Anyone caught testing to confirm if a girl or woman is a virgin can be sentenced to up to five years in prison, according to a new legislation the government is proposing.
A virginity test is an examination to determine if a girl or woman has had vaginal intercourse.
A practice widely considered controversial, it is usually carried out in cultures that require “proof” of a bride’s virginity prior to her marriage, but not only.
In Indonesia, virginity tests were performed as a requirement to join the police and military force.
Research shows that such practice is medically unreliable and invasive, and the UN Human Rights, UN Women, and World Health Organisation called for the ban of virginity testing as it is a painful, humiliating, and traumatic practice that constitutes violence against women.
Announcing the bill on Monday, Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg said there is very little information and research on whether virginity tests have been carried out in Malta.
There is also no mention of virginity testing in Maltese law.
“We spoke to many people, but no evidence has come forward that the test is being practiced in Malta, nor has anyone come forward who has faced trauma after the procedure,” she said.
"Having said that, this does not mean that the practice is not happening, and this is the first important step to show that this government does not tolerate sexual violence against women."
The proposal to criminalise virginity testing was included in the Labour Party 2022 election manifesto, and the bill will be presented to Parliament in the coming days.
Replying to questions if certain cultural groups in Malta have been known to carry out virginity tests, a junior lawyer from the Human Rights Directorate, Jurgen Dingli said that while different communities experience different realities, it is not right to simply categorise the practice to a particular culture.
"The bill is a step forward to provide more information about the practice and to ensure that if it is carried out, it can result in harsh penalties," he said.
What is being proposed?
Dingli explained that the act of virginity testing - examining the female genitalia - with or without the consent of the girl/woman for the purpose of determining virginity, will be criminalised.
However, this does not include every examination that can be carried out on the female genitalia by medical professionals during a medical intervention.
It will also be a criminal act to help, entice, advise, obtain, or force a girl or woman to be tested.
Anyone caught carrying out the test, can face a prison sentence of between one and five years.
Any accomplice can also face the same penalty.
The punishment can be increased by one or two degrees in certain serious circumstances.