The Republic of Maldives, also known as the Maldive Islands, is an independent island country located in the north-central Indian Ocean. Comprising of a chain of around 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks, of which 200 are inhabited, the country is grouped into clusters or atolls. The islands span a distance of more than 510 miles from north to south and 80 miles from east to west, with the northernmost atoll located about 370 miles south-southwest of the Indian mainland. The capital of Maldives, Male, is located about 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka.
The Maldives is an archipelagic state situated in the Indian Ocean and is located 750 km southwest of Sri Lanka and India. The country is comprised of 26 atolls and spans an area of roughly 90,000 square km, including the sea, with a land area of 298 square km. With a population of 557,751, the Maldives is one of the smallest Asian countries and the 2nd least populous country in Asia. The capital city, Male, is the most populated city and is referred to as the “King’s Island”.
The Maldivian Archipelago is situated on the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean, and forms a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Chagos Archipelago and Lakshadweep. The country is known for its low elevation, with an average ground level of 1.5 meters above sea level and a highest natural point of 2.4 meters.
Islam was introduced to the Maldives in the 12th century and the region was consolidated as a sultanate, developing strong ties with Asia and Africa. However, by the mid-16th century, the region came under the increasing influence of European colonial powers, and Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887. The country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965 and established a presidential republic in 1968.
Read More – Maldives Related Articles
|History of Maldives|
|Demographics of Maldives|
|Culture of the Maldives|
|Transport in the Maldives|
|Education in the Maldives|
|Economy of Maldives|
|Health in Maldives|
|Islam in Maldives|
Despite political instability and environmental challenges, Maldives remains a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the Non-Aligned Movement. The country has an upper-middle income economy, with fishing and tourism being the main economic activities. The Maldives has a high human development index and a per capita income that is significantly higher than other SAARC nations.
In 2016, Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations in protest of allegations of human rights abuses and failing democracy. However, the country re-joined the organization in 2020 after showing evidence of functioning democratic processes and popular support.
The Maldives is a nation composed of a chain of around 1,200 small islands and sandbanks, all surrounded by a chain of coral atolls. These islands are part of an ancient volcanic mountain range that has now sunken beneath the sea, resulting in the low-lying geography of the area. With their low elevation, the islands are protected from the harsh winds of the monsoon season by surrounding barrier reefs.
This also provides ideal conditions for tropical vegetation like coconut palms, breadfruit trees, and various bushes to thrive. The temperatures in the Maldives remain consistent throughout the year, ranging from 76°F to 86°F, while the average rainfall is approximately 84 inches per year. The abundant sea life in the region, including a variety of fish species and sea turtles, provides a source of food and traditional medicine.
The Maldives is home to a unique ethnic group that has been shaped by the diverse peoples that have settled in the islands throughout its history. The first settlers were believed to be Tamils and Sinhalese from southern India and Sri Lanka, followed by traders from Arab countries, Malaysia, Madagascar, Indonesia, and China. The dominant language, Dhivehi (or Maldivian), is an Indo-European language with Arabic, Hindi, and English also being widely spoken. Islam is the official religion of the country.
A majority of the Maldivian population is considered rural, with most residing in villages on small islands in the scattered atolls. The only significant settlement is the capital city of Male. Out of the numerous islands, only 20 have a population of over 1,000 people, with southern islands being more densely populated than their northern counterparts. Despite a higher birth rate compared to the world average, the death rate is relatively low, resulting in a favorable life expectancy of 74 years for men and 79 years for women. With over one-fifth of the total population being below the age of 15, the Maldives is a youthful nation.
According to legends, the first inhabitants of Maldives were known as Dheyvis, and the first kingdom was referred to as Dheeva Maari. During the 3rd century BCE, the Maldives was referred to as Dheeva Mahal during a visit by emissaries. The name Maldives could come from the Sanskrit words mālā (garland) and dvīpa (island), or Maala Divaina (Necklace Islands) in Sinhala, while the people are referred to as Dhivehin.
The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle Mahawamsa mentions an island called Mahiladiva, which may have been a mistranslation of the Sanskrit word for garland. Jan Hogendorn, a Colby College economics professor, theorizes that the name Maldives comes from the Sanskrit mālādvīpa (garland of islands). In different regional languages, this phrase can also be translated as Maladweepu in Malayalam, Maaledweepa in Kannada, and Lakshadweepa in classical Sanskrit texts, which refers to the “Hundred Thousand Islands”.
Medieval Arab travelers like Ibn Battuta referred to the islands as Maḥal Dībīyāt, with the name maḥal meaning “palace.” The classical Persian/Arabic name for Maldives is Dibajat, while the Dutch called it the Maldivische Eilanden and the British referred to it as the “Maldive Islands”. In a 1563 book, Garcia da Orta wrote that the locals did not call it Maldiva but Nalediva, meaning “four islands” in the Malabar language.
The Maldives has undergone a significant transformation in its economy since the 1970s. With an average annual GDP growth rate of 6% in the 2010s and a GNI per capita that reached the level of upper middle-income countries by the end of the decade, the economy has flourished. The primary drivers of this growth have been tourism, fishing, boatbuilding, and boat repair.
In the past, the Maldives was renowned for its cowry shells, which were widely used as a currency across the world, particularly in Africa. The cowry has since become a symbol of the Maldives Monetary Authority.
In the 1970s, the Maldives was one of the poorest nations globally, with a population of 100,000. The economy was primarily based on fishing and trading goods like coir rope, ambergris, and coco de mer with neighboring and East Asian countries.
However, in the 1980s, the Maldivian government launched an economic reform program that has proven to be highly effective. This involved lifting import quotas and increasing private sector opportunities. At that time, the tourism sector, which would later play a crucial role in the nation’s development, was still in its infancy.
Although agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a role in the economy, they are limited by the shortage of cultivable land and domestic labor.
The fishing industry has long served as the foundation of the Maldives’ economy, but it has since been overshadowed by the growth of tourism as the main contributor to the country’s GDP. While fishing still produces the majority of exports and continues to expand, albeit at a slower rate than tourism, it employs a smaller portion of the labor force and contributes a smaller fraction to the GDP compared to the booming tourism sector. Tuna is the most commonly caught fish, typically using the traditional pole-and-line method, but with a growing number of fishing boats being modernized. Most of the catch is sold to foreign companies for processing and export.
Although formal businesses have experienced rapid growth in the Maldives, especially on larger islands, a significant portion of the population still relies on fishing, coconut gathering, and growing vegetables, roots, and tubers like cassava, yams, and sweet potatoes, as well as tropical fruits. Agricultural land, distributed across multiple small islands, is limited, and nearly all staple foods must be imported.
Industries in the Maldives are mostly cottage or handicraft-based, including the production of coir (coconut-husk fiber) and related products, fish canning, and boatbuilding. The textile and garment manufacturing sector was profitable in the mid-1990s, but after the expiration of an import quota regime in 2005, local factories were unable to remain competitive in the international textile trade market. Construction dominates the industrial sector.
The Maldives joined the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) in 2006 and signed a free trade agreement with China in 2017. The country imports a variety of consumer goods, such as food (primarily rice), textiles, medicine, and petroleum products. The majority of exports are dried, frozen, or canned skipjack tuna. The country’s major trading partners include China, India, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.
Tourism drives the services sector in the Maldives, with more than 1.5 million tourists visiting the country each year. The nation is home to over 130 resort islands, offering a diverse range of high-end hotel brands, unique diving and water sport experiences, and undersea accommodations, restaurants, and spas. By the mid-2010s, the service sector accounted for a dominant 80% of the country’s GDP.
The Maldives is primarily inhabited by the Dhivehin, who are native to the region of the Maldive Islands, including the Republic of Maldives and the island of Minicoy in India. They are an Indo-Aryan people with a mix of Middle Eastern, South Asian, Austronesian, and African genes. The Dhivehi language is widely spoken among this group.
Historical Ethnic Groups
In the past, the Giraavaru, a small Tamil population, lived in the Maldives. However, this group has now been fully assimilated into the larger Maldivian society. The Giraavaru people were originally from the island of Giraavaru, which was evacuated in 1968 due to erosion.
The Maldives has a relatively flexible social stratification system, with rank determined by a combination of factors such as occupation, wealth, Islamic values, and family ties. There is a distinction between noble (bēfulhu) and common people, but it is not as rigid as a caste system. Members of the social elite are mostly concentrated in the capital city, Malé.
From 1978 to 2006, the population of the Maldives doubled and reached 298,968 at the 2006 census. The population growth rate was at its highest in 1985, with a rate of 3.4%. By 2000, the population growth rate had decreased to 1.9%. The life expectancy at birth has increased from 46 years in 1978 to 72 years, and infant mortality has decreased from 12.7% in 1977 to 1.2%. Literacy rates are high, with 99% of adults being literate, and school enrollment rates are in the high 90s. The estimated population in 2010 was 317,280.
According to the 2014 Population and Housing Census, the total population of the Maldives was 437,535, including 339,761 resident Maldivians and 97,774 resident foreigners, accounting for approximately 16% of the total population. It is believed that the number of foreign residents may have been undercounted. As of May 2021, there were 281,000 expatriate workers in the Maldives, with an estimated 63,000 of them being undocumented. The largest group of foreign workers in the country are 112,588 Bangladeshis, followed by 28,840 Indians, 15,670 Sri Lankans, 5,029 Nepalese, and 3,506 Chinese. Other immigrant populations include Filipinos and Western foreign workers.
Government : Constitutional Structure, Legislature & Judicial System
The Maldives adopted its constitution in 2008, which designates the President as the head of state and government, who is aided by a Vice President and a cabinet. The President and Vice President are elected directly by the citizens through a universal suffrage for a maximum of two terms, each lasting five years. The Vice President and members of the cabinet, except the Vice President, are appointed by the President.
The unicameral People’s Majlis serves as the legislature, and holds meetings at least three times annually. Representatives are elected to five-year terms from Male island and each of the 20 administrative atolls in the country. The number of representatives from each division is determined based on population, with a minimum of two per division. The constitution of 2008 established Islam as the official state religion and prohibits the People’s Majlis from enacting laws that go against Islamic principles. Non-Muslims are not eligible for citizenship. Other important governmental bodies include human rights and civil service commissions.
The Supreme Court holds the highest legal authority in the country and its judges are appointed by the President in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission, which consists of 10 members selected from various branches of the government and the public. The Commission independently appoints all other judges in the country. There are no term limits for judges, and the mandatory retirement age is 70. All judges must be Sunni Muslims. The Supreme Court makes decisions based on the Constitution and Maldives law, and if no applicable law exists, Sharīʿah (Islamic law) is considered. The other courts are the High Court and trial courts.
Health and Well-being
The most common health issues in the Maldives are cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and renal failure. There is a slight risk of food- and waterborne illnesses such as hepatitis and typhoid. The country eliminated malaria in 1984 and was certified as malaria-free by the World Health Organization in 2015, becoming the first country in the region to receive this distinction. Every inhabited island, regardless of its size, has a health centre that provides basic services, and atolls typically have higher-level facilities or hospitals on their capital island. For more serious medical treatment, Maldivians must travel to Male.
In the Maldives, there are three types of formal education available, including traditional makthabs, Dhivehi-language schools, and English-language primary and secondary schools. The English-language schools are the only ones that offer a standard curriculum and secondary-level education. While nearly all children between the ages of 6 and 15 attend primary or lower secondary schools, there is a sharp drop in enrollment for higher secondary education.
The Maldives has limited options for higher education, with only a few private institutions available. The Maldives National University, formerly known as the Maldives College of Higher Education, became the country’s first public institution to offer a bachelor’s degree program in 2000. To pursue most degrees, Maldivian students have to study abroad.
Labour and Taxation
The boom in the tourism sector has greatly impacted the labour market, causing a shift from agriculture to services. The growth of businesses on remote resort islands requires skills that are not widely available in the local population, leading to an influx of foreign workers from South Asia. The cultural norms of the country discourage women from living away from their families, leading to a decrease in female participation in the labour force. The female labour force participation rate dropped from 60% in the 1970s to as low as 20% in the mid-1990s. However, by the 2010s, the rate had risen to around 50%.
In 2011, the Maldives began to collect taxes mainly on business and financial institution profits, and on goods and services within the tourism industry. An income tax was introduced in 2020.
Transportation links between islands and atolls is crucial for the country. India and China, who are competing for influence in the strategically located Maldives, have invested in infrastructure development to connect the islands. Boats are the main mode of transport between the atolls, and regular shipping services connect the country to Sri Lanka, Singapore, and India. The national airline operates between several airports within the country, as well as international flights. The airport in Male is the main hub for international travel, although there are other airports that offer limited international services.