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 that triggered criticism from rights groups yesterday.
The unnamed teenager was convicted under sharia law on the basis of her confession 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 yesterday the girl could refuse the flogging and would then instead be subjected 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," the official, who declined to be named, said.
The ruling came 10 months after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay urged the Maldives to stop publicly flogging women for having extra-marital or pre-marital sex. Pillay noted 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 judgment 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.
There were mixed reactions in comments posted on the local news website, 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?"
Another, identified as Dhivehi Hanguraama, volunteered to administer the lashing.
"I myself would volunteer to whip this creature, as would any self-respecting, esteemed, members of the ulema [religious scholars]," the comment read.