Rape and Domestic Violence: In April parliament passed bills a sexual harassment and sexual offenses, which include spousal rape as a crime. The sexual harassment bill makes gender discrimination illegal at workplaces, educational institutes, and other service providers such as hospitals. The president ratified both bills in May.
As of September, 158 cases of forcible sexual assault had been forwarded for prosecution. 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.
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 attackers usually knew their victims. NGOs believed 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.
From January to May, 194 cases of domestic violence were reported for those under 18 years of age (104 female and 90 male victims). There were 42 cases reported for those over 18 (38 female, four male). As of September there were 19 arrests in cases of domestic violence against women. A 2012 domestic violence act covering all types of domestic relations prohibits physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. It 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 given. The act allows courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. Nevertheless, law enforcement officers reportedly were reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family, believing such violence was justified in Islam.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There was no data on the frequency of female genital mutilation, although it is not part of traditional practice. Nevertheless, on February 6, International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef, vice president of the Figh Academy, which is part of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed the condemned practice. He quoted Saudi Arabia’s Fatwa Committee that expressed concern that female circumcision was on the decline in Muslim countries: “Circumcision of girls is a religious obligation that is slowly fading from many Muslim communities. It is an obligation or Sunnah that we must not let go of. It is the symbol that differentiates Muslims from non-Muslims.”
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In October the Supreme Court enacted new regulations on the enforcement of flogging sentences, specifying conditions and criteria for meting out the sharia punishment. The regulations state the offender must be of sound mind, must not be pregnant, and must not have an illness that could endanger his or her life by receiving flogging. According to a statement by Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in September, 37 flogging sentences remained unenforced due to alleged lack of cooperation from the relevant authorities. If the offender is under age when the verdict is delivered, the regulations state that the sentence must be imposed when the offender turns 18 years of age.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, but there were allegations of sexual harassment in government ministries and the private sector.
The Ministry of Law and Gender reported no filed cases of sexual harassment.
To streamline the process of reporting abuse against women and children, there were family and children’s centers on every atoll. According to the HRCM, these centers also provided services for neglected children, support for families unable to take of their children, and women with mental illness or disabilities. 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, a skilled health worker assisted 95 percent of births in the five preceding years. 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, compared with 90 percent in outlying areas.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women was a problem. Authorities more readily accused women 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.
Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily than wives may divorce their husbands. Islamic law also governs estate inheritance, which grants male heirs twice the share of female heirs. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, property is divided equally among siblings unless the men in the family demand a larger share.
According to an HRCM report published in 2009, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. The absence of childcare facilities made it difficult for women to remain employed after they had children, and societal disapproval discouraged women from working at tourist resorts for extended periods. The HRCM also received reports that some employers discouraged women from marriage or pregnancy, as it could result in termination or demotion. The HRCM reported the government had fallen short of promoting women’s equality by failing to establish child-care centers and child-friendly working environments, and failing to implement affirmative action. In a positive step, the HRCM noted that some new child-care centers had started functioning in the first half of the year.
Although women historically played a subordinate role in society, they participated in public life. Women constituted approximately 40 percent of public-sector employees. They accounted for approximately 52 percent of civil service employees in the executive branch as of the end of August, although only 1.3 percent were in the senior and professional service classifications. According to the deputy minister of law and gender, the government released new guidelines in September on how to run day-care centers and stated that taxes were lowered to encourage persons to open centers on the resort islands where women worked.