Maldives holds Guinness world record for divorce rate

Fathimath Leena* was 15 when her boyfriend raped her. Having grown up in the conservative city of Malé – where sex outside of marriage is seen as a sin and punishable by law – Leena felt obliged to marry her boyfriend when she turned 18.

“I held very conservative values at the time. Since we had already had sex, I felt like I had to marry him to legalise sex,” the slim, curly haired woman said over a cigarette and coffee.

The marriage lasted one month.

“He would frequently lock me up in our room. I was not allowed to see or speak to my family. He beat me every day. Once, he even burnt me with an iron. He had always been possessive, but I did not expect that kind of violence,” she said in a matter of fact tone.

“I did not have the courage to tell my parents. They were quite happy I had settled down. But one day, he started beating me in public in a shop. I ran out, he followed me into his parents apartment and in a fit of anger he told me I was now divorced,” she recounted.

Since then, Leena, now 29, has been married and divorced twice more and has a child from her third marriage.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Maldives ranks highest in the world with 10.97 divorces per 1000 inhabitants per year. Maldives’ divorce rate is twice as high as second placed Belarus.

“Maldives may rank highest in the world for divorces, but at least the ease in getting a divorce ensures women or men do not stay in abusive or unhappy relationships,” Leena said.

Ease of divorce

Obtaining a divorce is relatively easy under the Maldives’ mixed Shari’ah and common law system. A man is allowed to divorce his wife out of court simply by saying he was divorcing her. He is also allowed to revoke the divorce within three months.

A woman can only seek divorce through the courts, and if the judge decides the grounds for divorce are justified.

According to the Department of National Planning, 5,699 couples got married in 2012, but 3,011 couples got divorced in the same year.

The Family Court in Malé says it processed 784 cases of divorce in 2013. Of the 784, 360 were out-of-court divorces, and 262 cases were women seeking divorce through the court.

According to a family court official, who wished to remain anonymous, the court has imposed a MVR 5000 (US$ 324) fine to mitigate the high divorce rate and ensure couples seek reconciliation before obtaining a divorce. However, in 2013, only 14 couples sought reconciliation.

The family court is at present conducting an analysis of reasons for divorce, the official said.

Legal sex

Leena believes most couples get married  young in order to legalise sex. According to a 2011 UNFPA study on reproductive health, knowledge and behavior of young unmarried women in the Maldives, Maldivian youth are sexually active outside of marriage despite existing social belief systems, which consider sexual behavior outside of wedlock to be unacceptable.

“Parents and society frowns upon unmarried couples spending time together alone and press for marriage even though the couples may not be financially independent,” she said.

Leena said she had married her second and third husband for love. However, living in congested households with extended families had strained both marriages.

“People get married without financial independence and when they are not emotionally mature. There is no privacy to solve the smallest issues. So they escalate. Also, most couples live with their children in the same room and this can strain marriages,” she added.

A 2008 Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) study said 12,000 families living in Malé do not have their own housing and are forced to share accommodation with other families.

Historically high divorce rate

State Minister for Gender and Family Dr Haala Hameed said a lack of research on Maldives’ high divorce rate made it difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for divorce.

She said that Maldives had historically had high divorce rates, but believes recent increase in divorce rates may be due to stress within families as women enter the work force.

“In this globalised era, more and more women are entering the work force. High standards of living necessitate women supplement their husband’s income. However, there are no childcare facilities. And certain religious elements see women in the workforce – or active in public space – in a negative light. All of this can create stress within families and lead to divorce,” she speculated.

A myriad of problems emerge when divorce becomes common, she said. “Children tend to bear a huge loss when parents separate. Children from broken families are often neglected. They then tend to become school drop outs, engage in drug abuse or resort to violence,” she said.

Meanwhile, Leena said she had no regrets over her three marriages.

“It’s life. What can we do but live and learn from it? I have no regrets. Relationships do not last forever. When the time comes, I am ready to settle down again.”

*Name changed


We will take action against those involving children in begging: Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights has released a statement regarding the issue of children being involved in street begging.

The ministry has said it will take legal action against those responsible for involving children in begging, and those who allow children to stay unaccompanied in the premises of the local market .

The ministry expressed concern that street vendors in the local market have young children, some of school-age, accompanying them. The statement says they find the issue further worrisome as they have noticed that arguments are common there, and foul language is often used in the presence of minors.

The statement further notes that they have observed children playing in the sun, taking meals and sleeping in the same area. The ministry notes that these actions may have a negative effect on the child’s growth and behaviour, and as such are risks to their safety, health and physical well-being.

The ministry further states that exposing children to such environments would have a detrimental impact on their education and upbringing. It states that this bringing up children in this manner is against the law, referring to the Child Protection Act.

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights was unable to further comment on the issue at time of press.

Minivan News reported in January that a number of elderly people had been forced out of home and had begun sleeping in the local market.


Abandoned child legally assigned foster parents for first time in Maldivian history

The Family Court has assigned foster parents to a 10-month-old baby for the first time in Maldivian history. The child, who had been abandoned, was transferred from state care to a married couple on Sunday, September 18.

“This is the first time that non-biological parents have been given legal guardianship of a child in the Maldives,” said Ilham Mohamed, a local NGO worker familiar with the matter.

Mohamed said that foster parents previously risked the biological parents turning up to demand money and/or the child. “This example will make the process more secure,” she said.

The new foster parents will have the same legal rights given in adoption, except for the rights to consent to marriage and leave an inheritance.

Mohamed pointed out that in many cases where a father will not consent to his daughter’s marriage, the young couple requests and often receives court permission. She said the process usually takes between two and three months.

The couple’s lawyer, former Attorney General (AG) Aishath Azima Shakoor, told local media that the couple wanted to opt for their new daughter to inherit an equal share of their property. According to Mohamed, Maldivian law allows foster parents this option.

Shakoor recently told local media that the court had transferred the state’s legal guardianship of the child under Shari’a law to the couple, who have agreed in writing to protect and provide for the girl.

The Maldives did not provide services for abandoned children before the 1990s. Sources say that the number of abandoned children rose during that decade, possibly due to the allegedly higher rate of drug use among young adults at that time.

In 1992, the Ministry of Gender and Family established the Unit for the Rights of the Child (URC), now known as the Child and Family Protection Services (CFPS). Since then, the ministry maintains that the number of care-giving staff and institutions are unable to meet demand.

An Auditor General’s report dated 2009 reported 43 children at the state’s orphanage on Villingili, near Male. The report noted that the orphanage was understaffed and staff members were unable to provide sufficient care for children below the age of five. Most employees were not trained in child psychology, and there were no provisions for medical emergencies.

The orphanage on Male is currently over capacity and children are not segregated by age, said Mohamed.

Minivan News previously reported that Maldivian Family Law requires various next-of-kin be asked to care for abandoned children before the state assumes responsibility. But the process of identifying proper care-givers was reported long and difficult, and the Ministry of Family and Gender was regularly backed up with applications at the time.

The report also noted that adoption, as it is handled in the West, is illegal in Islam.

“Adoption in the Western style is not part of Islam,” explained Mohamed. “But fostering, or taking people into your care, is part of Islamic culture. It doesn’t really matter what name you use, foster or adopt, just so long as children have a safe place to live.”

Mohamed said she believes most orphanages have wait lists, and expects foster parenting to increase significantly.

“The couple that has been approved struggled to convince local authorities of their case. But now that this has been done once, it won’t be difficult for people to do it again.”

Mohamed noted that the struggle to legalize foster parenting began in the late 1990s, and calls the recent case a “very significant event.”


NGOs slam special needs bill

Several NGOs have criticised the recently-passed bill protecting the rights and providing financial assistance to people with special needs.

The bill, which was passed on 21 December, states that disabled people will receive financial benefits of Rf2000 a month. In addition, persons found mocking people with disabilities could be fined from anywhere between Rf5000 to Rf10,000.

However NGOs such as Care Society have strongly criticised the bill.

Sidaatha Shareef from Care Society said “this bill is not in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) that the Maldives has signed.”

The UNCRPD is an international human rights convention pushing a rights-based vision addressing issues concerning people with disabilities.

The Maldives signed a UNCRPD act in 2008. According to this Act, a country must have a specialised bill that focuses on the rights of people with disabilities.

“The term ‘special needs’ is a very board category. We wanted this bill to be specifically for the rights of people with disabilities,” continued Sidaatha.

“We’re not trying to downplay other issues, they are just as important, but we want to get rid of the confusion caused by the bill. People with special needs and people with disabilities are very different.”

Care Society said a revised bill was important because people with disabilities were a marginalised group, and therefore it was important to make sure a proper bill was passed that would give rights to these groups.

Sidaatha also said that in the future “we must carefully think about signing such conventions such as the UNCRPD.”

Former minister of gender and family Aishath Didi said that providing monthly financial assistance was not enough.

“We need to focus more on prevention and screening,” she said. “Screening during the first three months is crucial in early detection of disabilities, and once detected the proper assistance needs to be provided.”

Didi also mentioned the importance of including things like speech therapy in the bill.

The bill is currently with the president who has a week to ratify it before it becomes law.