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Children Liable for Death Penalty Under New Maldives Law

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After a six-decade moratorium on capital punishment, the Maldives have decided to reinstate the practice for the crimes of premeditated murder or deliberate manslaughter. Since the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years of age, this means that juveniles maybe sentenced to death for crimes committed before the age of 18.

The Maldives, a nation of islands southwest of India, is an Islamic state that requires all of its citizens to be Muslim. Freedom of religion on the islands for non-Muslims is severely restricted.

For certain offenses, referred to as hadd crimes (crimes including apostasy, adultery and theft which require pre-established punishments under Islamic sharia law), the age of responsibility is seven.

Umar Naseer, the Minister of Home Affairs, was quoted saying that the Maldives was "a hundred percent Islamic country and there are certain values that we all believe in." He added that the Maldives had an overcrowded prison system and "lively criminal environment."

Since the law was enacted at the end of April, 20 people have been sentenced with the death penalty, with one of the convictions overturned by a higher court.

A spokesperson for the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said that according to international law, juveniles who are charged and convicted while under the age of 18 are not allowed to be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Further, the Maldives has ratified the the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which explicitly forbids handing down the the death sentence to juveniles below the age of 18 at the time when the crime was committed.

"We urge the government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, particularly in cases that involve juvenile offenders and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether," Shamdasani said. 

"According to the new regulation, minors convicted of intentional murder shall be executed once they turn 18," she added.

Facilities are currently being built to carry out the executions, which will be implemented by lethal injection. 

The nation’s 1,200 islands and their pristine beaches make it a popular worldwide tourism destination, an industry crucial to the Maldive’s economy. The nation was in the news last year after sentencing a 15-year-old rape victim to 100 lashes for the crimes of pre-marital sex. After an international petition against the ruling and calling for a boycott of tourism to the islands, a Maldives court overturned the ruling.

In a related story, the Islamic island of Brunei began the first phase of implementing sharia law in the country on May 1.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org