Maldives is a Muslim nation by its Constitution which explicitly states that Islam is the State religion and a non-Muslim cannot become a citizen of the country. Therefore, Maldives is described as a “100% Muslim” nation.
The national population of the Maldives as per the latest Census of 2014 is 344,023.http://statisticsmaldives.gov.mv/population-and-households/ Maldives is host to a significant male migrant worker population providing all levels of skilled and unskilled labour in the country in a variety of sectors including education, health, tourism and construction. The estimated 25.87% (2015)https://publications.iom.int/books/migration-maldives-country-profile-2018 migrant workers originate from the South Asia region, mainly from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Information About Muslim Family Laws And/or Practices In Maldives
Main Laws that Govern Marriage and Family
- Family Act 4/2000
- First Amendment to the Family Act 11/2013
- Second Amendment to the Family Act 9/2016
- Domestic Violence Prevention Act 3/2012
- Sexual Offences Act 17/2014
- First Amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 25/2021
- Penal Code 9/2014
- Child Rights Protection Act 19/2019
Matters Regarding Marriage and Family
- There is no legal equality in marriage in the Maldives, although the Constitution, the Gender Equality Law and CEDAW obligations all prohibit gender-based discrimination.
- Freedom to choose a spouse is the common practice in the Maldives, as opposed to “arranged marriages” of the South Asia context.
- Women are required to obtain “wali” from the father or a male relative from the paternal line, who is defined as her “guardian” in matters of marriage and guardianship, as per law. In the absence of the above, a woman can obtain “wali” for marriage through the courts.
- A woman’s consent and presence are required for marriage.
- Child marriage is prohibited by law and the age of majority for women and men is 18 years without exception.
- All marriages and divorces must be registered at the courts.
- Polygyny is permitted, up to 4 wives.
- The mother and the maternal line get precedence in custody of children, although the guardianship of the child remains with the father and the paternal line.
- Matrimonial asset distribution at divorce is an area ill-addressed by both law and practice, leaving women and children vulnerable to poverty and dependency on State social services which is another weak area.
- While a woman is legally considered the primary custodian of a child at divorce, she stands to lose custody of her child if she re-marries someone within permissible degrees of separation to marry the child. This rule does not apply to men, who can re-marry at will without any legal restrictions.
Minimum Age of Marriage
- The minimum age of marriage is 18 years without exception for both women and men. Therefore, child marriage is prohibited by law.
- Unregistered child marriage is a problem created and sustained through narratives of conservatism, proliferation of Salafi and fundamentalist ideologies undermining the rights of women.
- The practice of polygyny is poorly regulated although the law requires the courts to verify a man’s financial fitness to engage in polygynous marriage and sustain multiple families. Both law and practice in this area is weak.
- Unequal access to divorce leaves women unable to leave unproductive and sometimes harmful marriages. However, divorce is common and a normalised practice in the country’s cultural context, and divorce rates are among the highest in the world.
- Women are unable to claim matrimonial assets at divorce due to ineffective laws and the general non-recognition of the concept of women’s unpaid work and other contributions to the marriage to have worth and value in the patriarchal socio-cultural context.
Divorce Provisions for Men and Women
- There is no gender equality in access to divorce.
- A husband may seek a divorce when he is “desirous” of it, making unilateral divorce possible by a man and not by a woman.
- The law specifies certain grounds for the application for divorce by women, which do not apply to men.
- While the text of the law specifies that even though a husband may apply for divorce, the court must summon both parties and obtain the wife’s consent to initiate divorce. Where the wife objects, a process of reconciliation should follow, before granting divorce. However, it is unclear if there is consistency between law and practice.
Positive Feature(s) Under Muslim Family Law
- Domestic violence prevention law facilitates Protection Orders for women through the courts.
- Sexual offences law prohibits marital rape in all circumstances (a recent development in Nov 2021).
- Child custody goes to the mother of the child by law, as the primary custodian until the child is of age to choose which parent to live with.
Administration Of And Access To Justice On Marriage And Family Matters
- There is a three-tier single court system in the Maldives. The community-based Magistrates Courts are on a par with family, civil, criminal and other sector specific lower courts adjudicating on all cases at the first level. Appeals are heard at the High Court at the second tier and the Supreme Court at the third and final tier.
- There are no parallel judicial systems in the country and all laws are required to comply with the tenets of Islam as per the Constitution, as the Maldives is a Constitutionally Muslim nation where all citizens are required to be Muslim.
- Marriages and divorces are adjudicated at the Magistrates Court at community level and the Family Court in the capital Male’ and the Greater Male’ area consisting of the three islands Male’, Hulhumale’ and Villimale.
Constitutional Provisions and National Legislation
The Constitution of Maldives (2008) in Article 17(a) provides a comprehensive non-discrimination clause, including on the basis of sex, along with the caveat in Article 17(b) that special protections afforded to vulnerable groups cannot be construed as discrimination. Article 20 provides the right to equality before the law. Article 16(a) provides that the rights enshrined in Chapter Two (bill of rights) in the Constitution are guaranteed to everyone insofar as they are not contrary to any “tenet of Islam”. Therefore, equal rights guaranteed under the Constitution which is cognizant of international treaties the State is party to, including the CEDAW, CRC, ICCPR, ICESCR are subject to interpretations of Shari’ah which are often at the discretion of various actors within institutions making the application of human rights arbitrary and inconsistent in practice. The country’s blanket reservation on Article 16 of CEDAW at ratification in 1993, until its partial lifting in 2020 exemplifies such vagaries, as reservations agreed for removal in one administration changed under a subsequent government. Arguably, the initial decision to have a blanket reservation on CEDAW 16 was inconsistent with cultural realities and unnecessary, due to existing cultural practices such as the freedom to choose one’s spouse. Therefore, the application of human rights law and practice in the Maldives context in relation to family matters remain less than coherent.
The Gender Equality Act (2016) explicitly prohibits gender-based discrimination in Article 7, and specifically provides in Article 3 that the interpretation of the law must align with the Constitution, “tenets of Islam” as well as CEDAW and its Optional Protocol to which Maldives is party. Notably, the Gender Equality Act has yet to be applied to any case in practice.
Other National Laws
All laws in the Maldives must comply with the “tenets of Islam” and are therefore applicable equally to everyone within the jurisdiction, including the Muslim national population and others residing in the jurisdiction, regardless of religious difference. However, differences between nationals and non-nationals apply in practice in some instances, for example alcohol consumption is prohibited for the national Muslim population while there are no such restrictions to non-nationals.
The country’s first Domestic Violence Prevention Act was enacted in 2012 and is currently undergoing a review process. The Sexual Offences Act was first enacted in 2016 with a conditional definition of marital rape, although the first amendment to this law in December 2021 has now re-defined sexual violence and rape making the latter a criminal offence in all circumstances. The Penal Code precedes the Sexual Offences Act and carries a caveat in Section 130(b) of the code which states sexual intercourse within marriage would be interpreted as consensual “unless otherwise proven”. A similar caveat exists in Section 134(a) of the Penal Code in the case of married minors. Since the Supreme Court’s 2016 amendments to the Family Act Regulation, marriage to minors within the formal system had been stopped although the Child Rights Protection Act prohibiting child marriage and setting the legal age of marriage to 18 years was enacted in 2019. The harmful traditional practice of “female circumcision” had been declining historically, until its revival by fundamentalist groups and clerics that began to actively promote the practice circa 2010. While there has never been any legal prohibitions of the practice, the prevailing fundamentalist narratives have prompted the current government to announce its decision to criminalise FGM/C in all its forms during the Maldives CEDAW review in 2021.
There is a dearth of public information and clear legislation and practices on inheritance laws in the Maldives. The current law on matrimonial property distribution also remains ineffective due to its limitations and weaknesses making its practical applicability almost impossible.
Regional or International Human Rights Principles
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- Maldives acceded to CEDAW in July 1993, with reservations on Articles 7 and 16. However, with the ratification of a new Constitution in 2008 which lifted the existing bar on a woman holding the position of Head of State, Maldives withdrew its reservationhttps://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/hopeforwomen_maldivesforpswg.pdf to Article 7 in March 2010. The country had a blanket reservation on CEDAW Article 16 until 2020, when it submitted to partially withdrawhttps://uthema.org/wp-content/uploads/Uthema-Comp-CEDAW-Shadow-Report-20Apr2020.pdf its reservations on this clause in February 2020, relating to Article 16 Part I (b) (e) (g) (h) and Part II. Maldives most recent State review on the CEDAW convention was at the Committee’s 80th Sessionhttps://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/10/une-revision-exhaustive-de-la-loi-sur-la-famille-devrait in October 2021. The CEDAW Committee’s concluding observationshttps://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/MDV/CO/6&Lang=En of November 2021 recommend the State to withdraw its remaining reservations on Article 16 (a) (c) (d) and (f).
- Maldives acceded to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW in March 2006, although to date, there have been no known cases that have sought remedy using this mechanism.
Links to CEDAW reports that refer to Muslim family laws and practices
- NGO Shadow Report on CEDAW, Maldives – A commentary on the Combined Second and Third Periodic Report of the Government of Maldives to the CEDAW Committee, Co-ordinated by Hama Jamiyya, November 2006 (web link unavailable)
- Maldives NGO Shadow Report to the CEDAW Committee, 2012, Hope for Women, Maldives
- NGO Shadow Report to the CEDAW Committee, November 2019, Hope for Women, Maldives.
- NGO Shadow Report to the UN CEDAW Committee, 30 April 2020, Uthema, Maldives
Links to Concluding Observations That Refer to Reform of Muslim Family Laws and Practices
- CEDAW Concluding Observations, Maldives, CEDAW/C/MDV/CO/3, 2 February 2007 https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fMDV%2fCO%2f3&Lang=en
- CEDAW Concluding Observations, Maldives, CEDAW/C/MDV/CO/4-5, 11 March 2015 https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fMDV%2fCO%2f4-5&Lang=en
- CEDAW Concluding Observations, Maldives CEDAW/C/MDV/CO/6, 15 November 2021 https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/MDV/CO/6&Lang=En
Links to Musawah’s CEDAW reports on Maldives
- Musawah Thematic Report on Muslim Family Law : Maldives, 60th CEDAW Session, February 2015 https://arabic.musawah.org/sites/default/files/MusawahThematicReportArt16Maldives.pdf
- Musawah-Uthema Joint Thematic Report to the CEDAW Committee, September 2021 https://campaignforjustice.musawah.org/resources/musawah-uthema-joint-thematic-report-on-maldives-2021/
Any other relevant regional or international treaty or convention signed by Maldives
- Statute of the OIC Women Development Organisation, November 2019 https://oic-iphrc.org/docs/en/legal_instruments/OIC_HRRIT/385106.pdfStatus as at 2020: https://www.oic-oci.org/topic/?t_id=23758&t_ref=14141&lan=en
Sustainable Development Goals
- Maldives reported on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) between 2000-2015, and considered itself an MDG+ country by the close of the 15-year time-frame of the MDGs. During this period, Maldives did not achieve MDG 3 to “promote gender equality and empower women ” among several others, including the target to achieve universal access to reproductive health.
- Maldives is party to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) although its monitoring and adoption remain weak. https://maldives.un.org/en/sdgs
- Maldives has reported to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2017. This report covered SDG 5 on Gender Equality.
- Voluntary National Review for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2017, SDG Division, Ministry of Environment and Energy, July 2017 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/15891Maldives.pdf
Key Resources About Muslim Family Law
By local researchers, activists and civil society groups
- Sexual Violence In The Maldives: Legal And Other Barriers To Justice For Survivors, Equality Now/Uthema, 2021https://live-equality-now.pantheonsite.io/resource/sexual-violence-in-the-maldives-legal-and-other-barriers-to-justice-for-survivors/
By government agencies/committees
- The Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences, Ministry of Gender & Family, 2007https://maldives.unfpa.org/en/publications/maldives-study-women%E2%80%99s-health-and-life-experiences-0
By international bodies
- Sexual Violence in South Asia : Legal And Other Barriers To Justice For Survivors, Equality Now/Dignity Alliance International, 2020 https://www.equalitynow.org/resource/sexualviolencesouthasia/
- Reflecting 15 years – The Rights Side of Life, HRCM/FPA/UNDP, Maldives, 2020 https://hrcm.org.mv/en/publications/reflecting-15-years-the-rightsside-of-life
- Research papers on The Situation of Women in Maldives, UNFPA/UN Women Maldives, December 2018 https://maldives.unfpa.org/en/publications/research-papers-situation-women-maldives
- Gender Equality Act 18/2016, Unofficial translation, UNFPA Maldives, 2018 https://maldives.unfpa.org/en/publications/gender-equality-act
- Qualitative Assessment : Perceptions About Women’s Participation in Public Life in the Maldives, IFES, July 2015 https://www.ifes.org/publications/qualitative-assessment-perceptions-about-womens-participation-public-life-maldives
- Six Years On – The Rights Side of Life, HRCM/UNDP, Maldives, 2012 https://hrcm.org.mv/en/publications/six-years-on-the-rights-side-of-life
- The “Rights” Side of Life – a baseline human rights survey, HRCM/UNDP, Maldives, 2006 https://hrcm.org.mv/en/publications/the-rights-side-of-life-a-baseline-human-rights-survey
National Groups and Campaigns Working on Muslim Family Law
- Hope For Women NGO (since 2010) – a national NGO “working towards ending all forms of violence against women and domestic violence, while also promoting gender equality and women’s participation in public life.” http://hopeforwomen.org.mv/about/
- Family Legal Clinic (since 2014, est. 2017) – a national NGO providing pro-bono legal services on family law matters whose “aim is to increase access to justice by easing people’s access to a lawyer and promote awareness on legal rights in the areas of family and domestic violence law.” https://www.familylegalclinic.org.mv/
- Uthema (since 2016) – a national NGO engaged in research and advocacy to improve policies and laws impacting the lived realities of women. https://uthema.org/english-resources/
- Equal Rights Initiative (since 2021) – a national NGO “working towards the achievement of human rights, with a focus on women’s equality, security and empowerment.” https://www.facebook.com/eri.maldives/
First codification of family law through the enactment of the Family Act (4/2000)
The Family Act Regulation issued, providing procedural guidance to implement the family law
Domestic Violence Prevention Act (3/2012) defining, recognising and criminalising domestic violence in the Maldives for the first time
First Amendment to the Family Act (11/2013) ratified specifying implementing authority of the law
Penal Code (9/2014) enacted replacing the existing code from 1968, bringing significant reforms to the criminal justice statutes including laws on rape
However, rape within marriage carries a caveat in Section 130(b) of the code which states sexual intercourse within marriage would be interpreted as consensual “unless otherwise proven”. A similar caveat exists in Section 134(a) of the Penal Code in the case of married minors.
Sexual Offences Act (17/2014) defining and recognising marital rape in the Maldives for the first time, albeit within certain conditions
Second Amendment to the Family Act (9/2016) ratified
Recognising the concept of distribution of matrimonial property, which also created new caveats for the Shari’ah compliance of prenuptial agreements
Gender Equality Act (18/2016)
Prohibiting gender-based discrimination and promoting compliance with CEDAW provisions to prevent gender-based discrimination in the Maldives, within the bounds of the Constitution and tenets of Islam.
Second Amendment to the Family Act Regulation 2001 by the Supreme Court
Specifying that applications for judicial wali would be decided by the Chief Justice at the Supreme Court, and judicial approval of marriage to minors will be decided by the Supreme Court.
Third Amendment to the Family Act Regulation 2001 by the Supreme Court on the process of obtaining wali in various circumstances
Supreme Court Circular No. 2019/03/SC revising the provision in Article 19(a) of the Family Act Regulation (2001)
To obtain a statement from the existing wife about the provision of maintenance (to wife and children), from persons seeking polygamous marriages due to non-compliance of this clause in practice by some courts.
Child Rights Protection Act (19/2019) prohibiting marriage to minors and setting the minimum age of marriage to 18 years (for both sexes) without exception
First Amendment to the Sexual Offences Act (25/2021) criminalising marital rape without exception
This country page was prepared by Humaida Abdulghafoor, Independent Researcher and Co-Founder of Uthema, as a collaboration under the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws