. “Men surveyed believe it is their right to rape and they can simply get away with it.”
She concluded that a huge shift was required in the attitudes of public and authorities in condemning violence against women as an inexcusable human rights violation.
“Parliamentarians, prosecutors, police and judges needs to be gender-sensitised to achieve progress in reducing violence against women.” she added.
Minivan News contacted the Gender Ministry but had received no response at time of press.
Earlier this year, Maldives came under international scrutiny following the sentencing of a 15 year old rape victim to 100 lashes on charges of fornication – a symbolic case reflecting the systematic injustices suffered by some rape victims.
Widespread international coverage of the sentencing has since led to over two million people signing an Avaaz.org petition calling for her sentence to be quashed, a moratorium on flogging, and reform of laws to protect women and girls in the Maldives.