Stateless Child Left in Limbo After High Court Denies Paternity Claim
A child faces an uncertain future, possibly stateless and without parental support, after the High Court upheld a Family Court verdict that a Maldivian man cannot be declared the father in a civil action. The case highlights the legal complexities surrounding paternity in the context of Islamic law and the Maldivian Family Act.
The case drew attention as it involved a child born to a couple (a Maldivian man and an Indonesian woman) who married abroad on 19 April 2007. After giving birth on 9 September 2007, the Indonesian woman travelled to her home country, ostensibly to renew her passport, but never came back. Consequently, the child was placed in state custody after being initially cared for by the Maldivian man’s mother.
The state initially sought to establish that the child was a Maldivian national entitled to civil rights. However, the Civil Court ruled that until the child’s paternity could be confirmed, it could not issue a verdict on the child’s nationality.
The Family Court earlier declined to accept the case, citing that the conditions outlined in the Family Act had not been met and it lacked jurisdiction to determine paternity under civil action. The High Court has now upheld this decision.
According to the High Court, even if the couple were lawfully married, Islamic law in the Maldives, as well as the Family Act, requires a child to be born at least six months after the marriage to be considered the husband’s child. In this case, the child was born four months and 20 days after the wedding, making it judicially impossible to establish the Maldivian man as the father.
Justice Mohamed Niyaz remarked that the state’s attempts to declare the man as the child’s father were “shocking and do not make sense” and were not in accordance with the set judicial and legal procedures.
The ruling highlighted a contentious debate around the introduction of concepts like “judicial father” and “legal father,” which Justice Niyaz said are foreign to the Maldivian legal system and could lead to “a number of adverse consequences.”
While the majority of the judges concurred with the verdict, Judge Huzaifa Mohamed offered a dissenting opinion, suggesting that it was within the court’s purview to oversee the matter.
The judgment underlines the challenges of balancing civil law with religious and traditional laws in a multicultural context. The High Court’s ruling reaffirms that paternity, in cases governed by Islamic law and Maldivian customs, can only be determined under strict conditions, thereby potentially leaving the child stateless and without parental support.
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