MALDIVES: Children's rights in the Special Procedures' reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity.



UN Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons
Chaloka Beyani
(A/HRC/19/54/Add.1 )
Country visit: 16 to 21 July 2011
Report published: 30 January 2012

Employment: Significant rural/urban inequalities persist however, with a labour market which is heavily concentrated in and around Male, while households in other outer atolls depend largely on fishing, agriculture and self-employment and are disproportionately affected by poverty, and lack of services. 7 While the unemployment rate is estimated at 14.4 per cent, an even larger percentage of the population (15 years of age and over), namely, 38 per cent, do not participate in the labour market at all,8 with women and youth being particularly affected. Based on a poverty line of US$3 a day, 19 per cent of the population are considered poor, with 60 per cent of these poor located in the atolls, especially in the north and north-central regions.9 Moreover, the country’s important public deficit is likely to render it difficult to maintain attention on socio-economic priorities. (Paragraph 7)

International Obligations: In recent years, Maldives acceded to key international human rights instruments, 11 and in 2010 participated in the universal periodic review process, during which the threat of climate change was noted as posing an existential threat to the country and as already undermining a wide range of human rights (A/HRC/16/7, para. 18). In this regard, recommendations were made to Maldives to take the necessary measures with regard to post-disaster reconstruction and adaptation to climate change, using a human rights-based approach, and to ensure a process of consultation with concerned communities, which pays special attention to certain groups such as women, children and persons with disabilities (ibid.). (Paragraph 9)

Climate Change: As a small island nation, Maldives has a long history of resilience in the face of its delicate geographic and environmental profile. However, pressures in the form of climate change factors now increase the threat of rising sea levels and sea temperatures, as well as more frequent and severe weather events. A total of 90 inhabited islands have been flooded at least once in the course of the last six years, and 37 islands have been flooded regularly, at least once a year.12 Given that over 40 per cent of the population and housing structures in Maldives are within 100 metres of the coastline,13 flooding and other natural disaster risks threaten to damage infrastructures and the provision of essential services potentially affecting food security, livelihoods, health and the overall well-being of vulnerable groups 14 such as children, the elderly and the poor, in particular. (Paragraph 12)

Vulnerable Groups: Develop mechanisms to facilitate and promote meaningful participation of displacement-affected communities, or communities at risk of internal displacement, in decisions, programmes and other measures that have an impact on them, including at the humanitarian assistance, early recovery and development stages. Ensure that women, youth, vulnerable groups and receiving or host communities are fully informed, consulted and engaged at all stages of the process; (Paragraph 71g)


UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
Frank La Rue
(A/HRC/11/4/Add.3 )
Country visit: 1 to 5 March 2009
Report published: 25 May 2009

Relevant International Obligations: The Maldives has ratified or acceded to a number of international human rights treaties. It has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), along with its two Optional Protocols and acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and its Optional Protocol, to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol and to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). In October 2006, the Government took the important step, in accordance with the Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, of acceding to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its First Optional Protocol. (Paragraph 17)

The Maldives has entered reservations relevant to freedom of religion or belief to a number of international treaties, including articles 14, 20 and 21 of the CRC, article 16 of CEDAW and article 18 of the ICCPR. (Paragraph 18)

Journalism: Since open media diversity is a new phenomenon in the country the Special Rapporteur suggests that the Government develop professional training courses and capacity-building for journalists with the priority of addressing the younger generation. (Paragraph 67)


UN Special Rapporteur on Housing
Raquel Rolnik
(A/HRC/13/20/Add.3 )
Country visit: 18 to 26 February 2009
Report published: 11 January 2010

Infant Mortality: All Maldivian land is public and all Maldivian citizens have the right to receive a plot as a birthright. The Special Rapporteur believes that the traditional allocation of plots is no longer viable. The social achievements in the last years — the fall in infant mortality, the increase of life expectancy and the changing patterns of consumption and migration — requires a new approach to land and territorial planning. The Special Rapporteur was pleased to hear about the decisions adopted by the Maldivian authorities and looks forward to seeing the results of their efforts. She would like to point out the very positive aspects of the traditional land allocation in Maldives, for example, that it gives access to land for housing to all, regardless of social class and wealth. She believes that the spirit of this approach should be retained in any future legislation and policies. (Paragraph 36)

Limited Play Space: Overcrowding has many adverse consequences for individuals and families. Inadequate housing and living conditions exacerbate social problems. Inactivity resulting from unemployment, added to the lack of privacy and space, causes considerable tension within households. In an attempt to achieve some degree of privacy, parents frequently ask their children to spend their free time outside the family home. However, there is a lack of public spaces where children can gather and play and children are thus, in some cases, exposed to criminality and drugs. (Paragraph 46)

Domestic Violence: Such hardship also creates conditions conducive to domestic violence. In overcrowded houses, women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse.24 According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family in 2006, one in three women aged 15–49 years have experienced physical or sexual abuse, while one in six women reported having been sexually abused before the age of 15. (Paragraph 47)

Drug Use: Children suffer greatly from drug consumption in households. For example, when a child’s parents or siblings are drug addicts, worsened housing conditions increase the child’s risk of being affected by the breakdown of family ties and physical or sexual abuse. Such a situation also has the potential to push children into the cycle of drug abuse. (Paragraph 49)


UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers
Leandro Despouy
(A/HRC/4/25/Add.2 )
Country visit: 25 February to 1 March 2007

Report published: 2 May 2007

International Obligations: The Maldivian legal system is a combination of sharia law and codified common law. However, statutory law is embryonic or absent in many areas. The legal framework still falls short of international standards particularly in areas relating to freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion, women’s rights, workers’ rights and criminal justice. Since its independence, Maldives has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 and its two Optional Protocols in 2002 and 2004; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1993; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1984; and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2004 and its Optional Protocol in February 2006. In a welcome step, in September 2006, Maldives also adhered to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Optional Protocol enabling individuals to submit petitions to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and also to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These instruments entered into force on 19 December 2006. (Paragraph 5)

Juvenile Court: The Constitution of Maldives states in its article 39 that the President shall be “the highest authority of administering justice in the Maldives”. He is both the head of the judiciary and the final arbiter of appeals. The Constitution provides for the President to determine the number of courts and their location. Currently, the judicial system is organized in a two-level court system composed of:

(a) First instance courts, known as “Island Courts”, distributed among the 200 inhabited islands grouped into 20 atolls and organized under the Ministry of Justice which is entrusted with the administrative affairs of the judiciary; and the specialized courts, known as “Malé’s Courts”, composed of the Civil Court, the Criminal Court, the Family Court and the Juvenile Court, all of them situated on the Malé atoll; (Paragraph 8a)

Juvenile Justice: The Special Rapporteur also notes with appreciation that the Ministry of Justice has adopted a Justice Strategic Plan for 2006-2010, which contains concrete cost assessments for a number of goals to be achieved at the short, medium and long term. He hopes these goals, which include the establishment of an independent bar association, a legal aid system and a juvenile justice system, and law courses at the Masters and PhD levels will be implemented promptly. (Paragrpah 20)

Juvenile delinquency is growing at an alarming rate, mainly due to drug abuse and trafficking. According to the information provided by the Government, the vast majority of current offenders started at the age of 12 to 16 with petty offences, some of them ending up as serious criminals. The current juvenile justice system does not effectively address the problem: it focuses on sanctions such as fines, house arrest, banishment or jail, but does not provide for adequate options and programmes to guide young offenders out of the system, through rehabilitative mechanisms. This results in a system which regenerates criminality instead of diverting young offenders from criminality and offering them rehabilitation and reintegration. (Paragraph 62)

The Maldives’ juvenile justice system is extremely centralized: since there is only one Juvenile Court, in Malé, children need to come to the capital for a number of specified cases, while other cases can be dealt with by the Island Courts. The Minister of Gender and Family proposed a strategy of decentralization whereby every atoll would have a system of child protection, with trained personnel. (Paragraph 63)

Another issue of concern is the low rate of prosecution and punishment of child sexual abuse cases; they mostly remain within the household. Under the currently applicable law, that is to say sharia law, those cases fall into the category of adultery and therefore require corroborating evidence from two witnesses. This is almost impossible to obtain in this kind of case. Furthermore, the testimony of the child is not sufficient for initiating a prosecution process. In addition to this serious problem of evidence, which requires urgent attention, judges are neither trained nor sensitized to juvenile justice issues. (Paragraph 64)

The current juvenile judicial and protection system should be decentralized, since it is accessible almost only to children living on the Malé atoll. The Special Rapporteur encourages the urgent implementation of the governmental initiative, with the assistance of UNICEF, to set up a juvenile justice system, including the establishment of a Juvenile Justice Unit. (Paragraph 94)

New legislation should be introduced to enable prosecution of child sexual abuse cases on the basis of reasonable evidence. Child abuse should not be considered a case of adultery: the victim is a minor who requires special protection, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Maldives is a party. Also, appropriate consideration should be given to the testimony of the child. (Paragraph 95)

Drug-Related Offenses: According to the National Criminal Justice Action Plan (2004-2008) elaborated by the Attorney-General’s Office, in August 2003 about 80 per cent of the prison population were drug offenders with 29.3 per cent serving life sentences for drug-related offences. During his visit, including to the Maafushi prison, the Special Rapporteur observed that the vast majority of prisoners were young. The criminalization of young drug users and the imposition of very severe sentences is a particularly serious problem. One young offender said that he had been sentenced to 62 years’ imprisonment. (Paragraph 58)

Sexual offences against children: Spousal assault, non-consensual sex (whether inside or outside marriage) and sex with an underage minor should be considered separate and specific criminal offences. Judges and prosecutors must be trained in gender-based violence issues. Also, equal value should be attributed to evidence irrespective of whether it is provided by a man or a woman. (Paragraph 96)


UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion
Asma Jahangir
(A/HRC/4/21/Add.3 )
Country visit: 6 to 10 August 2006
Report published: 7 February 2007

Relevant Visits: In Male, the Special Rapporteur had the honour of meeting with President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. She also held meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney-General, the Minister of Gender and Family, the Speaker of the People’s Majlis, the Chief Government Spokesman, the Chief Justice, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Minister of Information and Arts, the Minister of Higher Education, Employment and Labour, the Principal Collector of Customs, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Atolls Development, the Speaker of the Special Majlis, the Chair of the Drafting Committee of the Special Majlis and the Minister of Education. She also had the opportunity to meet with the staff and pupils of a local school. (Paragraph 2)

International Obligations: The Special Rapporteur also takes into account other human rights treaties containing provisions relevant to freedom of religion or belief, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. (Paragraph 14)

The country has ratified or acceded to a number of international human rights treaties. It has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, along with its two Optional Protocols and acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol, to CEDAW and its Optional Protocol and to ICERD. In October 2006, the Government took the important step, in accordance with the Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, of acceding to ICESCR and ICCPR and its First Optional Protocol. (Paragraph 19)

The Maldives has entered a reservation to article 14, paragraph 1, of the CRC which requires States parties to respect the right of the child to freedom of religion or belief. The reservation states that, “The Government of Republic of the Maldives expresses its reservation [...] since the Constitution and the Laws of the Republic of the Maldives stipulate that all Maldivians should be Muslims.” The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that the rights in the CRC are not limited to children who are Maldivian citizens. The Convention confers rights on all children within the jurisdiction of the Maldives, including non-citizens, who may well adhere to religions other than Islam. The Special Rapporteur also notes that the text of the reservation specifically reserves article 14, paragraph 1, which comprises the right to have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice. (Paragraph 25)

The Maldives has also entered a reservation to articles 20 and 21 of the CRC, dealing with alternative care and adoption. The text of the reservation provides that, “Since the Islamic sharia is one of the fundamental sources of Maldivian Law and since Islamic sharia does not include the system of adoption among the ways and means for the protection and care of children contained in sharia, the Government of the Republic of Maldives expresses its reservation with respect to all the clauses and provisions relating to adoption in the said Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Articles 20 and 21 of the CRC concern the provision of temporary and permanent care, including foster care, adoption and kafalah for children deprived of their family environment. It would be productive to further discuss these concepts in relation to the rights of abandoned or vulnerable Muslim children. (Paragraph 26)

Education: The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that a number of limitations also undermine the freedom of religion or belief of Muslims, in that they are bound to follow the official interpretation of Islam. She received credible information that the Government issued orders prohibiting Islamic teachers from answering students’ questions on certain subjects. Instances were also reported of students being picked up by the police for discussing other religions. She notes that a survey published in 2005 by the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF and United Nations Population Fund entitled “Youth Voices - Facts, opinions and solutions”, indicates that 81 per cent of the youths in the Maldives consider that it is not important to respect other religions. She encourages the Ministry of Education in its efforts to ensure that values of pluralism constitute an important part of learning. (Paragraph 40)

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur has been informed that expatriate school pupils who choose not to study Islam are unable to pass their end of year school exams. Islam forms an integral part of the school curriculum and it has been alleged that alternative subjects are not offered to expatriate school pupils. The paradox of this situation seems to be that a large percentage of schoolteachers in the Maldives are expatriate themselves. However, the Government maintains that expatriate students who choose not to follow Islamic Studies and Dhivehi language can opt out not to do so. (Paragraph 48)

The Government informed the Special Rapporteur that, except for the two Arabic medium schools, it is not compulsory to wear headscarves at school. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur received information that in at least one case a female student had been excluded from school for wearing a headscarf, as it covered the school insignia on her uniform blazer. She was also informed about a public notification dating from the late 1990s, which prohibits women from wearing veils that cover the whole face, although she received differing information on the extent to which the domestic legislation is enforced. A distinction should be made between limitations placed on the wearing of headscarves in general and limitations on veils which cover the whole face. In any event, she considers that where an individual has freely chosen to wear a religious symbol, any restrictions on their right to do so will be legitimate if they are applied in a restrictive manner on the grounds of public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedom of others as laid down in article 1, paragraph 3 of the 1981 Declaration and article 18, paragraph 3, of ICCPR. (Paragraph 52)


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