Supreme Court, on Thursday, overruled the High Court’s previous verdict regarding acceptance and evaluation of evidence for sexual abuse cases involving minors.
The apex court’s decision was made in accordance with Article 47 of the Special Provisions Act to Deal with Child Sexual Abuse Offenders (12/2009), which lowered the standard of evidence required to be presented in court for cases involving sexual offences against children.
The provision enabled testimonies of minors to be used as evidence if the child’s statements are credible beyond a reasonable doubt.
It states that convictions can only be reached when five out of the 12 defined types of evidence in the Act are presented.
However, in October 2016, the High Court asserted that testimonies given by child victims to different parties could not be counted as part of the five different types of evidence required for convictions.
Per the Supreme Court’s verdict, the special provisions act was introduced in 2009 in response to a rise in reports of child sexual abuse and subsequent difficulties in reaching convictions. The apex court highlighted that the High Court’s decision did not reflect the purpose of the enacted special provisions and hence, may potentially infringe on the rights granted to children under Maldives’ constitution.
The unanimous ruling by five Supreme Court judges also noted special circumstances in which a conviction could be reached on the basis of only a child victim’s testimony, provided that it the accuracy of the testimony is thoroughly ascertained.
The judge bench which presided over the case consisted of Chief Justice Ahmed Muthasim Adnan, Judge Dr Azmiralda Zahir, Judge Aisha Shujune Mohamed, Judge Husnu Al Sood and Judge Mahaz Ali.
Earlier in March, the Supreme Court also ruled against the High Court’s estimation of evidence in child sexual abuse cases when it overturned the lower court's decision to free a man who was convicted of molesting his stepchild.
The man was sentenced to 15 years by a Magistrate Court of a southern island in 2016, which pronounced him guilty of molesting his 11-year-old stepchild in 2013. The High Court had annulled the lower court's ruling and acquitted the man last year.
Throughout 2020, there has been a significant increase in public concern over child sexual abuse and gender based violence in Maldives, as well as widespread ire over the government's meagre record of arresting and convicting sexual offenders, despite numerous pledges made to protect the rights of children and women.
In addition to several rallies and protests, due to constraints presented by the ongoing pandemic, locals have taken to social media to voice their concerns and pressure the government to take a stronger stand to protect victims and ascertain justice.