Rape and Domestic Violence: The law does not classify rape as a separate offense in the penal code. Other provisions of the law are used to criminalize rape. The Prosecutor General’s Office uses charges of sexual assault or forced sexual assault depending on the gravity of the offence. At year’s end 57 cases of forced sexual assault were filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office, of which 21 were filed in court. A man can 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. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that it lost almost all cases of forced sexual assault because insufficient weight was given to the testimony of the victim.
Media reports of violence against women and rape were common. Most rape and abuse cases reported in the media during the year involved minors, and victims were usually known to their attackers. NGOs believed that most cases remained unreported due to fear of reprisals, losing custody of children, lack of economic independence, insensitivity of police in dealing with victims, absence of regulation in media concerning victim’s privacy, the stigma of being a victim, and low conviction rates.
Under the law spousal rape is not a crime.
A domestic violence act covering all types of domestic relations was enacted on April 23. The act forbids physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. It also extends protection to wives against being forcibly impregnated by their husbands against medical orders and an extensive list of other abuses for which protection is given. The act allows for the courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported law enforcement was increasingly reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family, believing such violence was justified in Islam.
A 2006 Ministry of Gender and Family study on women’s health and life experiences noted that one in three women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported some form of physical or sexual violence at least once in their lives. One in five women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported physical or sexual violence by a partner, and one in nine reported experiencing severe violence. Of the women ages 15-49 who had ever been pregnant, 6 percent reported having been physically or sexually abused during pregnancy.
Sexual Harassment: There are no laws against sexual harassment, and there were allegations of sexual harassment in government ministries. Various forms of harassment, especially verbal abuse, were accepted as the norm in government offices. Fearing reprisals such as loss of employment, women traditionally did not make official complaints. During the year a staff member of the Civil Service Commission made the first such complaint against the president of the commission, Mohamed Fahumy Hassan. On November 20, parliament voted to remove Hassan from his post as president and member of the Civil Service Commission, based on the seriousness of the allegations. Hassan, however, asked the Supreme Court to overturn his removal, as the allegations were not proved in court. The court in turn ordered parliament to delay selection of a replacement, pending the court’s decision on the case.
Family and children’s centers were located on every atoll and intended to streamline the process of reporting abuse against women and children. The centers had a shortage of trained staff and faced legal challenges, such as collecting evidence about abuse cases.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on contraception and skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care were widely available. According to the 2009 demographic and health survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family, 99 percent of women received prenatal care from a skilled provider. According to the survey, 95 percent of births in the five years preceding the survey were assisted by a skilled health worker. Only 6 percent of women did not receive any postnatal care. Women who lived in Male had the highest rate of care (96 percent) from a gynecologist, doctor, nurse, or midwife, versus 90 percent in rural areas.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women was a problem. For example, by December 24, a total of 87 cases of birth out of wedlock were reported to police, of which 80 cases were investigated and 67 forwarded to the prosecutor general. While pregnancies incriminated women, men could deny the charges and escape punishment because of the difficulty of proving fornication or adultery under Islamic law. The higher conviction rate for women allegedly was due to gender-insensitive judges and the courts’ dismissal of forensic evidence.
Under Islamic practice husbands may divorce their wives more easily than wives may divorce their husbands, absent a mutual agreement to divorce. Islamic law also governs estate inheritance, granting male heirs twice the share of female heirs. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, unless the men in the family demand a larger share, property is divided equally among siblings.
According to an HRCM report published in 2009, despite provisions in the constitution and the law, no policies in place provided equal opportunities for women’s employment. The absence of childcare facilities made it difficult for women to remain employed after they had children; social disapproval for women to stay on resort islands for extended periods discouraged women from working at tourist resorts. The HRCM also received reports that some employers discouraged women from marriage or pregnancy, as it could result in termination or demotion. A 2011 HRCM report noted that the state had fallen short of providing adequate measures to overturn women’s subordinate role by failing to establish childcare centers and child-friendly working environments, and failing to implement affirmative action.
Although women traditionally played a subordinate role in society, they participated in public life. Women constituted approximately 40 percent of public sector employees, which included the executive, judiciary and legislative branches. Women accounted for approximately 50 percent of civil service employees in the executive branch, although few were in the highest positions within the service.