Murder convicts sue correctional services for refusing to authorise marriage

Ahmed Murrath and Fathmath Hana – sentenced to death for the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb in July 2012 – have sued the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) for refusing to authorise their marriage.

According to local media, the first hearing of the lawsuit filed by the couple last year was scheduled for 1:30pm today. Inmates are required to seek authorisation from the MCS for marrying while incarcerated.

The pair have also appealed the Criminal Court’s guilty verdicts at the High Court. At a hearing last month, Murrath told the appellate court that police coerced his confession to the murder.

His lawyer had previously told the High Court that Murrath confessed in order to escape punishments he received during the investigation period, including sleep deprivation.

Murrath and his 18-year-old girlfriend Hana were arrested and charged with Najeeb’s murder after his body was discovered by police stuffed inside a dustbin, badly beaten with multiple stab wounds.

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Parliament passes amendments to increase child support payments

Parliament has passed amendments to increase the amount of money for child support to MVR 2,000 (US$130) as part of the Family Regulation.

Amendments proposed to article 65 state that that a father who has more than one child must pay MVR 1,000 (US$65) per child per month as child support until the children reaches the age of 18.

According to the amendments, a father who has one child is required to pay MVR 2,000 per month until the child turns 18.

Amendments proposed to article 63 (a) also state that MVR 2,000 per month must be provided during iddah – a period of waiting undertaken by a woman after a divorce.

Previously, the Family Regulation stated that MVR 500 (US$32) should be provided to women during iddah, and MVR 250 (US$16) should be provided as child support, local media reported.

In accordance to article 55 of the Family Act, if a father does not have the financial means to support his children, the court will discuss the issue with the relatives of children in order to make them responsible for the child’s upbringing should they agree.

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‘Gold-digger clause’ bans Maldivian women from marrying foreigners who earn less than US$1000 pm

The Family Court has published regulations requiring that foreign men applying to marry Maldivian women must earn at least Rf15,000 (US$972) per month.

“We have been acting on this for a while. This has attracted public attention only because we announced the regulations this year,” said Ahmed Abdullah, Marriage Registrar at the Family Court.

The regulation stipulates that a foreigner has to earn at least Rf15,000 and submit written proof of his salary if he is employed by the government, or submit six months of bank account statements if he is working in the private sector.

Abdullah explained that this applies only to foreign men and not to foreign women wishing to marry locals, “as it is the man who has to support his wife.”

“It is mostly women who are victims when a mixed marriage like this goes wrong,” Abdullah said.

Maldivian men do not have to earn the minimum amount to get married: “A local man has a home or a family to turn to, whereas if you are a foreigner you have to rent a place so we have taken that into account when drafting the regulations.”

The court has heard cases in which the foreign man has walked away with the local woman’s money and jewelry, he said.

“When a man does not earn enough he will be desperate, and some men marry local women for ease of life. We had a case where a local woman came out of her shower to find her jewellery missing, and later that her Bangladeshi husband had fled the country with it.”

Abdullah says that even when marriages take place abroad between a foreign man and a local woman, it was often the woman who came in to register the marriage.

“We have cases where the woman comes in for the registration, does not have supporting documents, and when we ask the foreign man to come he does not turn up. A man can easily walk away from a marriage,” he said.

To counter this, the regulation for registering marriages abroad also states that if the marriage takes place in a country that has a Maldivian embassy, the embassy has to stamp a document stating that the marriage was conducted by a person or group that has been authorised by the host country to conduct Muslim marriages: “This way there is additional supporting document by a government authority.”

The regulations also specify that based on “certain factors” the marriage registrar can give permission for those under 18 to get married.

“This also has been practised for a while. In very rare cases we have allowed those under 18 to get married,” Abdullah said.

The marriage registrar has the authority to grant permission for those under the legal age of 18 to marry, after taking into consideration factors such as their physical and mental health, police records, and the view of the guardians or parents.

“We will get a medical doctor’s opinion on the physical health of those concerned, and we ask for police reports so that the person and parents in question can make an informed decision,” Abdullah explained.

The reason why a person under 18 wanted to get married is also taken into consideration.

“If they say they are in love, that is not necessarily a good reason to grant the marriage, as children in Grade 6 and 7 also think they are in love sometimes,” he said. “They have to be in a position to realise what marriage is.”

Abdullah would not say what a good reason was, stating only that “we will take it case by case and this is something we grant rarely.”

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Family court requires criminal records and police reports for underage marriage

A new regulation at the Family Court requires underage couples applying for marriage to submit criminal records and police reports, in a bid to ensure that young girls are fully informed of their partner’s social standing.

Maldivian law allows girls and boys under the legal age of 18 to marry so long as they have reached puberty and have parental consent, and if the court finds no substantial reason to object to the union.

As of January 1, 2012, couples in which one or both partners is underage must now submit criminal records and a police report to the Family court, as well as confirmation of parental consent and medical reports.

The Marriage Registrar will also decide whether the couple holds a valid reason for marriage.

Speaking to Minivan News, Marriage Registrar Ahmed Abdullah said that the new regulation aims to “protect young girls” following observations that in most cases of underage marriage the applicant is a female below the age of 18 who wishes to marry a man of legal age. The man is sometimes found to hold a criminal record, he said.

Abdullah said that these criminal records are mainly related to drug offences- and that the girl and her parents are often “unaware” of them prior to the marriage.

However, he explained that the court would not decline a marriage request based on the criminal history of an applicant, as long as the legal requirements are met.

“Submission of criminal records would only help the girls and parents make a more informed decision about the partner”, Abdullah added.

Contrary to the assumption that most underage marriages in Muslim countries are “forced”, Abdullah assured that the court has not registered any marriage in which the court had identified the “slightest hint that any partner was forced”.

Rather, Abdullah claims that most girls applying to marry between the ages of 15 and 17 do so to escape poor living conditions.

“Most underage girls are from very poor backgrounds living in very harsh conditions, often with no parent or reliable guardian to support them,” said Abdullah. “So, they want to get a better life by marrying”.

In the event that a marriage request is denied, Abdullah said some girls write repeatedly, “pleading for approval”.

According to him, there are exceptional cases where the boy and girl come from very good backgrounds and “they want to get married because parents do not approve of relationships out of wedlock”.

“Most parents are scared their kids might make a mistake, that is why want them to get married,” Abdullah observed.

As a Muslim nation, the Maldives subscribes to social standards in keeping with Quranic teachings, which strictly regulate the relations between a man and a woman. While Maldivian culture similar opposes “dating” in the modern sense, the “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationship, or bitun, is fairly common.

Last year, almost 50 underage marriages were registered at the court.

Although the Maldives is known for its record-high divorce rate, Abdullah noted that the “divorce rate in under age marriages are surprisingly lower” than in legal age marriages.

Former Gender Minister Aneesa Ahmed argued that a lack of information and social pressure combine to make it difficult for young girls to make healthy decisions regarding marriage.

Though it may appear that young girls want to get married, Ahmed said “often they are lured into marriage by their parents” who find the prospect of a wealthy son-in-law appealing. “The girls would not be able to make a good decision about their marriage partners” in that context, she added.

Ahmed observed that in most marriages between a young girl and an older man, the man has wealth, high social status, or both. She added that the girl is rarely consulted, and “parents are often to blame”.

In the event that an underage girl claims to have no parent or legal guardian, the state becomes responsible for her security. Ahmed pointed out that this mechanism does prevent girls from lying about their background, and allows for higher scrutiny.

“The court also must play an important role to ensure the rights to the underage girl”, she said.

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Females cannot perform marriage ceremonies under Islam, declares Fiqh Academy

The Islamic Ministry’s Fiqh Academy has declared that women are not allowed to perform marriages or lead a marriage ceremony according to Islam, and therefore cannot be a judge when performing marriages.

The declaration was announced by the President of Fiqh Academy and Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, together with eight other scholars of the academy.

The Fiqh Academy explained that the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) had ruled that woman could not perform a marriage ceremony herself, and nor could she perform the marriage of another woman.

The wife of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), Ummulmu’mineen Aisha, Ali and Abu Hurairath had also said that women could not perform marriages, the Academy explained, adding that all the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) also agreed that woman could not perform marriages.

Furthermore, the Fiqh Academy said that as marriages were in the hands of judges, it was contrary to Islamic Sharia for a woman to be in such a position.

Despite the fact that some religious scholars disagreed as to whether women could perform marriages,the Academy said it was inclined to side with the majority of scholars who had ruled this was inappropriate.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recently appointed judges to the High Court, including Dr Azmiraldha Zahir, the first woman to be appointed to such a position. Member of the commission Sheikh Shuaib Abdurahman voted against her appointment on the grounds of her gender, arguing that females were not permitted to deal with many of the issues required of a judge under Islam.

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Sheikh Fareed denies second marriage was conducted in secrecy

Prominent religious scholar Sheik Ibrahim Fareed has denied rumors that his second marriage, which was conducted in Sri Lanka, was conducted in secrecy.

Sheikh Freed’s lawyer Shaheem Ahmed told Minivan News that police officers yesterday went to Fareed’s house and questioned him about the marriage.

‘’Police officers told Sheikh Fareed that the case was reported to police by the Islamic ministry,’’ claimed the lawyer, ‘’and said that the Islamic Ministry had reported that the marriage was held in secrecy.’’

A marriage cannot be held in secrecy, continued Shaheem, adding that it was furthermore not the position of the police to investigate such matters.

‘’This is just a personal attack on Sheikh Fareed, it is very clear,’’ he said.

He also said the Islamic Ministry had denied it reported the case to police.

Police Sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam denied that police told Sheikh Fareed that his marriage was held in secrecy.

‘’Police officers questioned Sheikh Fareed because he had not submitted to register his second marriage in the court and the given duration had passed,’’ he said. ”But he has now submitted to register the marriage.’’

Police declined to reveal who reported the case and more information on the matter, ”as the case was personally related to Sheikh Fareed.’’

Fareed alerted Minivan News to the allegations, sending attached copies of documents from the Family Court in Sri Lanka to prove he had attempted to register the marriage.

”The documents will reveal my second marriage was registered, and the Maldives Police Service was misinformed about the case,’’ he claimed in the mail.

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

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Unregistered marriages leave children unable to inherit, warns Family Court

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’.”

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‘State dowry’ for Maldivians who marry foreigners

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.

Tightening regulations

“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.

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