The High Court appeal case for a 15 year-old rape victim sentenced to flogging and house arrest after she was found guilty of fornication began today (April 29).
The 15 year-old was convicted of premarital sex at the Juvenile Court on February 26 and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest, after confessing to fornication with another man. The confession was made during a separate investigation which was launched following the discovery of a dead baby buried in the outdoor shower area of her home.
The High Court trial that began today (April 29) was not open to the public, as the presiding judge exercised the authority to exclude the public “where the interest of juveniles or the victims of a crime so require”, as stated in Article 42 of the Constitution, according to local media.
High Court media official Ameen Faisal told local media that the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) had also intervened in the case.
The victim’s state-appointed attorney filed the appeal with the High Court on April 1.
At the time, former Attorney General Aishath Azima Shukoor told local media the case had to be appealed because the Juvenile Court had taken statements from the witnesses in violation of procedure.
Shukoor also said the Juvenile Court ruling was in violation of Islamic Sharia as it had not considered psychological reports produced to the court.
Additionally, the child’s defence claimed her testimony was taken in violation of constitution and the charges against her were filed in violation of criminal procedure.
Sources from the girl’s island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll previously told Minivan News that concerns had been raised by islanders since 2009 that the minor was allegedly the victim of sexual abuse not just by her stepfather, but an unidentified number of other men on the island.
In June 2012, the girl gave birth to a baby which was later discovered buried in the outdoor shower area of her home. Her stepfather was later charged with child sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing premeditated murder. Her mother was meanwhile charged with concealing a crime and failing to report child sexual abuse to the authorities.
Council heads and senior civil society figures have slammed the judiciary, state authorities and welfare groups over their systemic failure to protect the 15 year-old girl.
The 15-year-old’s case has brought international attention to the Maldives’ legal system, including the launch of an online Avaaz.org petition signed by over two million people that has threatened to put pressure the tourism industry. The sentencing of the minor has also come under high-profile public criticism from British multi-billionaire Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group of companies.
President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s government previously criticised the verdict, pledging earlier this year to review the use of flogging as a punishment for sexual offences – a practice it alleged in some cases actually serves to punish victims of rape and abuse.
Following the Juvenile Court’s ruling in February, Waheed stated on his official Twitter account: “I am saddened by the sentence of flogging handed to a minor. Govt will push for review of this position.”
However, the religious Adhaalath Party (AP) – which largely makes up the ranks of the Islamic Ministry and with which President Waheed’s Gaumee Ithiaad Party (GIP) entered into a coalition in March – endorsed the sentence.
“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,” read a statement from the party.
“If such sinful activities are to become this common, the society will break down and we may become deserving of divine wrath,” the Adhaalath Party stated.
Inadequate child protection measures
A Maldivian children’s rights NGO recently criticised child protection measures currently in place as “inadequate”, while urging government authorities to incorporate several key human rights obligations into domestic law.
NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) told Minivan News earlier this month that although the Maldives has signed and agreed to be legally bound by the provisions in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocols, the commitments have yet to be adopted into law.
ARC claimed that provisions outlined in the CRC had not been fully adopted by the state into domestic legislation, thereby limiting the promotion and protection of child rights.
“The recent case of a 15-year old girl, whose rights were violated and abused by her stepfather is a clear example of how domestic judicial and legal mechanisms failed to address and rectify the violation over a substantial period of time, at different levels,” ARC said.
“This is a situation where an individual complaint to the UN Committee could hold the government accountable even if the ‘domestic remedial system’, including judicial and legal mechanisms, fail to address the issue of abuse.
“Ratifying this optional protocol will help protect the rights of children as it could help reduce the number of cases in the Maldives where a lack of legislation, clarity and commitment to international human rights law allow serious injustices to proliferate,” ARC added.
Meanwhile, neglect and abuse of children were reported to have increased to an “alarming level“, compelling the the Maldives’ Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights to submit an amendment (April 7) that would transfer parental guardianship of children in cases of negligence.
Earlier this year, ARC called on the Maldivian government to pass legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims. The NGO also raised concerns over the potential impact on the state’s ability to prevent sexual offences following reductions to the state budget approved by parliament in December 2012.