No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan
The Ministry of Law and Gender has warned it would take legal action against extremist practices such as unregistered marriages and refusal to vaccinate or send children to school.
The ministry revealed in a press statement on Thursday (October 2) that the number of such cases brought to its attention by various state institutions was on the rise.
Legally unrecognised marriages and refusal to vaccinate or send children to school were criminal offences under child protection, family, public health, and religious unity laws as well as the penal code, the statement noted.
“As upholding the society’s interests is a responsibility of the state, we inform and announce that henceforth the relevant state authorities will be taking legal action against those who commit the aforementioned crimes,” the ministry warned.
Healthcare and education for children were also fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the ministry noted, and were not left to the discretion of parents.
Moreover, assuring the rights was a legal obligation of both the state and legal guardians, it added.
Children born of unregistered marriages pose several problems such as establishing legal guardianship and determining child care payments in the case of divorce, the ministry said.
In its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submission to the UN Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) referred to an estimate from the education ministry in a 2011 assessment by the HRCM on child participation concerning the number of children whose parents refuse to send them to school.
“There are roughly 400 children being withheld from attending school by their parents due to religious beliefs,” reads the section titled ‘religious extremist ideologies.’
The report also observed that children born out of wedlock faced discrimination.
“Paternity testing is not admissible evidence in court and such a child would be denied father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance,” it stated.
The UPR report also referred to “reports of unregistered marriages encouraged by some religious scholars claiming that registering marriages with the courts are un‐Islamic and unnecessary.”
“State institutions acknowledge this information and raised concerns that children born to such marriages could face serious legal issues. Similarly women in such marriages are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the report stated.
In April, the Family Court announced it would not be registering marriages performed by individuals without the court’s involvement.
The court noted that it could not accept cases related to divorce or other disputes if marriages were not registered officially.
Marriages performed outside the Maldives are registered by the Family Court upon submission of legal documentation.
The penalty for violating the Family Act is meanwhile a fine of up to MVR1,000 or banishment to another inhabited island for a period less than six months.
The court had raised the issue of unregistered marriages in 2010 as well.
Religious extremists in the Maldives have both endorsed and performed such marriages, claiming that even private, out-of-court marriages should be treated as legal as long as the minimum Shariah requirements for marriage are met.
Some cases of out-of-court marriages include child marriages, which are to a large extent illegal in the Maldives.
Family Court Chief Judge Hassan Saeed said in April that there was no basis in Islamic Sharia to argue that officially registering marriages was not a legal requirement.
“You cannot say it is okay to perform a marriage hiding inside a room with two random witnesses [to whom] you give some treat,” he told local media.