The United Nations and European Union have condemned the Maldives for approving a regulation that allows children as young as seven to be sentenced to death for certain crimes.

Representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCR] and the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said they were "deeply concerned" that implementing the death penalty would overturn a moratorium that had been in place since 1953 when the last execution happened.

A statement from Ashton's office, issued on Wednesday, said: "The death penalty is cruel and inhumane, and has not been shown in any way to act as a deterrent to crime."

Ravina Shamdansi, from the OHCR, said on Tuesday: "According to the new regulation, minors convicted of intentional murder shall be executed once they turn 18. Similar provisions in the recently ratified Penal Code, allowing for the application of the death penalty for crimes committed when below the age of 18, are also deeply regrettable."

According to the OHCRthe new regulation provides for the use of the death penalty for the offence of intentional murder, including when committed by individuals under the age of 18. The age of criminal responsibility in the Maldives is 10, but for hadd offences, children as young as 7 years old can be held responsible. Hadd offences include theft, fornication, adultery, alcohol consumption and apostasy.

A report from the Haveeru newspaper said about 20 people had been sentenced to death so far, with the High Court overturning one sentence and the remaining held up at the appeal court.

In February, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali said ministers had observed an increase in murders in the Maldives and that carrying out the death penalty complied with existing laws.

Source: Al Jazeera