Indian arrested on child abuse charges, MP seeks publication of sex offenders registry

An Indian teacher has been arrested on charges of child sexual abuse from the island of Gemanafushi in Gaaf Alif atoll.

The 40-year-old expatriate was arrested with a court warrant around 4:20pm yesterday, a police media official said. The suspect is accused of sexually abusing under-aged girls for a long period, the official added.

The police declined to reveal further information as the investigation is ongoing, but local media has identified the suspect as an English teacher at the Gemafanushi school.

He is accused of repeatedly abusing secondary grade students.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rate of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.

The arrest follows police uncovering a child prostitution ring in Fuvahmulah last week. Some 15 suspects have been arrested so far on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing a 14-year-old girl and 16-year-old girl into prostitution.

The police said two men aged 20 and 24 were taken into custody today. The 20-year-old has a criminal record for assault and theft.

The 15 suspects in custody include people from Fuvahmulah as well as other islands, the police said.

Meanwhile, opposition Jumhooree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz has asked the parliament’s government oversight committee to investigate the failure to publicise a mandatory national registry of child sex offenders.

The former police commissioner noted that article 57 of the 2009 Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act requires information about offenders to be made publicly available by the state agency responsible for the protection of children.

“In this regard, for the safety and protection of other citizens from offenders, and to eliminate possibilities for repetition of such offences, complete information about the offenders should be published in an internet website providing easy access to the information, and a mechanism should be established to identify offenders by their national identification numbers via short message service,” the provision states.

The former police commissioner also asked the oversight committee to determine if the relevant authorities have been negligent in protecting the victims of the Fuvahmulah child prostitution ring.

In February 2014, seven men were arrested from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll on suspicion of forcing a 16-year-old girl into child prostitution.

In the first official acknowledgement of child prostitution in the Maldives, then-Gender Minister Azima Shukoor revealed in May 2013 that children were “being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade.”

In June 2013, multiple sources told Minivan News that child prostitution was prevalent in the country, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively exploiting their children.

A study focusing on Laamu atoll conducted by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, showed that child prostitution was so “common” among minors that it was considered a normal activity.

She identified a “gradual process” of minors being “groomed” by adults via the internet and/or social media, with children taken to known “spots” and introduced to those involved in the sex trade.

In other instances, the minors are pushed to provide nude photos, and then emotionally blackmailed with threats that the pictures will be posted on the web, and ultimately recruited into prostitution.

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Three more suspects arrested in Fuvahmulah child prostitution case

Three more suspects have been arrested in connection with a child prostitution ring uncovered in Fuvahmulah last week.

The police said in a statement today that the suspects taken into custody last night included two men aged 24 and 25 as well as a 21-year-old woman.

The Fuvahmulah magistrate court has ordered the men to be held in remand detention for 15 days and the woman for 10 days.

The 24-year-old suspect has a criminal record for theft and damaging property, the police said. He had previously been arrested twice and questioned 18 times.

Two cases involving the 25-year-old have meanwhile been sent for prosecution. He has been arrested twice previously on charges of rape and theft.

On Friday, ten men were arrested in Fuvahmulah on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing children into prostitution. An additional suspect was arrested yesterday.

The girls were reportedly tricked into using drugs and filmed naked by the suspects, who then threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minors.

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Police deny rumoured pregnancy of Fuvahmulah child prostitution victim

Underaged female victims of a child prostitution ring uncovered in Fuvahmulah last week are not pregnant despite media reports to the contrary, the police have said.

Chief Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed told the press today that the 16-year-old and 14-year-old girls have undergone pregnancy tests.

The police began investigating the case on July 5 based on intelligence information, Rasheed said, and 11 men have been arrested so far on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing children into prostitution.

Ten suspects were taken into custody on Friday. The Fuvahmulah magistrate court granted 15-day extensions of remand detention the following day.

The eleventh suspect was arrested today and police are searching for more suspects.

Rasheed revealed that five of the suspects have criminal records for assault, theft, drug abuse, and sexual offences.

The suspects are all Maldivian men aged between 20 and 55, he said, and include those who forced the children into prostitution and others involved in the prostitution ring.

Rasheed did not reveal any further details.

CNM reported yesterday that the police began investigating the case upon learning that the 16-year-old victim of the prostitution ring was pregnant. Sources from Fuvahmulah meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the girls gave police a list of 50 suspects.

According to CNM, the Fuvahmulah hospital had alerted the police and the gender department last week, prompting an immediate investigation on the island.

The girls were tricked into using drugs and filmed naked, CNM reported. The men threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minor.

In February 2014, seven men were arrested from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll on suspicion of forcing a 16-year-old girl into child prostitution.

In the first official acknowledgement of child prostitution in the Maldives, then-Gender Minister Azima Shukoor revealed in May 2013 that children were “being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade.”

In June 2013, multiple sources told Minivan News that child prostitution was prevalent in the country, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively exploiting their children.

A study focusing on Laamu atoll conducted by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, showed that child prostitution was so “common” among minors that it was considered a normal activity.

She identified a “gradual process” of minors being “groomed” by adults via the internet and/or social media, with children taken to known “spots” and introduced to those involved in the sex trade.

In other instances, the minors are pushed to provide nude photos, and then emotionally blackmailed with threats that the pictures will be posted on the web, and ultimately recruited into prostitution.

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Mother confesses to abusing murdered three-year-old baby

A mother accused of murdering her three-year-old boy has confessed to killing the child at the first hearing of her trial today.

Afiya Mohamed Manik told the court that she repeatedly abused her son, Mohamed Ibthihaal, and said she felt anger towards the boy because he was born out of wedlock.

In addition to murder, Afiya was also charged with disobedience to order over child abuse and neglect with reference to the law on protecting children’s rights. She appeared for today’s hearing without legal representation and pleaded guilty to the latter charge, but also confessed to the murder.

Ibthihaal died “by my hands,” Afiya was quoted as saying by local media. She confessed to strangling the child and kicking his chest three times.

Judge Muhthaz Fahmy reportedly stopped Afiya and reminded her that she was to answer the disobedience to order charge. The judge and state prosecutor explained the charge to Afiya.

Afiya said she understood the charge and was confessing to abusing her son voluntarily.

The charge carries a penalty of six months in jail.

Reporters at the hearing observed that Afiya appeared calm, but her voice trembled when she spoke of abusing Ibthihaal on the day of his death. She was handcuffed throughout the hearing.

At today’s hearing, the judge offered Afiya the opportunity to appoint a lawyer at the state’s expense and explained the process of seeking a public defender. He did not announce a date for the next hearing.

If she is found guilty of murder, Afiya faces a sentence of life imprisonment. She had reportedly confessed to murder during the police interrogation and her remand hearings.

Ibthihaal’s body was found with signs of severe abuse on January 28 in the worst case of child abuse in recent years. The horrific murder on the island of Rakeedhoo in Vaavu atoll shocked the nation while reports that the authorities had been aware of Ibthihaal’s abuse sparked public outrage.

Afiya was arrested for murder two days later and has since been held in pre-trial detention.

Afiya’s stepfather, Ismail Raoof, was arrested on April 1 on suspicion of physically and sexually abusing Ibthihaal.

In April, Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh said negligence by government authorities and the island community on Vaavu Rakeedhoo was partly responsible for the toddler’s murder.

Satheeh said marks on the child’s neck indicated that he had been strangled.

Police also found swelling on the right side of his forehead, scrapes on his face, wounds on his right ear and scars all over his body. Some of his ribs were broken as well.

Satheeh said Ibthihaal’s death was caused by “major injuries” while some older scars remained unhealed.

“Mohamed Ibthihal had received physical and psychological harm from different individuals on different occasions, for a long period of time,” he said.

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Five arrested for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl

Five men have been arrested in southern Addu City on a charge of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.

The police said the five men arrested were aged, 81, 77, 56, 32 and 18 years.

Some were family members of the victim.

A court has remanded the five for 15 days.

A magistrate court in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Gahdhoo has meanwhile sentenced a 25-year-old man to ten years in jail for sexually abusing another 14-year-old girl in 2010.

 

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New child abuse prevention campaign launched

The ministry of gender and law in association with UNICEF has launched a new child abuse prevention programme, Ahan, to increase awareness of child rights and reporting of child abuse.

The campaign was launched on the occasion of international children’s day, which is marked across the world today.

State minister for gender Dr Haala Hameed said the reporting of child abuse cases has increased four-fold within the past four years. The ministry has set up a hotline 1412 for child abuse reporting.

Minivan News was unable to obtain the exact number of cases reported in the past four years at the time of going to press. According to previous figures by NGO, Advocating for the Rights of Children (ARC), 388 cases of child abuse were reported between January and November 2014.

Majority of reported cases relate to sexual and physical abuse, Haala said.

“In one sense, the increase in reporting is positive. It indicates an increase in awareness among the public,” she said.

Haala said the ministry has received complaints people are unable to contact them through the hotline, but said the ministry is “looking for ways to fix it.”

Police figures show 577 cases of sexual abuse in 2012, 573 in 2013 and 475 in 2014. Majority of the cases relate to sexual abuse of children. Meanwhile, domestic violence cases amounted to 179 in 2012, 207 in 2013 and 186 in 2014.

The human rights watchdog has previously said only a small proportion of reported child abuse cases gain justice and said many victims remain re-victimized due to systemic failures.

“Most prevalent challenges include delays in obtaining evidence and overly strict evidentiary requirements,” the HRCM said in a report to the UN human rights council in September.

The HRCM also noted that societal attitudes that treat child abuse as a private matter or that force child abuse victims to deny testimony in court in order to protect family honor prevent victims from gaining justice.

The state is yet to establish a registry of child sexual offenders, the commission noted, and said the child protection system is weak in the Maldives as it is under resourced, with inconsistencies in capacity and coordination.

In a statement today, the HRCM called for justice for child abuse victims and a system to monitor perpetrators once they are released.

Attorney general Mohamed Anil today said a “holistic approach” is needed to tackle child abuse.

“Awareness is also one very important component, we also need to improve the state authorities, give them better equipment, better training, strengthen relations between all related institutions, and improve monitoring mechanisms,” he said.

He also noted the importance of strengthening laws related to child rights and said his office has drafted a new child protection bill. A new juvenile justice system bill will also be ready by August, he said.

“But not having the necessary laws is not a reason to let these issues slide,” he said.

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Inter-generational violence and state negligence led to Ibthihaal murder, says police

Inter-generational violence and state negligence led to the abuse and death of three-year-old Mohamed Ibthihaal in January, police have said.

Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh said negligence by government authorities and the island community on Vaavu Rakeedhoo was partly responsible for the toddler’s murder.

“Investigating the death is not enough, wide investigation into circumstances surrounding his death is also important,” Satheeh told the press on Thursday.

Ibthihaal’s body was found with signs of severe abuse on January 28 in the worst case of child abuse in recent years. The murder shocked the nation while reports that officials had been aware of Ibthihaal’s abuse sparked public outrage.

The boy’s mother, Fathmath Afiya, was arrested for murder two days later and has since been held in remand detention.

Afiya’s stepfather, Ismail Raoof, was arrested on April 1 on suspicion of physically and sexually abusing Ibthihaal.

Satheeh said marks on the child’s neck indicated that he had been strangled.

Police also found swelling on the right side of his forehead, scrapes on his face, wounds on his right ear and scars all over his body. Some of his ribs were broken as well.

Satheeh said Ibthihaal’s death was caused by “major injuries” while some older scars remained unhealed.

“Mohamed Ibthihal had received physical and psychological harm from different individuals on different occasions, for a long period of time,” he said.

Police explained that Ibthihaal had been under the care of his maternal grandmother from the age of one and lived with her in Vaavu Keyodhoo and Meemu Madduvari.

Afiya’s stepfather is suspected of having abused Ibthihaal at the time.

Seven months before his death, Ibthihaal was brought back to Rakeedhoo to live with his mother, where his psychological and physical abuse continued.

Afiya had two other children at the time and is accused of mistreating Ibthihaal, neglecting to feed or wash the boy.

Satheeh said Afiya’s husband, Ibthihaal’s step father, took care of the boy.

On the day before his death, Afiya had not fed Ibthihaal after giving the boy a glass of juice. His stepfather fed him after coming home that night, Satheeh said.

Police suggested that Afiya’s anger towards her son stemmed from rumours surrounding his birth. Ibthihaal was reportedly born out of wedlock.

During her interrogation, Afiya confessed to severely beating Ibthihaal after waking up in the morning “because of the anger she had towards him”.

Afiya said she called for help when she saw no movement from the child.

Local media has reported that Afiya was also a victim of sexual abuse.

Afiya’s stepfather, Raoof, had previously been banished by the Vaavu Keyodhoo court after being found guilty of abusing a step-child. Afiya was reportedly the victim of the abuse.

Negligence

In its submission to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, the human rights watchdog said children born out of wedlock face discrimination in the Maldives.

Illegitimate children were denied their father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives said.

The commission noted that the absence of requisite procedures, inconsistencies in institutional applications and lack of sensitivity among law enforcement and judiciary towards domestic violence are fundamental issues faced in implementation of Domestic Violence Act.

Limited capacity of investigators and their belief that such cases are family matters inhibit victims from getting redress.

“Reporting of domestic violence cases remain low as a result of lack of confidence in the system, fear of intimidation by perpetrators, stigmatisation and inadequate information on protection measures,” the commission stated.

“Violence against children takes place in all settings. Only a small proportion of reported child abuse victims gets justice and remains re‐victimised due to systemic failures.”

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Police uncover four child abuse rings

Police have uncovered four child abuse rings across the country involving at least 33 male minors between the ages of 14 and 18.

Chief Superintendent Mohamed Riyaz said the cases involved homosexual adult men preying on minors, and that it was likely that more children could be involved.

Only one arrest has been made so far.

The boys were lured through interactions on social media and the internet, said the head of the north wing of the divisional operations command.

“In some of these cases, we have noted that the children were used to bring their friends into this,” he said.

Appealing for parents to be more vigilant of their children’s online activities, Riyaz said “special measures” are needed from parents, schools and the community at large to combat child sexual abuse.

In most cases, Riyaz said individuals with a history of sexual offences befriends children on the internet.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rates of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.

Police could not reveal further details including which islands the cases were reported from as the investigation was ongoing, Riyaz said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Zenysha Shaheed Zaki, executive director of Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC), said the child protection NGO has launched a ‘Surf Sm@art’ campaign in February targeting internet safety for children.

“Our hope is that children can be taught to safely use the internet in an age appropriate manner,” she said.

In some cases, Zenysha said parents stop their children from using the internet, which she says is not a “realistic” solution.

Children should instead be taught to use the internet safely and be warned of the dangers, she suggested.

ARC is in the process of developing content for awareness material for social media, television and radio clips, and workshops for parents and teachers, she added. The sessions are expected to begin in June.

Telecommunications service provider Dhiraagu and cable TV service provider Medianet have sponsored the campaign for a one-year period.

Meanwhile, in a high-profile case in November 2009, a 38-year-old pedophile was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for 39 counts of child sexual abuse.

Hussain Fazeel was initially arrested for smuggling alcohol, but police discovered a hard drive containing a large quantity of images and videos of Fazeel having sex with underaged boys, some as young as 10. In other videos, the boys were made to had sex with each other.

Fazeel was charged before ratification of the Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act, which carries penalties of up to 25 years.

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Child abuse suspect arrested in Fuvahmulah

A 37-year-old man has been arrested from Fuvahmulah Island on suspicion of child abuse on Friday.

According to the Maldives Police Services, an arrest warrant was issued after the Family and Child Protection Services Unit on Fuvahmulah reported a case of sexual abuse of a child.

“Since cases of child abuse are increasing, we advise all parents and guardians to pay special attention and protect innocent children from such harm. We also suggest that, even if you suspect anyone of such acts of harm, to do everything you can to protect the child and report it to the authorities,” the police urged.

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