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 against medical orders 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 range from four-months’ to 10-years’ imprisonment, depending on factors such as the age of the victim.
NGOs reported MPS officers were reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family, believing such violence was justified. Reportedly, this made victims reluctant to file criminal cases against abusers. While the MPS received 71 cases of domestic violence as of July, the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services, which provides psychosocial support for victims of domestic violence, received 204 cases during the same period.
The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services received reports of rape, sexual offenses, and domestic violence and conducted social inquiry assessments of cases they submitted to the MPS. They 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 established family and children’s service centers on every atoll in 2016. Residential facilities were established in only four of the centers to provide emergency shelter assistance to domestic violence and other victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no data on the frequency of FGM/C, although religious leaders in 2014 called for the practice to be revived. Local NGOs reported the practice persisted, but societal stigma restricted public discussion of the issue.
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. No hadd penalties were enforced. Prior to the amendment, the penal code allowed for the implementation of milder penalties only in limited cases, including flogging for fornication and optional flogging for consuming alcohol and pork, not fasting during Ramadan, and for perjury.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, detention facilities, and any centers that provide public services, but the government did not enforce the law.
The MPS reported 16 cases of sexual harassment filed from January to July under the Sexual Harassment Act, none of which was forwarded for prosecution.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination including in workplaces, educational institutions, and service providers, such as hospitals, but discrimination against women remained a problem. NGOs reported authorities more readily accused women than men of adultery, in part because visible pregnancies made the allegedly adulterous act more obvious, while men could deny the charges and escape punishment because of the difficulty of proving fornication or adultery under Islamic law. Women’s rights activists reported that women who initiated divorce proceedings faced undue delays in court as compared to 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.
During the year the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services finalized a Gender Equality Action Plan covering five main areas: leadership and governance, economic development, institutional gender mainstreaming, gender-based violence, and access to justice. The ministry also set up a national steering committee to oversee implementation and provided orientation training for committee members in August.
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. Lawyers reported several cases during the year in which the Family Court refused to register children in instances where one of the parents was a foreigner.
Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through secondary school. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services handled 49 cases of children being deprived of education as of August. The ministry said this included indefinite suspensions of students, schools’ refusal to enroll children, and parental refusal to send the children to school. NGOs and activists noted the effect of religious extremism on child rights was an emerging issue but lacked a baseline study determining its prevalence.
Child Abuse: The law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years in prison for those convicted of sexual offenses against children. If a person is legally married to a minor under Islamic law, however, none of the offenses specified in the legislation is considered criminal. 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. Half of the total cases received by the Ministry of Gender and Family as of July were cases of child abuse, the majority of them involving sexual abuse. Of the child abuse cases received by the MPS, 45 percent were also sexual abuse cases, with the MPS forwarding only 16 of these cases for prosecution as of July. Human rights activists reported the lack of effective coordination between authorities handling child abuse cases remained a problem. In 2015 the Ministry of Gender and Family first published the online child sex offenders’ registry that, as of September, listed 74 individuals and their photographs, full names, identification card numbers, addresses, dates of conviction, dates of imprisonment, dates of scheduled release, and whereabouts.
Early and Forced Marriage: According to a September 2016 amendment to the Family Regulation, the Family Court must petition the Supreme Court for approval for girls and boys under age 18 to marry. The Ministry of Gender and Family must also submit an assessment of the proposed marriage to the Supreme Court, and the marriage can proceed only after the Supreme Court grants the Family Court approval for the union. The Ministry of Gender had received requests to assess three proposals for 16-year-olds and three proposals for 17-year-olds to get married as of August. The ministry had not concluded their assessments as of September.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act prohibits child prostitution and the use, procurement, or provision of a child (below age 18) for the production of pornography or for pornographic performance. The crime is punishable by imprisonment between 15 and 25 years. The act stipulates that a child between ages 13 and 18 involved in a sexual act is deemed not to have given consent, “unless otherwise proven.” The law also treats the prostitution of children by a third party as a form of human trafficking with exploitation under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act with a 15-year maximum sentence. The law generally requires the acts of exploitation be predicated on movement and does not criminalize it in the absence of coercion. The penal code allows the Prosecutor General’s Office to lodge multiple charges against a perpetrator for a single offense. For sex trafficking, this means the office can file charges for human trafficking under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act and for prostitution under the Child Sexual Abuse Act and aggregate the penalties so perpetrators serve longer sentences for a single offense. The MPS investigated five cases of child pornography, none of which was forwarded for prosecution as of July. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services reported one case of child prostitution as of August.
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.
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.html.
There were no Jewish residents in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
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. Since the establishment of the National Registry of People with Disabilities in 2011, 6,330 persons had been registered, as of September. The act mandates the state to provide a monthly financial benefit of not less than MVR 2,000 ($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 can cost up to $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. The NSPA has also published the requirements for inclusion in the National Registry and has 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 have been subjected to various forms of abuse and 40 to 60 percent of girls or women with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, are 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 between islands and atolls made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce or consistently attend school. In 2017 a special, one-time government initiative provided jobs for 200 persons with disabilities. NGOs reported most of these employees had since been dismissed due to the offices being unable to provide for their special needs. They also reported two cases in which such employees were subject to sexual abuse from their superiors. The vast majority of public streets and buildings are 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 cannot be accommodated in the mainstream classes. Each school also has a disability ambassador, and all teachers receive special training. Nonetheless, children with disabilities had virtually no access to transition support to higher secondary education.
In July the EC announced the chief electoral official at voting stations would have to approve any individuals entering the voting booth for the purposes of assisting persons with disabilities who require assistance to vote in presidential elections.
Maldives Immigration reported 145,000 legal foreign workers as of August, with an additional estimated 15,000-20,000 undocumented foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. NGOs reported government agencies implemented discriminatory policies towards expatriate laborers. One island council reportedly restricted foreign migrant workers from accessing certain neighborhoods on the island at night. In June former minister of home affairs Umar Naseer, who had considered contesting in the September presidential elections, pledged to deport all undocumented migrant workers, labelling them threats to national security and to those citizens seeking employment. Human rights activists said Naseer’s statements reflected the views of a large number of citizens and alleged some local citizens had prevented migrant workers from attending mosque during Ramadan.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct. Under the penal code, the punishment includes imprisonment of up to eight years, as well as a provision for a supplementary punishment of 100 lashes imposed under Maldives Islamic law. None of the legal provisions prohibiting discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation. 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. NGOs reported several members of the LGBTI community sought refuge in Sri Lanka after societal shaming related to their sexual orientation.
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 who disappeared in April 2017, continued during the year. Police initially stated a group of young men, unaffiliated with any organization, had killed Rasheed because they believed he mocked Islam and that they were investigating unspecified persons of interest who may have encouraged the suspects in committing the crime. Rasheed had received multiple death threats before his disappearance, which were reported to police, but according to Rasheed’s social media accounts, his friends, and family, police had not responded or investigated. In a public speech on April 2017, President Yameen condemned Rasheed’s actions as “mocking” Islam, which activists viewed as Yameen’s justifying Rasheed’s killing. Police had not arrested additional suspects as of October 23.