A court in the Maldives has ordered a public flogging for a 16-year-old girl who confessed to having pre-marital sex, in a ruling yesterday that triggered widespread criticism from rights groups.
The unnamed teenager was convicted on her confession under Shariah law after her family complained she had sex with a 29-year-old man in July.
The man was given 10 years in jail during a court hearing on the remote Raa atoll on Sunday.
A court official said the girl could refuse the flogging and would then instead be subjected only to eight months house arrest. Should she agree, the lashing will be carried out when she reaches the age of 18.
“In most cases, the offenders would accept the lashing as part of penance,” said the official, who declined to be named.
The ruling came 10 months after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay urged the Maldives to stop publicly flogging women for having extramarital or premarital sex. Pillay said during a visit that the Maldives had progressed in safeguarding the rights of its 330,000 Sunni Muslims, but more needed to be done to protect women.
Flogging, carried out with a cane, is normally handed down as a punishment by village chiefs who also act as local judges.
Rights activists slammed the judgement and called for it to be overturned.
“Degrading and inhuman punishments should find no place in a democracy,” said Aruna Kashyap, women’s rights researcher for Asia at Human Rights Watch. “Maldives should immediately halt the execution of the punishment and take action to amend its discriminatory laws.”
Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Center for Human Rights, said the sentence reflected the government’s intention to consolidate its support among Shariah law followers, in the face of serious political opposition.
“This could be used by the government to say they’re committed to Islam,” he said. “Courts are not independent in the Maldives so the government will have a hand.”
He said the lashes were also a breach of the UN Convention against Torture.
There were mixed reactions in comments posted on the local news Web site Minivan News.
“This is ridiculous, and hypocritical,” said one reader, identified as Mariyam. “How many people over the age of 18 are having sex outside of marriage every day in this country. Why not flog them. And why not flog the 29-year-old man. If the girl has to face public humiliation, why not the man.”
Official sources said the girl had been tried under Shariah law, while her lover, was tried under common law.