Home        About us       CEDAW       UN Treaties       Q and A       Reporting to UN Bodies       Resources       Publications       Contact us




Third periodic report submitted on 1 July 1993


Sources: WHO Southeast Asia Office, IPPF, The World Factbook 2000 - Maldives

Population, 2000 estimate: 301,475
Ethnicities: Sinhalese, Dravidian, Arab
Religion: Sunni Muslim

GDP per capita, 1999 estimate: US$1,800
GDP - real growth rate, 1999 estimate: 7%

Major industries: tourism (including import duties and tourist taxes), fishing, agriculture, manufacturing.

Population Growth Rate, 2000 estimate: 3.06%
Fertility Rate, 2000 estimate: 5.62 children born/woman
Maternal Mortality Ratio, 1990-1996: 202 deaths/100,000 live births
Infant Mortality Rate, 2000 estimate: 65.52 deaths/1000 live births
Life expectancy at birth, 2000: Total - 62.2 years
Male - 61.05 years
Female - 63.4 years

Literacy, 1995 estimates: Total - 93.2%
Male - 93.3%
Female - 93%

Legal System: Islamic law mixed with English common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Background and Recent Political Events


The Maldives, a group of more than 1,000 small islands, has been a British Protectorate, an independent sultanate and, since 1968, a republic.  Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has been the president of Maldives since 1978 and is in his fifth term.  There are no political parties and there is some evidence that competition from other presidential candidates is repressed. An attempted coup failed in 1988.  President Gayoom has responded to domestic and international criticism with the “decision to devolve certain presidential powers and introduce a package of reforms.” [i]   He also pledged to allow more than one candidate to contest future presidential elections. [ii]   On January 1 1998, a new Constitution, which had been ratified by the President in November 1997, came into effect.

The 1990s saw a great deal of economic growth resulting from a boom in the tourist industry.  Tourists stay on resort islands separate from native Maldivians and travel to inhabited islands is limited and carefully controlled.  Tourists are drawn to Maldives because of its reputation as an unspoiled paradise, so environmental preservation is key to continued economic growth and stability.  Coral bleaching caused by global warming has muted the beautiful colors that draw scuba divers from around the world.  Maldivians are also concerned about the rising water level, because the majority of the islands are only about one meter above sea level.  The highest point is 2.4 meters above sea level. [iii]


Over 93 percent of all women in Maldives are literate.  President Gayoom introduced legislation in the Parliament (Majlis) in the 2000 session to renew government commitment to providing equal opportunities for women in the political, social and economic areas. [iv]   Nevertheless, official deference to Muslim custom fosters an environment of strict gender roles and often encourages more rigid adherence to cultural norms than to national laws.








Paragraph 13 in Chapter II of the amended Maldivian Constitution, states that “Maldivian citizens are equal before and under the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.” [v]   This must be understood in the context provided by Paragraph 156, “Interpretation of Words and Phrases.”  The  definition of law includes government practices as well as “norms and provisions of Shari’ah established by the Noble Quran and the traditions of the Noble Prophet, and the rules derived therefrom.” [vi] Therefore, discriminatory treatment of women is justified by attribution to Shari’ah or interpretations of it. 





Severe restriction on freedom of religion in the Maldives has a critical impact on the enjoyment of women’s human rights.  Over 99 percent of all Maldivians are Sunni Muslim, and the public expression or practice of any other belief system is strictly prohibited.  Recently, two women who were suspected of practicing another religion were detained for several months. [vii]   Also, Buddha pictures belonging to a UN expert were confiscated. [viii] This association of religion and government has led to a powerful system of media censorship.  The government owns and runs all radio and television stations. [ix]   Freedom of expression is strictly limited by governmental policy.


Women are directly affected by the restrictive culture. They do the vast majority of household chores and cooking, tasks which reportedly take many women almost the whole day.  In the capital, Male, the numerous responsibilities women have in the home are made more difficult by the shortage of space, since economic factors have led to a highly concentrated population.  An average of 14 people and three families live in each small home with no yard.  Working conditions in homes are often dark and undesirable. [x]   The Australian Agency for International Development has described the situation as follows: “The poverty that exists in the Maldives disproportionately impacts on women due to social and cultural restrictions on their mobility: women are not as free as men to travel outside of their home atoll (island district) unaccompanied.  Educational and employment opportunities, as well as access to services, are more limited in these areas.” [xi]






The Maldives, as a member of the South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC), has participated in a number of conferences and workshops in the past few years addressing the problem of trafficking of women and children in and from South Asian countries.  Maldives hosted the 9th SAARC Summit, which resulted in the Male Declaration on trafficking. [xii] This is commendable, but it is unclear what effect these efforts have had on reducing the practice of trafficking.  Trafficking is still a problem in the Maldives.  In May 2000, Sri Lankan police began a search for a Russian man who they believe controls Russian prostitutes in Maldives and other SAARC countries. [xiii]





The President, Cabinet Ministers and members of the People’s Majlis (Parliament) are required to be Sunni Muslim and to observe Shari’ah (Islamic law). [xiv]   Women are not allowed to run for president.  They may hold other public positions, but very few do. Three women have served in the Majis (parliament) and one woman has served as a cabinet member. [xv] Currently, male clerics dominate the most post powerful positions in the Maldivian government. [xvi] It has not always been so.  Before Islam was embraced in the islands, several islands enjoyed varying levels of matriarchal leadership. [xvii]   Nevertheless, under the current system, both women and men are entitled to vote, as long as they are Muslim and at least 21 years of age. [xviii] Statistics on voter turnout disaggregated by sex were not available, though the Government allowed a team from the SAARC observe the 1994 elections. [xix]   The practice of keeping tourists and native Maldivians primarily on separate islands is intended to minimize the adverse effects of tourism on the traditional Muslim communities. [xx]   This policy of privacy also keeps hidden information on women’s participation in public life.  





The Maldivian Constitution states, “No Maldivian shall be deprived of citizenship except as may be provided by law.” [xxi]   Converts to other religions may lose their citizenship, [xxii] thought the Government claims this provision has never been applied.


In 1998, two Maldivian women were arrested and imprisoned for over three months for converting to another faith.  They did not lose their citizenship, but the length of their imprisonment indicates that their conversion was viewed as a threat to national stability.  Though dozens of men and women were questioned on this occasion about converting, only the two women were imprisoned and counseled extensively. [xxiii]   Human Rights Without Frontiers reported that religious prisoners in Maldives are pressured to deny their faith. [xxiv]





Men and women enjoy equally high literacy rates (93%), especially in comparison with neighboring Asian countries.  A high percentage of boys and girls attend primary school.  At secondary levels, though, the gap favoring education for boys increases rapidly. [xxv]   Though there is no national legislation that restricts equal access to education, NGOs claim that social customs and norms foster the gap. [xxvi]    Often, parents refuse to allow their girls to attend school past 7th grade when there is no secondary school on their home island. [xxvii] Many girls stay at home to help with household tasks socially assigned to women.  Many others leave school to bear and raise children.  Sixty-five percent of Maldivian women marry before they are 18. [xxviii]  





Culture dictates a certain level of separation of men and women in the workplace.  Women are found in lower-paying positions, such as clerical work, agriculture, and service jobs in the tourist sector. This is especially true of the foreign women working in Maldives. In 1999, the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association discovered that 27 female migrant workers had not been paid wages for three years of work in Maldives. [xxix] Women who do work outside of the home are still expected to manage and clean the home. 


Though widespread poverty affects all Maldivians, women are hit especially hard. Because the Maldives has the highest divorce rate in the world, overburdened mothers have become the rule rather than the exception.  Women are underrepresented in the workforce.  IPPF reports that 78 percent of men are in the workforce, compared to 43 percent of women. [xxx]   Another source reports that only 18 percent of women are in the workforce. [xxxi]   Maldives has experienced rapid economic growth and modernization over the past decade, but many women benefit less from this growth, because some traditional beliefs conflict with women’s free participation in the economic market.




Health is probably the most urgent problem facing women in the Maldives.  Only about 75 percent of the population have access to health care. [xxxii] The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Society for Health Education (SHE), a local NGO, have worked to provide education and training resources regarding general and reproductive health.  Despite their efforts, maternal and infant mortality rates remain high (see national indicators on page 21). [xxxiii] Twenty percent of live births result in low birthweight babies. [xxxiv]   Anemia is found in approximately 68 percent of pregnant women, 62 percent of non-pregnant women, and 82 percent of children. [xxxv]  


Statistics on access to safe water are unclear. Safe water is widely available on tourist resort islands, [xxxvi] but it is somewhat irrelevant to include this access in national statistics, because few Maldivians live on tourist islands.  Ground water in the Maldives is contaminated and the islands suffer from water shortages in the dry season. [xxxvii]


There is little training or counsel for mothers, especially regarding their health and the health of their children.  Women are generally not trained in the benefits of breastfeeding, even though low breast-feeding rate is one of the factors responsible for deficiencies in children, such as Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). [xxxviii] Only eight percent of Maldivian mothers breastfeed their newborn children (0-3 months) exclusively. [xxxix]   Maldives has not adopted the international code on marketing breast milk substitutes. [xl]


Poor feeding practices are responsible, according to WHO, for the malnutrition of children in Maldives. [xli]   Severe malnutrition has not decreased since 1985. Growth monitoring of children up to three years old is common practice (approximately 95 percent), but though 38 percent of children under five are underweight or suffer from wasting or stunted growth, “no attempts are made by the health workers to take special care or counsel the mothers.” [xlii] There are some efforts to combat these problems, but systematic and complete data on progress made was unavailable.


Poor nutrition is so critical because the associated health problems reproduce at an alarming rate.  The birth rate is high, averaging about six children per woman. [xliii]   WHO stated, “High population growth is threatening the quality of life, especially of women and children.” [xliv] About half of the population is under 15 years. [xlv]   Distribution and availability of contraception is limited and requires a prescription. Only 15 percent of women between 15 and 49 reported using contraception of any kind. [xlvi]   Reported contraception use rates remain extremely low, despite family planning training programs for family health workers. There is widespread male reluctance to use contraception, especially condoms. [xlvii] In summary, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) reports, “Early marriage. . ., frequent pregnancies, chronic malnutrition and inadequate health care services jeopardize safe motherhood in the Maldives.” [xlviii]


Another health problem that persists because of inadequate (reproductive) health services is Thalassaemia.  Twenty percent of the population carries this fatal genetic blood disorder and one in 250 children develop the actual condition.  A child of two carriers has a 25 percent chance of being born with the disease. [xlix]   Those with the disease suffer from anemia and must undergo monthly blood transfusions and daily injections.  The only cure is a bone marrow transplant, which is costly.  SHE provides free screening and counseling, but the effect of its services on the frequency of the disease is unknown.  The IPPF commented, “Unless something is done to decrease the numbers born with the illness, the amount of clean blood and bone marrow to go around is likely to become a commodity reserved for the rich.” [l]  





Not only is the population of the Maldives concentrated in Male, the wealth is as well.  Poverty is especially harsh in the outer atolls. [li]   Infant and maternal death rates are even worse in rural areas, where the small population lives in isolation, often without sufficient access to health care facilities, education, and employment. On some islands, only half of the children reach adulthood. [lii]   Because contraception is only  available with a prescription at a few health care facilities, most rural women have no access to it. [liii]  






A woman’s testimony is equal to one-half of a man’s in court cases involving finance and inheritance.  Courts handling matrimonial and criminal cases do not allow legal counsel. [liv]   This may pose problems for women who are unaware of their rights.  Also, male heirs get twice the inheritance of female heirs. [lv]






Women and men both have the freedom to select a spouse.  This “freedom” is allowed because of the population’s ideological homogeneity.  Men, however, may marry up to four wives under Islamic law. [lvi] Divorce is available to men and women, but husbands may divorce more easily if the decision is not mutual. [lvii]   Women marry an average of four times.  It is common for Maldivians to divorce three to six times.  Women suffer greater losses in divorce than men do, because of their financial dependence on their husbands.  Women often stay in the homes of their ex-husbands until they remarry, especially since the population has exploded in Male, with 30,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. [lviii] The effect on women and children of being forced to continue residence with an estranged husband or father has not been closely addressed. [lix]  





Domestic abuse is a problem in the Maldives, despite a cultural norm against aggression.  Though statistics are unavailable, one health counselor reports, “There are a lot of cases of sexually abused children, and there will be many unreported cases also.   It is mostly girls who are abused; in fact, all my cases of sexual abuse have been with girls.” [lx]   Incest is also a problem for girls and young women, exacerbated by crowded living conditions, where many residents sleep in the same room. [lxi]   The SHE has tried to curb this through education programs.  The organization counsels victims of sexual abuse by telephone and in person.  However, organizational resource are stretched thin, and most attention goes to the other fundamental deficiencies in women’s physical and mental health care. [lxii]



Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Maldives. 25/08/99. A/54/18, paras.314-320.


Main subjects of concern:


·        The Maldives did not send a report, nor did it send a delegation. 


Suggestions and Recommendations:

·        further information on forms of discrimination and the situation of migrant workers and foreigners


Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Maldives. 05/06/98. CRC/C/15/Add.91.


Main Subjects of Concern:

·        insufficient data collection, especially for vulnerable groups like girl children and rural children

·        low minimum age of marriage and lack of information on harmful effects

·        insufficient measures for enjoyment of rights of girl children

·        concern for children born out of wedlock, especially with regard to right to inheritance

·        lack of information on ill-treatment and sexual abuse

·        lack of trained personnel to prevent and combat such abuse

·        high rate of divorce and possible negative effects on children

·        high maternal mortality rate

·        lack of health and nutrition and effects on increasing early pregnancy rate

·        lack of access to reproductive health education

·        gender disparities in secondary school enrollments because of non-compulsory education

Suggestions and Recommendations:

·        develop a comprehensive data-collection system

·        facilitate establishment of NGOs to help deal with these problems

·        full implementation of principle of non-discrimination; eliminate discrimination against vulnerable groups, like girl children

·        enact and implement the National Policy on Women for the sake of girl children

·        take measures to prevent and combat sexual and other forms of abuse

·        accelerate the enactment of the Maldivian Family Law

·        strengthen reproductive health education

·        study negative impact of early marriage

make primary education compulsory and free to all; improve access to girls legal reform and preventive measures to combat sexual exploitation


[i] “Maldives Facts & Tips,” available  at < www.planetholiday.com/asia/maldives/maldives_history.htm>, accessed 23 October 2000.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] CIA, The World Factbook 2000 - Maldives.

[iv] WERC, “Around the World: Maldives,” Pravahini-WERC Newsletter, vol. 8, no.1 (2000):  p.

[v] The Maldivian Constitution, available at <www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/CH-constitution.htm>, accessed on 16 March 2000.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre (A.C.S.). “Religious Freedom in the Majority Islamic Countries: 1998 Report-Maldives,” available at < www.alleanzacattolica.org/acs/acs_english/report_98/maldives.htm>, accessed 20 October 2000.

[viii]   Jaana Holvikivi. “A Brief History Of Women In The Maldives - From Matriarchy To An Islamic State,”  available at < www.saunalahti.fi/penelope/Feminism/Maldives.html >, accessed 9 September 2000.

[ix]   Maldive Holidays, “News, Information and Communications,” available at < maldive.com/tour/mnews.html>, accessed 10 October 2000.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Australian Agency for International Development. Country Brief: Maldives 1999-2000, available at < www.ausaid.gov.au/publicati...riefs/1999-2000/99-00maldives.html>, accessed 16 March 2000.

[xii] India Abroad.

[xiii] “Sri Lanka Battles Foreign Prostitutes”, Colombo, May 23, 2000.

[xiv] U.S. State Department, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Maldives, Washington D.C. (5 September 5 2000),  available at < www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/irf/irf_rpt/irf_maldives.html>, accessed 3 December 2000.

[xv] U.S. State Department, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Maldives Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999,  available at <www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/maldives.html>, accessed 2 November 2000.

[xvi] Holvikivi.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] The Maldivian Constitution.

[xix] US  State Department, Maldives Country Report.

[xx] Lonely Planet, Maldives, available at < www.lonelyplanet.com/dest/ind/mal.htm>, accessed 12 October 2000.

[xxi] The Maldivian Constitution, Chapter II, Paragraph 14.

[xxii] US State Department, Maldives Country Report.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] A.C.S.

[xxv] US State Department, Maldives Country Report.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), IPPF Country Profile: MALDIVES,  available at < www.ippf.org/regions/countries/mdv/index.htm>, accessed 28 September 2000.

[xxix] Fawzia Karim Firoze, “The Many Woes Of Our Migrant Workers,” The Independent, 25 June 1999.

[xxx] IPPF.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] IPPF.

[xxxiii] WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia. “Country Profile: Maldives” Nutrition in South-East Asia.

New Delhi WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia 2000. Document SEA-NUT-148, 49-52.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Planet Holiday, Maldives Facts & Tips, available at <www.planetholiday.com/asia/maldives/maldives_health.htm>, accessed 8 October 2000.

[xxxvii] Holvikivi.

[xxxviii] WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia. “Country Profile: Maldives” Nutrition in South-East Asia.

New Delhi WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia 2000. Document SEA-NUT-148, 49-52.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] Holvikivi.

[xlv] IPPF.

[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] IPPF, “Spiders Of Fear,” Real Lives, no. 1 (1997): 20.

[xlviii] IPPF, IPPF Country Profile: MALDIVES.

[xlix] IPPF. “Dealing With A Genetic Disorder,” Real Lives, no. 3 (1999): 21.

[l] Ibid. 

[li] Australian Agency for International Development.

[lii] Holvikivi.

[liii] IPPF, IPPF Country Profile: MALDIVES.

[liv] US State Department, Maldives Country Report.

[lv] Ibid.

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] Ibid.

[lviii] Holvikivi.

[lix] CRC Concluding observations.

[lx] IPPF, IPPF Country Profile: MALDIVES.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid.


COPYRIGHT© 2009 All materials on this web site copyright of International Women's Rights Action Watch, University of Minnesota, USA