Parliament passes sexual harassment and sexual offences bills

Parliament passed the sexual harassment bill and sexual offences bill yesterday (April 27).

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Rozaina Adam – chair of the committee that evaluated the sexual harassment bill – told Minivan News that while the passage of the legislation was a positive step, there was still a lot of work to be done on combating the internalised effects of sexual harassment.

The sexual harassment bill was submitted in January 2013 by Rozaina, and aims to ensure gender discrimination is made illegal at workplaces, educational institutes, and other service providers such as hospitals.

“Previously there was no law or any regulation from which they could seek help. I think now the women have a place to go,” she explained.

If ratified by the president, the new law would mandate the creation of a committee to investigate sexual harassment complaints at all workplaces with more than 30 employees.

The committees shall be chaired the by the head of the respective offices and must include at least one female members.

If the committee finds an employee guilty of sexual harassment at the workplace following an inquiry, it will be empowered to advise the offender verbally or in writing, suspend him, demote him, or dismiss him based on the severity of the offence.

Rozaina however suggested that women would “still not be complaining” despite the introduction of an internal mechanism to address complaints.

“People have come to accept that this is just something that just happens,” she said.

She however said that the legislation would “create awareness,” contending that not enough was done in implementation of similar laws such as the anti-domestic violence law.

“Police are not taking domestic violence seriously enough,” she argued.

Rozaina recalled the story of one woman – whose experiences reflect the reality for many – as she attempted speak out about the sexual abuses inflicted against her.

“She was waiting outside for me,” recounted Rozaina, “she told me she complained to police about ex-husband beating her, and raping her. When I went to case, they hadn’t even done anything about it.”

“They are not giving enough importance to these cases, we need to create more awareness.”

Cooperation from police seems to be “declining”, she added, “they don’t feel it’s an important issue.”

“I just hope that everyone cooperates and more women report these cases in domestic violence. The main issue is talking and reporting, so very few people report.”

Sexual offences

The two bills – which support both men and women who are victims of sexual abuse – were submitted independently of each other.

The sexual offences bill – which called for recognition of marital rape as a crime – was first submitted in October 2012 and was vetoed by President Abdulla Yameen in January 2014.

“The bill contained some provisions that are contrary to Islamic Shariah and Islamic principles was among the reasons considered for returning the bill,” the President’s Office stated at the time.

The contentious bill was drafted and submitted in October 2012 by now-Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Kulhudhufushi South, Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed wrote in the draft legislation that it was not intended to replace Shariah, explaining that it did not preclude application of a Shariah penalty for an offence specified in the bill.

Previous reports of police apathy

Minivan News has previously spoken with foreign women from diverse nationalities working in Maldives who came forward and reported various attacks, ranging from verbal abuse to physical and sometimes sexual assaults.

Katie*, a 34-year-old American who has worked in Male’ for almost a year, was subject to a horrific incident last month when a local man sexually assaulted her while she was unlocking the door of her apartment.

Neighbours who heard her screams called the police, and around five to six officers arrived on the scene with a forensic team.

However, according to Katie, the police did not take her statement until three weeks later and then got the details of the attack completely wrong.

“The police had stated my necklace was stolen. It broke off during the attack, I still have it. The attacker must have known the necklace I was wearing was not gold because it was made of multi-colored beads,” Katie pointed out.

She added that she had later found out from CCTV camera owners nearby her house that the police had not requested the footage or interviewed neighbours for clues. Frustrated over the lack of police assistance, she called the US embassy.

“I don’t think they would have even taken the statement if the American Embassy had not called them,” Katie claimed.

The Police department was not issuing statements to Minivan News at the time of publishing.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


Criminal Court sentences opposition activist ‘Hoara Ibbe’ to 10 years for child abuse

Former Under-Secretary of the President’s Office and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activist, Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Hoara Ibbe’, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail after the Criminal Court found him guilty of the charge of sexually abusing a 17-year old girl.

The police arrested Rasheed a year ago in December after being discovered at a house in the Galolhu Ward of Male’ with the minor.

The local media at the time quoted police as saying that when officers entered the room containing Rasheed, he was naked with the girl. However, the police refused to officially confirm the claim.

Rasheed at the time claimed that the 17-year old was his girl friend and later, got married to her when she had attained the age of 18.

The Prosecutor General however pressed charges against Rasheed under section 3(c) of the Special Measure for Perpetrators of Child Sex Abuse Act 2009, which carries a sentence of imprisonment up to 14 years.

Criminal Court officials confirmed to local media at the time that Rasheed – during the closed-door trial – had refuted the charges.

However, issuing the guilty verdict this Sunday (December 1), the Criminal Court Judge stated that despite Rasheed’s objections to the charges, the statements given by witnesses produced to the court by the prosecution proved that he had been guilty of the charge.

Section 3 of the Measure for Perpetrators of Child Sex Abuse Act 2009 states:

(a) It is an offence if a person touches a minor with sexual intent.

(b) For the purpose of this section, touching a minor with sexual intent is meant if he acts in the following way

  1. Touching the minor’s genital region or his anal region or any other sexual organ  or touching part of his body that could be used to achieve sexual desire,
  2. Touching with the hand or any other object,

(c) If a person is found guilty of the offense mention in Section 3(a), he shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of 10 to 14 years.

For the purpose of Maldivian laws regarding sexual offences, any person under 18 years of age is considered a minor.

Selective application of the law

Although the Criminal Court sentenced Rasheed under the Measure for Perpetrators of Child Sex Abuse Act 2009, the same court only sentenced renowned Quran reciter and teacher Hussain ‘Qaari’ Thaufeeq to a six months banishment and 15 lashes in a similar case last week.. Thaufeeq was arrested on August 2010 for multiple counts of child molestation while in a position of trust, although this was not considered by the court.

According to local media the Criminal Court sentenced Thaufeeq under ‘Regulation concerning punishment for fornication and adultery’, and had the enforcement of his sentence suspended under section 292(2) of the “Regulation concerning criminal trial” for a period of three years as it was his first offence.

Minivan News was unable to obtain a copy of the ‘Regulation concerning punishment for fornication and adultery’ as this was not found on the government’s legal website containing all published laws, The Criminal Court’s website was down for maintenance.

Section 292(2) of the “Regulation concerning criminal trial” states:

The judge has the discretionary power delay enforcement of a sentence for a period of three years if, the person found guilty is sentenced to imprisonment or banishment or house arrest for a period not exceeding six months, and if it is the first criminal conviction that person has faced [in his life].

It is unclear as to why the Criminal Court opted to sentence Thaufeeq under the “Regulation concerning punishment for fornication and adultery” while section 9 of Measure for Perpetrators of Child Sex Abuse Act 2009 explicitly states the offence of child abuse and molestation while being in a position of trust, and despite usual practice being that a specific legislation supersedes a by-law.

Section 9 of Measure for Perpetrators of Child Sex Abuse Act 2009 states:

(a) It is an offence if a person who commits a sexual act against a minor while being in a position of trust

(b) The punishment for the offence stated in section 9(a) is imprisonment for a period between 15 to 18 years

Thaufeeq is also being charged with possession of pornographic material. The trial is still pending at the Criminal Court.


Fourteen year-old girl latest victim in surge of rape crimes

Police are investigating the rape of a 14 year-old girl on Muli island of Meemu Atoll, the latest incident in an increasing number of sexual crimes against women and girls in the Maldives.

According to the police the incident was reported around 1.30am Sunday night, and a 19 year-old man was arrested on charges of rape.

The suspect has a history of criminal behaviour including assault and theft, police stated.

Rise in rapes

The 14 year-old’s rape comes less than two weeks after a 19 year old girl was snatched from the streets of Hulhumale’ and allegedly raped by a man believed to be an expatriate on the early morning of August 3.

More than 1000 expatriate workers have been searched and interrogated in the ongoing hunt to find the foreign national accused, according to police.

Just two days later on August 5, the police stated that two minors and two men have also been arrested in connection with the rape and filming of an underage girl in a house in Male’. The rape incident occurred on July 27.

Meanwhile, on July 30, the police arrested four men and one minor in connection with the gang rape of a 17 year-old girl on the island of Milandhoo in Shaviyani Atoll.

Police acknowledged that an increasing number of rape and sexual abuse cases had been reported this year.

“We urge parents to be more careful with children’s whereabouts, and check who they meet and hang out with,” a police spokesperson noted. “Parents also need to be careful of people who visit their homes.”

Surveys indicate that most of the sexual perpetrators are known persons, including family members and friends.

Last year three cases of rape incidents were reported to the police while in 2011 a total of 13 cases were investigated, according to the annual police statistics report 2011/2012.

Most cases were gang-rapes and the victims included girls as young as 13.

Tip of the iceberg

Sharing her concerns over the increasing number of sexual crimes against women, Assistant Representative of UNFPA Maldives Shadiya Ibrahim warned an increasing number of rape cases were just “the tip of the iceberg”.

She suggested that many of rape and abuse cases go “unreported and uninvestigated” .

“The culture of impunity is one factor why sexual violence against women and girls is increasing,” Shadiya observed.

While a number of rape cases are reported in the Maldives, few are prosecuted – especially if the victim is 18 or above.

Rape cases involving minors are prosecuted as child abuse cases with a maximum penalty of 20 years depending on the magnitude of the offence. In contrast, rape cases in which the victim is an adult, are deemed as “forced fornication” under the existing regulation on sexual offences, according to the Prosecutor General Office. To prove fornication – whether forced or not – requires a confession or four witnesses.

“Due to this burden of proof, proving rape cases becomes next to impossible,” a state prosecutor told Minivan News in an earlier interview on the subject.

Therefore, adult rape victim’s cases are detracted to a sexual assault or harassment offence, in which the four witnesses and confession is not required. However, penalty for sexual assault is only two to three year long imprisonment.

The amended penal code and sexual offences bill currently being deliberated by parliament committees provide a legal remedy to the problem of inadequate legal definition of rape, and if passed will ease the existing burden of proof, making it easier to prosecute rape cases.

Meanwhile, the UNFPA also named other underlying issues contributing to the surge in sexual violence against women; including gender-inequalities that makes women and girls particularly more vulnerable to abuse and secondly, men’s attitude.

“A recent survey based on men’s experiences of violence shows that entitlement is one of the main reason for men to rape,” Shadiya pointed out. “Men surveyed believe it is their right to rape and they can simply get away with it.”

She concluded that a huge shift was required in the attitudes of public and authorities in condemning violence against women as an inexcusable human rights violation.

“Parliamentarians, prosecutors, police and judges needs to be gender-sensitised to achieve progress in reducing violence against women.” she added.

Minivan News contacted the Gender Ministry but had received no response at time of press.

Earlier this year, Maldives came under international scrutiny following the sentencing of a 15 year old rape victim to 100 lashes on charges of fornication – a symbolic case reflecting the systematic injustices suffered by some rape victims.

Widespread international coverage of the sentencing has since led to over two million people signing an petition calling for her sentence to be quashed, a moratorium on flogging, and reform of laws to protect women and girls in the Maldives.


Government appoints attorney general as acting human rights minister

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor has been appointed as Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights, the President’s Office has announced.

Shukoor’s appointment comes at a time when the government has committed itself to review laws it has previously claimed discriminate against – and in some cases criminalise –  women and minors believed to be the victims of sexual abuse.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad declined to speculate on the reason for reappointing the role of acting gender minister, stating only that there was “not much time” and limited resources at the government’s disposal to “get its house in order”.

Masood told Minivan News last month that the Maldives had experienced a number of similar criminal cases of late where young women had been victimised and punished by authorities – a situation he said the government was looking to prevent.

“We are reviewing this right now and if we have to go to the extent of changing existing laws then we would look to do this,” he said.

The Gender Ministry and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs were among the state bodies requested to be part of any potential review, Masood has previously claimed.

Such commitments were made as authorities come under intense scrutiny from local and international civil society organisations following global media coverage of the trial and conviction of a 15 year-old girl on the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll for fornication.

In a separate criminal case, the same 15 year-old girl has been identified as a victim of child abuse after giving birth to a baby later discovered last year buried in the outdoor shower area of her home.

Her stepfather was later charged with child sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing premeditated murder.

Azima Shukoor was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Previous ministers

The acting gender minister position has previously been filled by Minister of Environment and Energy Dr Mariyam Shakeela.

Dr Shakeela was appointed as acting minister on November 21 last year as a replacement for Dhiyana Saeed, who was dismissed from the role for acting in a manner the President’s Office has previously said was not suited for a minister.

Dhiyana had strongly criticised President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and his government over the arrest of her husband, Kaashidhoo MP Abdullah Jabir, who was arrested under suspicion of drinking alcohol.

Jabir re-joined the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) following the arrest.