Protection gaps in rape laws and barriers to accessing justice continue to lead to effective denial of justice for survivors of sexual violence in South Asia, including in the Maldives.
Though sexual violence had traditionally been considered as a private matter in Maldives, in recent years, there has been increasing public awareness of the issue and recognition of the need for the state to effectively prevent, address and respond to instances of sexual violence.
A series of reported cases of child sexual abuse which drew widespread media attention prompted the Maldivian President to create a Presidential Commission to Inquire into Child Rights Violations in February 2020. The Commission has made some preliminary reports to the President, though no final reports have been made public to date.
A high profile case of an attempted rape that took place on a safari boat in the harbor of Hulhumale in June 2020 resulted in public protests and increased calls for police accountability in rape cases, and even prompted lawmakers to propose amendments to the laws on sexual violence, including the deletion of certain discriminatory provisions from the Sexual Offences Act sub-sections (c), (d) and (e) of section 53 and the mandatory use of rape-evidence kits. The draft amendments are still pending before Parliament.
Another encouraging development was the first-ever conviction for marital rape in the Maldives, which was pronounced by the High Court on 1 October 2020. The conviction was given in a case involving the rape and physical assault of Ziyadha Naeem by her estranged husband, which resulted in her death in 2015. In a landmark decision, the accused was found guilty of marital rape by the High Court and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
One of the first studies to research the extent of sexual violence in the Maldives was the Women’s Health and Life Experiences (WHLE) study published in 2007, which found that “1 in 3 women (34.6%) aged 15-49 reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, including childhood sexual abuse.” The Maldives Demographic and Health Survey 2016-17 (MDHS) found that 11% of women and girls aged 15-49 in the Maldives had experienced sexual violence. However, the MDHS survey is not a qualitative study as compared to the WHLE study which is considered to have employed more rigorous data collection methods.
The information on this page, and in the attached factsheets, is derived from Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, jointly published by Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International in April 2021.
Update 6 December 2021: President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified the First Amendment to the Sexual Offences Act, improving the definition of rape to include marital rape without exception and strengthening investigations, including removing burdensome evidence requirements. These amendments are a positive step and together with our partner, Uthema, we’re calling on the President to ensure that the law is implemented fully to deliver much-needed access to justice for survivors. Read more in our piece for IPS news.