MALE, Maldives (AFP) - A Maldivian court has overturned a public flogging sentence on a 15-year-old girl, whose conviction for premarital sex sparked international outrage and focused attention on the holiday island's treatment of women.
The girl had been charged after police investigating a complaint that she was raped by her stepfather found that she had also been having consensual sex with another man.
The High Court issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the girl, whose stepfather is on trial for raping her, had been wrongly convicted by a juvenile court of having premarital sex with the other man.
The court said the sentence had been based on a confession that the child made while she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, adding she had been "unfit for trial".
The Maldivian government appealed on behalf of the teenager following an international outcry over the February sentence -- 100 lashes to be inflicted when she reached the age of 18.
Premarital sex is illegal in the Maldives, a popular honeymoon destination in the Indian Ocean, which observes elements of Islamic Sharia law as well as English common law.
President Mohamed Waheed was "overjoyed" with the High Court decision, his spokesman told AFP, and he later promised legal reforms to protect women.
The president said in a statement that "as sexual assaults on women and children are increasing, it is important to formulate the criminal justice system in a way to prevent further victimising women and children".
Presidential spokesman Masood Imad said the girl would remain in state care, adding that government authorities had done everything they could to ensure she received proper care and protection.
He also criticised the international outcry over the case, saying the government had been unfairly targeted.
"Since the new government came to power (in February 2012), not a single flogging has been carried out in this country," Imad said.
"We have been unfairly treated over this issue. Some have called for a boycott of the Maldives," he said.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International, which campaigned to spare the victim, said she should never have been put on trial in the first place.
"Annulling this sentence was of course the right thing to do," Polly Truscott, its deputy Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement.
"We are relieved that the girl will be spared this inhumane 'punishment' based on an outrageous conviction."
In March the global campaign group avaaz.org collected over two million signatures on a petition calling on Waheed to intervene and appeal against the conviction.
"Today people in the Maldives and across the globe celebrate that this young girl is free and won't be flogged," said Avaaz campaign director Jeremy Waiser. "It is a glimmer of hope which must not be an isolated case..."
He said Maldivian authorities should listen to the majority of Maldivians and introduce major reforms to protect women and girls, abolishing flogging for consensual sex outside of marriage.
The UN as well as international rights groups have repeatedly asked the Maldives to end the "barbaric practice" of flogging women.
Last September a court in the Maldives ordered the public flogging of a 16-year-old who confessed to premarital sex. Her lover was jailed for 10 years.
The child's stepfather in this week's case faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of rape and a separate charge of murder, after he allegedly killed a baby which resulted from his alleged rape of his stepdaughter.
Tourists and locals are usually kept apart in the Maldives, with the expensive holiday resorts favoured by the rich and famous subject to different rules to the rest of the country.