State and judicial authorities have failed to provide a timeline for the appeal of a 15 year-old rape victim sentenced to flogging for a separate incidence of fornication, despite repeated pledges and promises of wider legal reform.
The 15 year-old minor from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll was convicted to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest in February 2013, after confessing to fornication with another man during an investigation into allegations she was sexually abused at the hands of her stepfather. Those allegations arose with the earlier discovery of a dead baby buried in the outdoor shower area of the family’s home.
A month after the sentence was delivered, sources on Feydhoo told Minivan News that islanders had been raising concerns to the authorities over the girl’s abuse by other men on the island since 2009.
Sources at the time accused law enforcement officials, civil society and successive governments of failing on every level to protect the minor.
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.
Despite the country’s international reputation as an romantic island getaway for couples, fornication (sex outside marriage) is illegal in the Maldives and is subject to Sharia punishments under the 1968 penal code.
However, statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration show that flogging sentences are overwhelmingly issued to women. Of the 129 fornication cases filed last in 2011, 104 resulted in sentences – 93 of whom were female.
Meanwhile, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has dismissed calls to suspend Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed following the judge’s appearance in at least three recently-leaked sex videos appearing to depict him fornicating with unidentified foreign women in a Colombo Hotel room, citing “lack of evidence”.
15 year-old’s appeal stalled
The opening hearing of a High Court appeal of the girl’s flogging sentence, filed on her behalf by Attorney General Azima Shukoor, was held on April 29
The High Court has confirmed to Minivan News that there had been no further hearings in the three months since, and no further hearings scheduled.
However, a legal source speaking this week on condition of anonymity said the hearing in April was believed to have been the last, with the court expected to deliver a verdict on the case the next time it reconvened on the issue. The appeal is being heard behind closed doors.
The flogging would be administered when the girl turns 18, although local media has previously cited a court official who claimed it could be implemented earlier should the minor request so.
Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham confirmed that the sentence had not been carried out, and reiterated that no date had yet been set for a verdict on the minor’s appeal.
Usham added that a process to oversee legal reforms into the treatment of sexual abuse victims involving state bodies including the Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office was ongoing at present.
“Hopefully something concrete will be announced on this soon,” he said, but could not speculate on a timeline.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government has previously pledged to review and “correct” laws it says victimise young women and minors who have suffered sexual abuse.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad previously expressed hope that the use of punishments such as flogging would be among practices debated as part of reforms.
“I’m sure when we debate [punishing suspects for fornication with lashes], we will find an acceptable solution for all parties,” he said.
More recently, the President’s Office said current legal practices involving the treatment of victims of sexual offences could not be changed overnight, and required gradual implementation.
“We cannot go any faster on the matter than this, we don’t want to see any trouble like in the past. We can’t just go and ask a judge not to [give sentences like this] anymore,” Masood said in May.
The President’s Office today confirmed that Dr Waheed had established a “special committee” as part of efforts to try and oversee the requested legal reforms, referring any specific questions on its work to Spokesperson Ahmed ‘Topy’ Thaufeeq.
Thaufeeq was not responding to calls or text messages at time of press.
Recently appointed Gender Minister Dr Aamaal Ali meanwhile requested Minivan News contact the office of former Gender Minister and current AG Azima Shukoor concerning the current status of attempts to reform laws on the treatment of sexual abuse victims.
Azima was not responding to calls or e-mails to her office at time of press.
Local newspaper Haveeru meanwhile last weekend interviewed the judiciary’s official flogger, Abdul Khalig.
“According to his memory, Khalig has enforced flogging sentences of over 300 people which amounts to thousands of lashes with his leather whip,” reported Haveeru.
“But Khalig to this day remains hesitant when it comes to flogging the elderly given their age. But he assures that no old person mostly sentenced for fornication and child abuse had come to any harm as a direct result of the flogging.
“No matter who the person is, this must be done. It is not a cruel punishment. Only one woman fainted whilst I was flogging her,” Khalig told the paper.
“I notice that people who have been flogged, repent and live good lives afterwards. Because this such a small society I see it quite often. People who have been flogged for fornication later go on to live very good lives,” he said, adding that he was now hoping “to impart what he has learned to the next generation before he retires.”
15 year-old’s case “tip of the iceberg”: Amnesty International
Speaking to Minivan News at the conclusion of a nine day visit to the country in April, Amnesty’s South Asia Director Polly Truscott claimed the treatment and controversial flogging sentence handed to the 15 year-old girl was the “tip of the iceberg” regarding the Maldives’ treatment of sexual abuse victims.
Earlier the same month, Maldivian NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) criticised child protection measures currently in place in the country as “inadequate”, urging government authorities to incorporate several key human rights obligations into domestic law.
ARC at the time told Minivan News 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.
Minivan News meanwhile in June investigated reports of “widespread” child prostitution being conducted in Laamu Atoll, and was informed by a private clinical psychologist that the practice had become “so common” that the victims considered it “normal”.
Multiple sources told Minivan News the practice has prevalent across the Maldives, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively selling the sexual services of their children – some as young as 12.
Official and public acknowledgement of the “systemic” child sexual abuse remains taboo, although Azima Shukoor – then Family and Gender Minister – in a statement on May 10 to mark Children’s Day revealed that “children being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade. This is being practiced in the Maldives today. Both boys and girls are being used in this trade.”