Britons urged to boycott Maldives over sexist laws

As 15-year-old rape victim faces 100 lashes, women's rights groups have urged David Cameron to intervene

David Cameron faces calls to intervene in the case of a 15-year-old female rape victim sentenced to 100 lashes in the Maldives as new figures showed the appalling state of women's rights in the Commonwealth country.

British couples are being asked to avoid the Maldives as a honeymoon destination to force the country's government to overturn the conviction of the girl, who was given the draconian sentence after being raped by her stepfather.

Many of the 500,000 tourists who holiday on the "paradise" islands every year are unaware of the country's appalling record on women's rights, with not one single conviction for rape in the past three years.

The Maldivian government's own figures show that 90 per cent of people sentenced to flogging are female, while one in three women between the ages of 15 and 49 have suffered physical or sexual abuse over the past five years.

A new poll of Maldivians for the global campaign group Avaaz reveals that 92 per cent of people think laws to protect girls and women from sexual assault should be reformed, while 79 per cent think current systems are not adequate or fair. The Asia Research partners poll also reveals that 73 per cent think punishments for sexual crimes are unfair to women, while 62 per cent want a reintroduction of the moratorium on flogging.

More than two million people worldwide have signed an online petition on calling for the country's President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who seized power in a coup last year, to do more to protect women and children in the country.

Eva Abdulla, a Maldivian MP in the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, said yesterday: "Britain is an emerging tourist market for the Maldivian tourism industry. We need the British and all other tourists to be aware of just where they are going to when they book that ticket to the Maldives. Following the coup of 7 February 2012, everyone, including all the women, have been disenfranchised, robbed of their vote.

"Visiting tourists also need to be aware of the institutional discrimination against women within the judicial system. Consider the statistics on flogging: that 90 per cent of the cases are women. Consider the statistics on rape charges: 0 per cent success rate of prosecution, with the latest being the release of four men accused of raping a 16-year-old, on the grounds that there wasn't enough evidence.

"The British Prime Minister should highlight the issue. The increasing religious fundamentalism followed by the attempts to subjugate women, both politically and otherwise, should be cause for alarm. This is a country of traditionally very strong women. However, increasingly, the Adhaalath Party, a self-claimed religious party which is in alliance with the current government, uses the religious card to scare off women. We women MPs are often threatened whenever we speak against the party."

The girl's sentence is due to be carried out when she turns 18. She is currently living in a state-run care home. Avaaz has concerns about her well-being as they were denied access to the girl and have been given very little information about the level and quality of social care.

Ms Abdulla said women have been subjected to beatings, sexual harassment and imprisonment by the police, and many are being prosecuted on charges ranging from "obstruction of police duty" to using foul language at the police.

At the time of the sentencing in March, Sir Richard Branson wrote to President Waheed, who responded by saying he would review the case. Bianca Jagger, the human rights campaigner, said last night: "It shocks me to see the unconscionable levels of discrimination and violence that women and girls are facing in the Maldives. I call on those in power to address the systemic problems of gender discrimination, violence against women and girls and the culture of impunity. Gender equality is not only possible, but necessary."

Despite promises from the Maldives government, the 15-year-old girl still faces being flogged. Alice Jay, campaign director at Avaaz, said: "While honeymooners relax in paradise, a war against women is being waged in the Maldives, which the government is refusing to stop. Over two million people from around the world want them to act, and now 92 per cent of Maldivians want laws against rape and sexual abuse. President Waheed can easily pass a law banning flogging but refuses to act to end this medieval practice."

A Foreign Office spokesman said that following the girl's sentencing in March, officials at the British High Commission in Colombo, which covers the Maldives, spoke to the Maldivian Deputy Foreign Minister to convey Britain's "deep concern" at the decision. At the time, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said he was "appalled" by the sentence, adding: "It is self-evident that a child subjected to such abuse should be treated as a victim, and given the appropriate counselling and legal help, and not be treated as a criminal."

Harmonious honeymoons

Maldives An appalling record on women's rights could keep honeymooners away. Barbados, with its excellence in literacy, education and sterling effort to protect citizens against climate change, is a great alternative.

Sri Lanka Widespread allegations of human rights abuses during and since the civil war will deter newlyweds. Samoa offers tranquillity in an island paradise while being a role model in the Pacific region for welfare and social cohesion.

Belize Human trafficking problems and laws that make it the only country in Central America to criminalise homosexuality make it off-putting as a honeymoon and tourism destination. Uruguay, however, has human rights laws that include the most liberal LG BT rights in South America.

Mexico Drug killings, narco-terrorism and general chaos should be sufficient to persuade those embarking on married life to divert to Costa Rica, ranked the No 1 Happiest Country in the Happy Planet Index.

South Africa Violence against women and children mar this popular honeymoon destination. But neighbouring Botswana also has attractive game reserves as well as a strong human rights record.

Kashmira Gander

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral