“Gang Rapists” Given Eight Months Exile
By Ajay Makan
July 19, 2007

Four men who had sex with a twelve year old girl after breaking into her home have been cleared of rape. A judge found the girl from Kurendhoo, Lhaviyani atoll, had consented to have sex with the men after they smashed her bedroom window with an axe.

The judge sentenced the four men to eight months exile from Kurendhoo for sex outside marriage. The sentence contradicts a government commitment to the UN in May that child sex offenders would be imprisoned rather than banished.

On January 31 the four men aged between nineteen and twenty-five used an axe to smash the window of the girl’s bedroom before taking her from her bed and having sex with her.

The state charged the four men with rape.

But in his summation the judge noted “the girl had reached puberty” and found “she was a willing partner,” because she had not screamed, struggled or told her sister-in-law or step mother about the event.

He found the men guilty of consensual sex before marriage, and imposed the minimum sentence of eight months banishment. The standard sentence, even for couples engaged to be married, is twelve months' banishment.

The Attorney General has promised to appeal against the case, but women’s rights activists are furious at the decision.

“I am amazed the judge has presumed a twelve year old girl can give consent to four men to have sex with her,” said Aishath Velezinee, of women’s rights NGO Hama Jamiya [Justice Organisation].

“This is obviously a case of gang rape.”

"How can four men, who raped a twelve year old, be sent to an island, possibly four separate islands, where there will be other vulnerable young females?” she asks.

In May Deputy Home Minister Azima Shukoor promised a UN conference in Geneva, child sex offenders would be imprisoned rather than banished.

Today Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel confirmed, "there is a judicial practice to sentence such offenders to imprisonment.” He said he would look into why the judge had “departed from the prevailing practice.”

But Aminath Eenas of the Gender Ministry says the Justice Ministry has ignored demands to impose prison sentences, and hear abuse victims' evidence in private not open courts.

Velezine says Azima Shukoor deceived the UN conference. “The minister completely distorted the truth. The law clearly still permits banishment for child sexual offences, and the judiciary does not consider this a serious crime.”

“The sentences send completely the wrong message. It tells men of all ages they can get away with rape, and it tells young women not to come forward as they will be re-victimised by the judicial system,” Velezinee added.

And she called on the Gender Ministry to “condemn the decision in the strongest possible terms,” and “make sure this goes all the way to the high court.”

The Gender Minister, Aishath Didi, has refused to condemn the judgement.

She told Minivan News the government "must respect the judge's decision," although she promised, "everything necessary is being done," for the appeal.

Azima Shukoor has refused to discuss her statement to the UN in May, telling Minivan News "I am too busy to discuss this right now.”