Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The parliamentary elections held in April were well administered and transparent according to Transparency Maldives and international election observers. Despite an assessment the overall election was well administered, Transparency Maldives highlighted some issues of concern including unverified reports of vote buying, lack of transparency in political financing, abuse of state resources and barriers for women’s equal participation in the electoral process.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The political opposition maintains that opposition leader and former president Abdulla Yameen was convicted of money laundering in order to obstruct opposition activities in November 2019 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Civil society and international observers view the convictions as credible and appropriate. In November the political opposition submitted a complaint to the Elections Commission alleging the government was using restrictive measures introduced in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak, including prohibition of public gatherings of large groups to restrict unfairly its candidates from campaigning for head of local council elections scheduled to take place in 2021.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s rights activists highlighted a lack of government and political party effort to encourage political participation of women. In March an individual filed a High Court case contesting the constitutionality of a December 2019 amendment to the Decentralization Act, which introduced a 33 percent quota for women in all local council, and the High Court had yet to reach a verdict as of November.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views. In July the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment released a statement cautioning registered NGOs against “actions that are detrimental to national security and national interests” after several NGOs expressed solidarity and called for the release of foreign migrant workers arrested during protests regarding nonpayment of wages. NGOs reported that, although the government did not take action against the NGOs, they found the statement intimidating.
NGOs reported that although sporadically enforced, a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above 25,000 rufiyaa ($1,630) or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRCM is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to promote and protect human rights under the constitution, Maldivian Islamic law, and regional and international human rights conventions ratified by the country. NIC is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by law enforcement agencies and employees, and it has the authority to forward any cases with criminal elements to police for further investigation. During the year the government appointed new members to both the HRCM and NIC after former members either resigned or were dismissed following parliamentary investigations into allegations the members were biased towards the former government. In previous years both the ruling coalition and NGOs had questioned the independence of both institutions. In July the president appointed the country’s first Child Rights Ombudsman, tasked with monitoring implementation of the Child Rights Protection Act. The ombudsman had not issued any reports as of September. Child Rights NGOs reported they had not interacted with the ombudsman as of September, and highlighted the need for the ombudsman to have enough resources to fulfill his office’s mandate.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against both men and women, as well as spousal rape and domestic violence including physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. The law also extends protection to wives against being forcibly impregnated by their husbands and includes an extensive list of other abuses for which protection is provided. The law allows courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. A man may be convicted of rape in the absence of a confession only if there are two male witnesses or four female witnesses willing to testify. In the case of a child, the burden of proof is lower. Penalties if convicted range from four months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment, depending on factors such as the age of the victim.
NGOs and other authorities reported MPS officers were reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family. Reportedly, this made victims reluctant to file criminal cases against abusers. While the MPS received 842 reports of domestic violence as of September, the MPS conducted investigation into only 342 and recommended charges in only 33 cases. Of these 33 cases, charges were brought in just three cases as of September. While the MPS received 95 reports of rape and sexual assault as of September, the MPS conducted investigations into 74 complaints and recommended charges in only 10 cases. Of these 10 cases, charges were raised in just two as of September. Human rights activists staged a series of protests in Male throughout the year to express concern regarding inadequate investigations of rape and child sexual abuse cases and the impunity of offenders.
The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services received reports of rape, sexual offenses, and domestic violence and conducted social inquiry assessments of cases it submitted to the MPS. It also provided psychological support to victims during MPS investigations.
To streamline the process of reporting abuses against women and children, the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services operates family and children’s service centers on every atoll. Residential facilities were established in only four of the centers to provide emergency shelter assistance to domestic violence and other victims. Authorities and NGOs both reported the service centers remained understaffed and under resourced, especially lacking budgets to travel to attend cases in islands. Staff employed at the centers lacked technical capacity and were forced to divide their time between administrative duties and casework.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No cases of FGM/C were reported to government authorities during the year. Some religious leaders have intermittently called to revive the practice since 2014 and in November, a popular individual associated with a religious NGO reportedly called for a resumption of female circumcision. In January the Minister of Health ordered the Health Protection Agency to revoke a request submitted to the Fatwa Majlis, the statutory body mandated to resolve differences of opinion on religious matters, seeking its opinion on Islam’s stance on female circumcision. This followed criticism of the request by Maldivians on social media, who argued the request would set a dangerous precedent by allowing religious scholars to police women’s bodies. The minister noted, “female circumcision is not part of government policy and is not encouraged, so there is no need to seek any advice on the matter.” NGOs expressed concern the government failed to publicly denounce or counter calls for revival of female circumcision.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: A 2015 amendment to the penal code states only Maldivian Islamic law penalties may be imposed for hadd (robbery, fornication, homosexual acts, alcohol consumption, apostasy) and qisas (retaliation in kind) offenses. Penalties could include hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery, though this was not enforced.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, detention facilities, and any centers that provide public services. NGOs reported that while the law requires all government offices to set up sexual harassment review committees, a significant number of government offices had failed to establish these committees or in cases where the committees had been set up, employees were unaware of their existence.
The MPS reported forwarding two out of a total 63 received cases of sexual harassment for prosecution. President Solih dismissed Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed after multiple ministry employees accused him of sexual harassment. The MPS launched an investigation against Waheed on suspicion of sexual harassment and assault and in October asked the PGO to file charges against him in October. The PGO had yet to raise official charges as of November.
Reproductive Rights: Married couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Nevertheless, extramarital sex is criminalized and childbirth out of wedlock is stigmatized.
Limited public information on reproductive health services was available for unmarried individuals. Health-care facilities generally provided reproductive health services only to married couples. A centralized system of health-care provision is a significant barrier to access for health-care services on islands outside the capital region. Men tended to influence or control reproductive health decisions of women, often based on religious and cultural beliefs. Studies published by the United Nations Population Fund in 2018 and 2020 stated that youth access to reproductive health information and services was especially limited and that cultural attitudes prevented youth from accessing what limited services were available from health facilities.
NGOs reported that the government provided access to emergency contraceptives for sexual violence survivors.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination including in workplaces, educational institutions, and service providers, such as hospitals, but discrimination against women remained a problem. Women’s rights activists reported that women who initiated divorce proceedings faced undue delays in court as compared with men who initiated divorce proceedings. According to women’s rights activists, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents. Under the law a child born of a citizen father or mother, regardless of the child’s place of birth, may derive citizenship. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services reported receiving cases a lower number of cases where parents had neglected to register their children than in previous years. Unlike in previous years, NGOs reported no known cases of the Family Court refusing to register children born to couples whose marriage ceremony was held outside of the country.
Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through secondary school. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services handled 18 cases of children being deprived of education as of September, a lower number than in previous years. NGOs stated this included parental refusal to send children to school, in some cases based on religious reasons. NGOs and activists noted the effect of religious extremism on child rights was an emerging issue but lacked a baseline study determining its prevalence. NGOs reported receiving reports that some families wanting to keep children out of the formal education system for religious reasons used COVID-19 related school closures to deprive children from school attendance for periods of time. NGOs reported a 2018 Ministry of Education report revealed that, while more girls were enrolled in primary schools than boys, there were more boys enrolled in secondary schools than girls. The report attributed this discrepancy to the possibility that some girls are home schooled from lower secondary school age on, but NGOs noted no formal studies have been made to identify the real cause.
Child Abuse: The law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for conviction of sexual offenses against children. The courts have the power to detain perpetrators, although most were released pending sentencing and allowed to return to the communities of their victims. The MPS investigates and the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services is in charge of following up on reports of child abuse, including cases of sexual abuse. More than 70 percent of the total cases received by the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services as of September were cases of child abuse, the majority involving sexual abuse. Of the child abuse cases received by the MPS, 43 percent were also sexual abuse cases, with the MPS forwarding only 18 percent of these cases for prosecution as of September. The PGO had only proceeded with charges in 14 percent of these cases. Human rights activists staged a series of protests in Male throughout the year expressing concern regarding inadequate investigation of rape and child sexual abuse cases and impunity of offenders. Human rights activists reported the lack of effective coordination of authorities handling child abuse cases, delays in attending to reports of abuse, and a lack of standard operating procedures to handle child abuse cases remained a problem.
NGOs reported authorities failed consistently to use the online child rights’ case management system through which various authorities can monitor progress and actions taken by other authorities on child abuse cases. NGOs noted widespread awareness of the existence of the Ministry of Gender’s Child Rights Helpline, but that victims faced challenges in reaching the helpline during a COVID-19 related lockdown of Male when many vulnerable families used the helpline to reach Ministry officials seeking assistance for matters unrelated to cases of child abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The Child Protection Act, which came into force in February, prohibits any marriage of a child under age 18. Previously, marriage of children age 16 was allowed with authorization from the Supreme Court and based on an assessment conducted by the Ministry of Gender. The Supreme Court had not authorized child marriages for years, however. While NGOs lauded the prohibition of all marriages of children, they also reported concerns that the prohibition would lead to an increase of child marriages outside the legal system and reported anecdotal evidence that some child marriages were still being conducted outside of the legal system. Girls reportedly often quit school following such marriages. In December 2019 the PGO raised charges of sexual abuse against a man who entered into marriage with a child outside of the legal system, but the criminal court had yet to conclude hearings in the case as of November. The case was related to late 2019 and early 2020 police raids on a group of religious fundamentalists active on Raa Maduvvari Island. The government reported some individuals in the group had entered into unregistered, unlawful marriages with girls.
Institutionalized Children: Local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) released a report in 2016 detailing abuses in government-run “safe homes.” ARC reported children routinely spent many months at these homes, although they were intended to be temporary stopovers for children being taken into state care. According to ARC, the safe homes were inadequately furnished and equipped, lacked basic essentials, and were often understaffed, resulting in inadequate care, protection, and education for institutionalized children. NGOs reported these concerns remained the same during the year. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services reported one of the two government-run children’s homes housed more children than its capacity allowed. NGOs reported staff were untrained to care for several children with autism housed in these facilities. The country lacked a juvenile detention center, so youth offenders were held with juvenile victims of abuse. NGOs reported continuing inadequate supervision of the children by overstretched workers. NGOs also reported that some children taken into state custody were held in social housing units that had not been officially designated as facilities for such children and did not meet established standards. The HRCM reported it received a report in 2019 alleging 10 employees of Kudakudhinge Hiya children’s home mistreated 22 children living in the home. It chose not to investigate, however, because the alleged offense took place more than a year prior to reporting, and it proved challenging to gather evidence and information.
NGOs reported the multiagency panel that reviewed and made decisions on taking children into state custody and moving them among facilities was dissolved between March and September. During this period the Ministry of Gender acted unilaterally to transfer children with behavioral issues out of the children’s homes, some either returned to families without the ability to care for their specific needs or moved to in outer atolls with little supervision.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The public practice of religion other than Islam is prohibited by law, and the government did not provide estimates on the number of Jewish residents in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law provide for the rights and freedom from most types of discrimination for persons with disabilities. Although the constitution provides for freedom from discrimination in access to employment for persons with disabilities, the Disabilities Act does not do so. The Disabilities Act provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities as well as financial assistance. The act mandates the state to provide a monthly financial benefit of not less than 2,000 rufiyaa ($130) to each registered individual. NGOs reported the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA), which handles the National Registry, has strict conditions and a cumbersome screening process that prevent the majority of persons with disabilities from being registered. The NSPA requires an assessment from a medical center in Male City, which may cost up to 40,000 rufiyaa ($2,600) for some families living in the islands who have to travel and stay in Male City for lengthy periods while the assessment is completed. During the year the government authorized a limited number of medical centers outside Male City to conduct the assessments, which reduced the cost in some limited cases. In January, the NSPA began covering 5,000 rufiyaa ($324) of assessment-related costs. The NSPA published the requirements for inclusion in the National Registry and rejected several applications. NGOs noted inclusion on the registry is a precondition to access several other benefits provided for persons with disabilities, including priority in accessing social housing schemes and special accommodations during voting.
Although no official studies have been concluded, NGOs which operate throughout the country estimated as much as 10 percent of the total population of persons with disabilities had been subjected to various forms of abuse and 40 to 60 percent of girls or women with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, were subject to sexual abuse. The families of these victims often do not report these cases to authorities, because the police investigation and judicial process is inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Government services for persons with disabilities included special educational programs for those with sensory disabilities. Inadequate facilities and logistical challenges related to transporting persons with disabilities among islands and atolls made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce or consistently attend school. The vast majority of public streets and buildings were not accessible for wheelchair users.
The government integrated students with disabilities into mainstream educational programs at primary and secondary level. Most large government schools also held special units catering to persons with disabilities who were not be accommodated in the mainstream classes. Nonetheless, children with disabilities had virtually no access to transition support to higher secondary education.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
Maldives Immigration reported approximately 117,000 legal foreign workers as of September, with an additional estimated 63,000 undocumented foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. NGOs reported government agencies implemented discriminatory policies towards foreign laborers while Bangladeshi workers faced harassment and violence by local citizens.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct. Under the penal code, the punishment for conviction includes up to eight years’ imprisonment and 100 lashes under Maldives Islamic law. None of the legal provisions prohibiting discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. No organizations focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) problems in the country. There were no reports of officials complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons, although societal stigma likely discouraged individuals from reporting such problems. Local citizens who expressed support for LGBTI rights on social media reportedly were targeted for online harassment as “apostates” or irreligious. In June groups of protesters gathered outside the residences of two men on two separate islands, accusing the men of engaging in same-sex relations. Media reported the men were taken into police custody on both occasions.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The trial of six men arrested in 2017 and charged in connection with the murder of Yameen Rasheed, a prominent blogger and social media activist, continued during the year. NGOs reported online death threats and attacks against citizens perceived to be critical of Islam continued and NGOs reported the government failed to take action in these cases.