Amid widespread outrage, the government of the Maldives has said it is seeking to halt the public flogging of a 15-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her step-father.
Earlier this week, a court using Shariah law, sentenced the teenager to receive 100 lashes after she was said to have confessed to having had consensual sex with another man. She was also sentenced to eight months house arrest.
The decision triggered much criticism and the suggestion from some observers that the move could damage the country’s reputation as a tourist idyl.
Today, the government of President Mohammed Waheed Hassan said he was in talks with the courts, the attorney general and the Islamic ministry in an effort to “stop victims becoming victims of the law”. It said it would support the teenager appeal the case.
The president’s spokesman, Masood Imad, told the Associated Press that the said the government considered the teenager a victim of sexual abuse and wanted the sentence revoked. “The government fully understands she is a victim. Since this is an Islamic affair we don't want to unilaterally say things,” he said.
The factors behind the government’s apparent change of heart are unclear; two days ago Mr Imad told reporters that the girl was to be lashed “for her to feel the shame for having engaged in activity forbidden by the religion”.
The teenager sentenced to be lashed came from the remote island of Feydhoo, one of more than 1,000 that make up the archipelago nation. She was sentenced following a police investigation that found she had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather. In the summer of 2012, the teenager gave birth to the step-father’s baby, which he allegedly killed and buried beneath an outdoor shower area in their home. The police have apparently not located the man she is said to have had consensual sex with.
Under the country’s laws, pre-marital sex is a a crime and those found guilty are often flogged. In September 2012, a court ordered the public flogging of a 16-year-old woman who had confessed to premarital sex, while in the summer of 2009 a pregnant 18-year-old woman received 100 lashes in public after she admitted to having sex with two different men.
The practice has been widely condemned and it is often the woman who is singled out for punishment. In 2011, on a visit to the country, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in 2011 urged Maldives to end the “degrading” practice.
Speaking before the country’s parliament, said added: This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”
Amnesty International Deputy Director, Asia-Pacific Programme Polly Truscott, said:
“If the government is saying they will ensure the horrific lashing punishment is not carried out in her, or other such cases, then of course that’s really good news and we are pleased to hear it.
“She should not be punished at all; neither the flogging, nor the house arrest is the right thing to do. Her conviction should be quashed. As she’s also a rape victim what she really needs is help and caring for.
“The Maldives should abolish flogging as a punishment entirely, and so-called crime of “fornication”. That would be the proper way to ensure that neither she, nor anyone else, is subjected to such brutal degrading treatment. We will continue to appeal to the authorities in the Maldives to do whatever they can to ensure that she is protected, not punished.”