A new rule requires Maldivians who wish to marry foreigners to seek permission from the Ministry of Immigration and Emmigration, and pay a deposit.
According to the new law, instituted today, the Maldivian would-be spouse must pay the deposit money to the ministry as per existing requirements for work visas.
Prior to that, a specific form designed for mixed marriages has to be completed and submitted to the immigration department for approval.
Resident permits for foreigners married to Maldivians will also be renewed only upon the payment of the deposit, meaning those already married must also pay.
“It’s horrible, it makes me feel like a worker in Maldives and not part of this country,” was the reaction of Sasha, a British woman married to a Maldivian for the past six years.
“We are not the ones giving approval, a form has to be filled out and once the family court has approved and stamped it, we will give the go ahead,” says Controller of Immigration, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim.
Ilyas signed off on the contentious rule, but says it was on the request of the family court.
“Too many Maldivians are getting married to foreigners,” he said, adding that it was mostly done for “bad purposes.”
He cites the case of contract marriages: “Mostly it’s Bangladeshi men who get the girl to marry him, and then she is paid a monthly sum,” he said.
He also says there have been cases of Nigerian men hooking up with Maldivian girls through the internet, then coming to the country and getting married “and after a few months he doesn’t even have enough money to cover his expenses.”
Ilyas said people had been returned to their home countries after a divorce “on the government’s expense.”
The registrar of the family court Ahmed Abdulla agreed with Ilyas, saying too many false marriages were occurring “mostly for visas or other purposes.”
He said the new ruled was intended to protect Maldivian women, as ”men get married here, and just take off without divorcing the woman, or paying her living expenses.”
130 mixed marriages were registered in the Maldives last year, mostly to natives of neighboring countries like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Ahmed says a few extreme cases also have occurred, where Maldivian kids have been taken abroad by the foreign partner.
“Recently a Maldivian woman was divorced and sent back, while the man kept their kids and to this day she has not been able to get any news of them.”
Abdullah refuses to name the country, saying simply its located “near the Middle East”.
The deposit scheme was not “a total solution” but it was “a necessary step”, he said.
“When bad things happen we have to react.”
The family court has also brought changes to existing criteria for approving mixed marriages.
“Before a foreigner had to earn a monthly minimum of Rf5000 (US$380) to get married. Now the earnings have to be Rf15,000 (US$1150),” he said.
Such criteria were necessary, he said, “as a lot of Bangladeshi men don’t earn enough to take care of their families and this gives rise to social problems.”
Lack of Rights
Sasha’s husband says the new rule “disgusts” him.
“I did not bring her here to work for me,” he says.
Despite his unhappiness with the new rule, he acknowledges that it does offer some protection to foreign women stranded in the Maldives.
“Girls who face abuse and are victimised one way or the other in their marriages; at least they will be able to leave the country if they want to now.”
But, he believes, another way should be found to tackle the issue.
Interestingly enough, the person who implemented the rule, Ilyas, is also married to a foreigner.
“For the rights of the foreign partner one should turn towards the Majlis, there are no regulations that give them any rights on this soil,” he says.
He refers to an existing regulation whereby a foreigner can apply for citizenship after 12 years, if he or she is well versed in Dhivehi, in the religion, and supplies certificates for other criteria.
“But even with all these requirements, it still depends on the mood of the president if a person can be given citizenship.”
Ilyas cites the name of a well known doctor, among the four people who have been granted this privilege by the previous government.
“You can be married for 25 to 60 years and still live here on a resident permit.”
His wife is not eligible for health insurance, and everywhere they go they have to queue separately.
“I can’t even get her registered as a member of my household,” he notes.
However he says this rule would offer her a degree of protection, if they ever divorced.
“It’s not the status of a worker, but that of a foreigner. Here you remain a foreigner forever; the regulations don’t give them even half the rights of a Maldivian.”
Sacha’s resident permit must to be renewed in four years.
“If I remain here forever, the money will remain locked in a deposit in the ministry. Is this a way to generate interest from funds?” she questions.
She says her friends who are in mixed marriages will be furious.
“I have a baby, would I have to pay a 50 per cent deposit for him also since he is half-foreign?”
Her business is also registered in the name of her husband: “I can’t even own anything here, I have no rights and now I have the status of a foreign worker.”
Sasha’s name changed on her request.