The Family Court has claimed that unregistered marriages occurring in the Maldives are denying children the legal rights of those born to ‘registered’ couples.
According to Maldivian law, children born out of wedlock can face difficultly obtaining legal recognition for matters such as claiming their inheritance.
Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Didi confirmed that children born to couples who exchange vows in unsanctioned private marriages do not have the same legal rights as children born to those who marry legally.
“It’s a serious problem,” Didi said, explaining that such children can experience problems claiming inheritance and tracing their family.
“The children cannot find their family line or claim their property,” he said.
There were “certain religious people” giving false information to others in small communities, he said, who were instructing their followers to marry “according to Islam and not Maldivian law.”
Didi noted that although these marriages could technically be recognised by Islam, “the country’s law says we have to register a marriage.”
He said the ministry is running “awareness programmes giving proper information to people,” as well as providing education through the media, information sessions at the ministry and during Friday sermons.
Didi said the ministry “has not found clues” as to why certain religious scholars are marrying people outside the law, but he thinks the only reason is “they want to have a bigger group of followers.”
The Family Court confirmed it was dealing with some cases involving private marriages, and said if the marriage was not registered at the court, it was not technically legal.
Couples receive a certificate through the court which proves they are married, she explained.
Children born to couples who are not registered will not appear under the father’s name and “will not have legal rights”, the court registrar noted.
Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said the problem was all down to the “concubine business.”
According to legal procedures concerning polygamy, for a man to marry more than one woman, the first wife must give her consent for her husband to marry someone else. In this event, his finances and ‘level of commitment’ will be examined by the court.
Zuhair said some men who did not pass the requirements were getting married outside the law.
“The problem is that divorce is then also not legal, and children are unable to claim their inheritance,” he said, noting that although the marriage could be recognised under Islam, it was not recognised under Maldivian law.
Zuhair noted the greater issue behind these ‘private marriages’ was the discussion by Islamic scholars over whether State laws should stand alone from Shari’a, although “of course State law is influenced by Shari’a law.”
“The Constitution gives power to the State,” he said, “but certain Islamic scholars believe this shouldn’t be the case.”
A source who wished to remain anonymous from an island “well known for these type of illegal marriages” told Minivan News that “there is a group of people who believe the Constitution of the Maldives should not be followed because it is not based on Shari’a law.”
He said these people claimed that judges at the courts were “apostates” and that marriage under a Maldivian court could not be recognised under the tenets of Islam.
He said people who do not follow this group “would also be considered apostates.”
He said many people involved with this group were also not sending their children to school because they would have to sing the school song “as they believe singing is haraam, and also claim the school uniform is not very ‘Muslim’.”