The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) conducted equipment demonstrations and allowed children to handle firearms during an event on Saturday to mark Children’s Day.
MNDF Spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem said the National Library requested the MNDF set up a stall as part of the day’s events, “so we demonstrated our equipment, and people took photos with it.”
Some of those photos – of toddlers handling heavy machine guns and staring down the barrels of pistols – were met with concern by Maldivians on social media channels, who described the images as “just not right”, and “sick and wrong”. One Maldivian twitter user questioned whether the event was part of the new government’s civic education syllabus.
In response to concerns, Major Abdul Raheem emphasised that the event was “very safe”.
“When we took the weapons outside we did not take any ammunition,” he explained. “The weapons were technically disabled.”
There was no possibility of even an unloaded weapon falling into the hands of a member of the public, he said.
Mariya Ali, former Deputy Minister of Health and Family with a 20 year background in child welfare in the Maldives, questioned the objective of the exercise.
“These children have witnessed violence from the [police and army], and now they are being exposed to the tools of violence. If it is not explained correctly, it can have a longstanding effect on them,” she said. “It is not appropriate for children under the age of eight to be exposed to this.”
Mariya said research into how children perceived authority figures such as the police showed that “Children see them as protectors – in their minds they separate the act of protecting – violence – from the protective side.”
“It would have been better to focus on the protective side, rather than the guns – things like fire safety, and cleaning up after accidents,” she suggested. “Children look up to them, they are important role models.”
UNICEF Resident Representative to the Maldives Zeba Tanvir Bukhari said the organisation was “quite taken aback” and said she hoped the MNDF would consult it when organising future events.
“It’s really very worrying. Children are very fragile at that age – the focus needs to be on care, affection, education and health. There is a huge risk of influencing children,” she said.
Images courtesy Jaawid Naseem/Jade Photography. Republished with permission.