Minor arrested in the Fuvahmulah child prostitution case

Police have today arrested a 17 year old boy in Fuvahmulah child prostitution ring uncovered last week, police media has revealed.

All other suspects are aged 20-55 years, from Fuvahmulah and other islands. Currently 14 men and a woman have been arrested.

Two girls of ages 16 and 14 were tricked into using drugs and filmed naked, CNM reported. The men threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minors.

Sources from Fuvahmulah meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the girls gave police a list of 50 suspects.

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

The police began investigating the case on July 5 based on intelligence information, Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed told the media on Sunday.

A special  team from the Police family and child protection unit is currently  working at Fuvamulah, with the island’s police station.

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.

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of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.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

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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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10 men arrested on charges of forcing children into prostitution

Ten men have been arrested in Fuvahmulah on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing children into prostitution.

The ten suspects were taken into custody with arrest warrants between 4:00pm and 2:00am yesterday, the police said.

The Fuvahmulah magistrate court has since ordered the suspects to be held in remand detention for 15 days. The suspects included three men aged 22, two men aged 21 and a 55-year-old, 50-year-old, 41-year-old and 32-year-old.

A special investigation team from the family and child protection department together with the Fuvahmulah police station are investigating the case in the southern atoll.

The police did not reveal any further details.

According to CNM, the police began investigating the case upon learning that a 16-year-old victim of the prostitution ring was pregnant.

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

More underaged girls were among the victims of the prostitution ring, including a 14-year-old girl who is reportedly the daughter of the one of the 10 suspects.

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

The 10 suspects in custody include a guesthouse owner, businessmen, political party activists, and persons with criminal records.

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.

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.

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Week in review: February 22– 28

A tragic incident at the country’s main public hospital – IGMH – caused outrage this week as it was revealed that HIV infected blood had been given to a patient.

Profuse apologies from the Home Minister were not enough for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who accused the government of hiding the news for eight days in order to complete the celebrations of its first 100 days in power.

Earlier in the week, Minivan News was informed that certain operations at the hospital had been suspended owing to the lack of the necessary staff safety equipment. The week had begun with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid pledging US$10 million for the renovation of the Indian-built facility.

The introduction of unlimited health insurance had already been announced earlier in the week. The ambitious pledge is soon to be followed by larger pensions, both of which are set to be sustained through the issuance of government debt.

Promises for completion of the long-awaited Malé-Hulhulé bridge within two years were also given, though development of the central atolls appeared to be coming at the expense of the Addu – the country’s second-city.

High priority is being given to the housing situation of police officers, while the fisheries minister launched a training scheme for long-line fishing, arguing that deviation from the country’s traditional pole-and-line approach was important to utilise all fishing grounds.

The Supreme Court’s decision to prosecute the Elections Commission (EC) on contempt of court charges prompted alarm this week from both representatives of the EU and Maldivian civil society, who demanded the court “earn the respect of the people”.

The EU called upon the government to ensure the EC’s independence in the run up to the March 22 parliamentary elections. Despite the government’s financial restrictions on EC spending, the commission has assured that polls will be unaffected.

While on the campaign trail, the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed warned that the people of the country would not tolerate further electoral interference, labelling the ongoing court case “unjust”.

While Nasheed assured that his party does not intend to obstruct the government should it win a majority, President Yameen remained unconvinced, assuring voters that the MDP would attempt to remove him.

Yameen also rounded on the current members of the country’s legislature, arguing that the public had lost confidence in the institution. The recently jailed MP Abdulla Jabir was this week cleared of further cannabis possession charges – his lawyers have suggested his earlier conviction violated his constitutional rights.

The Criminal Court’s running feud with the Prosecutor General’s Office continued this week, with the PG’s Office accusing the court of overstepping its authority when introducing new time limits for the forwarding of cases.

In the Civil Court, a dispute over an oil trade agreement between the State Trading Organisation and Villufushi constituency MP Riyaz Rasheed was thrown out after the former’s legal team failed to show up.

Further agreements on oil trade could be on their way, however, as the the national oil company announced it was searching for outside assistance for further exploration projects.

Though well-qualified to discuss oil, Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz was reported to be visiting the Maldives in order to talk about potential investments in tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loans to the Maldives.

One avenue of Saudi investment into the country was confirmed this week, with a prominent investment firm from the kingdom making plans for a US$100 million resort in Laamu atoll.

Maldivians seeking to travel in the other way may have to delay their plans, however, after both the Civil Court and the Anti Corruption Commission ordered the Islamic Ministry to halt the awarding of contracts for Hajj trips pending investigations into the bidding process.

Elsewhere this week, the second case of forced child prostitution in the country’s southern atolls, while an inmate at Maafushi jail suffered severe head injuries during a fight with other inmates.

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Seven arrested in child prostitution case

Police arrested seven men from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll last week for allegedly forcing a 16-year-old girl into child prostitution.

Police said the seven men – between 18 to 30 years of age – were taken into custody on Wednesday night with an arrest warrant, after which the Thinadhoo magistrate court extended their remand detention to 15 days.

Police were informed on the night of February 15 that the male suspects were forcing the minor into prostitution at a guest house on the island.

Of the seven suspects in custody, police revealed that an 18-year-old had previously been arrested for child sexual abuse.

The case is currently under investigation by the Thinadhoo police station and the Gaaf Dhaalu atoll family and children service centre.

Last week, the Fuvahmulah magistrate court sentenced a 39-year-old woman to 25 years in jail for forcing a child into prostitution.

“Systemic” exploitation

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.”

“This is being practiced in the Maldives today. Both boys and girls are being used in this trade,” she stated.

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.

A former island chief explained to Minivan News that there have been cases of middle aged or elderly men providing financial support to young girls for basic necessities “and then taking advantage of the position [of benefactor].”

Reported cases typically involved low income families “with four or five children,” he said, with adolescent girls aged 16-17 often targeted.

“The children have basic needs that are not being fulfilled, so the elderly man will first gain the child’s trust with small gifts,” he explained.

“At that point he becomes her benefactor. Then he gets closer and tries to take advantage of the girl. And the girl does not have the capacity or courage to resist,” he said.

While child prostitution is more pronounced in some atolls than others, Dr Naaz said it was “a systemic problem” across the country.

In the capital Male’, explained Dr Naaz, there appeared to be an even split between families pimping out their children for economic gain versus gangs facilitating the trade for girls suffering from substance abuse problems.

“There are instances where family members may hire a room for rent, keep the children in there, and then use them to generate money through sexual activity so they can support their stay in Male’,” she said.

“Many times the parent, uncle or sibling may be involved in drug abuse and in order to get money they introduce the children to the trade,” said Dr Naaz. “On the other hand, you have people deliberately using and recruiting young girls into this and involving them in sex”.

“Sometimes – and I don’t want to put the on blame them, because it’s not every gang – there are youth groups who may keep a few girls whom they pimp.”

She also highlighted instances of mentally disabled children being abused for sexual activities by adults.

“They’re vulnerable so they’re not able to protect themselves,” she said.

Other cases were said to involve groups of women renting rooms in Male’ and “recruiting vulnerable young people who may not have their parents [in the city],” she explained. In some cases,  young girls with intellectual impairments “are taken in by these groups of women.”

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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Maldives facing widespread child prostitution, sexual abuse: clinical psychologist

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

Child prostitution in Laamu Atoll has become so “common” the underage victims of such crimes consider it “normal”, a private clinical psychologist has revealed to Minivan News.

The practice, believed by multiple sources interviewed by Minivan News to be prevalent across the Maldives, ranges from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively selling the sexual services of their children – some as young as 12.

Acknowledgement of “systemic” child sexual abuse in the Maldives, particularly prostitution, remains highly taboo, with few government institutions willing to confront the problem.

Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights Azima Shukoor made the first official acknowledgement of the practice in a statement to mark Children’s Day on May 10.

“The abuse of children is on the rise. Children 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. This is being practiced in the Maldives today. Both boys and girls are being used in this trade,” she stated.

Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, conducts psychological profiling of sexual abuse victims, as well as preventative awareness workshops, and recently completed a study focusing on Laamu Atoll.

She explained that child prostitution has become so common among minors that it is considered a normal activity, with victims even boasting about their sexual exploits at school.

“When many people do something it’s not [considered] wrong anymore. In some atolls I’ve seen this, especially in Laamu Atoll. It’s not accepted by the whole population but [it is] among the young people,” she told Minivan News.

“The children say in class ‘So you do it, you do it too, and so on, so what’s the big deal?’” Dr Naaz explained. “Some children have accepted this as something normal and as a way of life.”

Child prostitution is considered a type of sexual abuse because victims are minors under 18 years-old.

“It’s not just incest, which is happening, because in my practice I have come across cases of close relatives [who] have pushed children into prostitution,” Dr Naaz said. “Children as young as 12 or 13 years-old have been forced to partake in sexual activities,” explained Dr Naaz.

“This is sexual abuse, but people are not aware that there is sometimes monetary gain for somebody,” she added.

“Child prostitution is happening in a very subtle way. Most of the time there is an adult who is pushing the child; it may be a parent or a relative who is pimping the child,” said Dr Naaz.

Hidden in plain sight

Two cases of child prostitution in Laamu Atoll have been reported to police so far in 2012, a police source familiar with the incidents told Minivan News, on condition of anonymity.

The cases were “isolated, very difficult to [investigate]”, and there did not appear to be gang involvement or organised child prostitution ‘rings’, the source explained. The victims of child prostitution in the atoll were “typically 16 or 17 years-old”.

An island council official in Laamu Atoll told Minivan News child prostitution was resorted to by the “poorest of the poor” as a means to earn money to “fulfill basic needs of living.”

Child sexual abuse and incest occurring within some families has led to the practice being passed down through multiple generations, a civil society source researching the matter explained to Minivan News.

This history of sexual abuse has been exacerbated by overcrowding in homes following relocations after the 2004 tsunami, which in combination with severe economic hardship has led to the exploitation of children via prostitution.

During a visit to Laamu Atoll, Minivan News spoke to 51 year-old former atoll chief Abdul Wahhab Abdulla about the practice in the atoll.

Wahhab served as island chief of Gan for 25 years, atoll chief from 2008 to 2010, and was director general at the national administrative office of the South Central Province from 2011 to March 2012. He was subsequently demoted to island council director after March 2012.

Reported cases of child prostitution in the atoll were “very rare”, Wahhab said, “perhaps one case a year.”

There have been cases of middle aged or elderly men providing financial support to young girls for basic necessities “and then taking advantage of the position [of benefactor],” he explained.

“It is less child prostitution than sexual abuse,” he  continued. “I think it started after the tsunami after affected people from Mundhoo and Kalaidhoo [islands] migrated here.”

There were about four such cases of sexual abuse reported a year, he said.

In the past, Wahhab explained, island communities were smaller and people knew each other very well, making it difficult to hide crimes such as prostitution.

Reported cases typically involved low income families “with four or five children”, he said, with adolescent girls aged 16-17 often targeted.

“The children have basic needs that are not being fulfilled, so the elderly man will first gain the child’s trust with small gifts,” he explained.

“At that point he becomes her benefactor. Then he gets closer and tries to take advantage of the girl. And the girl does not have the capacity or courage to resist,” he said.

The gender department and police child and family protection services had attended to reported cases promptly, he added.

Atoll sex behaviour survey suppressed

In 2010, the gender department conducted a biological behaviour survey in Laamu Atoll focusing on child sexual abuse, homosexuality and drug use, explained the former atoll chief.

The results of the survey – which were never made public – suggested that the incidence of child abuse and homosexuality were much higher than previously expected, according to Wahhab.

The survey did not distinguish that child prostitution was occurring in Laamu Atoll at the time, he added.

Systemic exploitation nationwide

While children prostitution is more pronounced in some atolls than others, it is “a systemic problem” across the country and remains “a very, very hidden activity,” Dr Naaz explained.

The almost 10,000 participants of her sexual abuse and violence prevention workshops over the past two years had expressed particular concern that child sexual abuse, including child prostitution – is “a common problem”.

Communities from the far north to the south of the Maldives – including Male’, Haa Dhaal, Raa, Lhaviyani, and Addu Atolls – have also been affected, she said.

“People quite frequently talk about child sexual abuse, but we are not comfortable facing the finer details of this reality,” said Dr Naaz.

It was a misconception to think that Maldivians were not involved in the child sex trade, as it was “hidden and difficult to capture,” she said.

“There are people who are using young Maldivian girls in this trade, but it may not be happening at a guest house,” she explained.

Instead, this sexual exploitation occurs “more on [the victim’s] own familiar ground, in rooms and houses”, making it difficult for the authorities to identify cases, collect evidence and intervene.

The involvement of young boys in child prostitution “cannot be ruled out”, however the practice “may be even more hidden”, she added.

Children are being forced to cater to both Maldivians and expatriate workers, she said, however the rates varied with Maldivians paying upwards of MVR 700 (US$45.60) while foreigners such as Bangladeshi labourers paid MVR 150 (US$9.77) “for sexual everything”, explained Dr Naaz.

“These girls have described that the people who pay for sex with them are often very young – 21 to 25 years-old – but sometimes include elderly people,” she continued, noting that the practice had increased in the past decade.

Sophisticated industry in Male’

In the capital Male’, child prostitution has reached a “sophisticated level” and encompasses different types of sexual abuse, explained Dr Naaz, with an even split between families pimping out their children for economic gain versus gangs facilitating the trade for girls suffering from substance abuse problems.

Rather than being gang-led phenomenon, families struggling to make ends meet and economic hardship had led to the rise of a generally ad hoc child sex industry.

“There are instances where family members may hire a room for rent, keep the children in there, and then use them to generate money through sexual activity so they can support their stay in Male’,” explained Dr Naaz.

“Many times the parent, uncle or sibling may be involved in drug abuse and in order to get money they introduce the children to the trade,” said Dr Naaz. “On the other hand, you have people deliberately using and recruiting young girls into this and involving them in sex.”

“Sometimes – and I don’t want to put the on blame them, because it’s not every gang – there are youth groups who may keep a few girls whom they pimp.”

She also highlighted instances of mentally disabled children being abused for sexual activities by adults.

“They’re vulnerable so they’re not able to protect themselves,” she said.

Other cases were said to involve groups of women renting rooms in Male’ and “recruiting vulnerable young people who may not have their parents [in the city],” she explained. In some cases,  young girls with intellectual impairments “are taken in by these groups of women.”

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.

“In Male’, there have [also] been instances where a parent gets angry and tells the child to get out on the street, with the child picked up by somebody [because they are] in a helpless state,” said Dr Naaz. “Then they are taken to a guest house and used for prostitution, group sex and things like that.”

A school health counselor in Male’, who claimed to have encountered numerous cases of child prostitution, said poverty was one of the root causes of the abuse in Male.

“Mostly cases involve single parents – mums and dads – who come from the islands and try to survive in Male’,” said the counselor. “Cases where the mom lives in a guest house and facilitates prostitution for the whole family are common in Male’.”

In one specific instance, a student in Grade 7 (aged 12-13) and her sister were earning money from prostitution and giving the earnings to the family, with the parent’s knowledge, the source said.

“Children are [also] trafficked to the islands from Male’. The gender ministry cannot do anything regarding the kids because this happens at the family level and at the school level. They have no authority to say anything and are neglecting the issue,” the source alleged.

A civil society source currently investigating the practice told Minivan News that underage girls were being “groomed” by “benefactors” in Male’ and then sexually abused by the same men, which included both Maldivians and foreign nationals. The source said it is common to see teenage or adolescent girls with older men who were trying to buy sexual favors at particular shops in Male’ at the beginning of the month, around payday.

After being lured into prostitution, the children were then taken by some men to neighboring countries to engage in sexual acts, added the source.

Generations of damage

Some of the children exploited by the sex trade seek help, but the condition they are in is “very very sad”, lamented Dr Naaz. “It’s unbelievable for the Maldives.”

“Sometimes they are psychotic, mentally retarded, and they are the victims of rape, gang rape, group sex… and the child feels ‘I have no choice but to be there’ because their intellectual capacity is not [developed enough] to address that. They don’t have the skills [to get out of the situation],” she explained.

Some children also showed symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases and were being advised to seek testing and treatment, she added.

A comprehensive study is needed to determine exactly how many children are affected by this type of sexual abuse, emphasised Dr Naaz.

“I don’t think we would be different from most other societies, but the exact percentage we should determine from good research that determines the root causes,” she said.

While the exact root causes behind child prostitution – and other forms of sexual abuse – in the Maldives still need to be determined, there are some factors in addition to economic hardship that may be contributing to the practice.

“Many times Maldivians are living in very crowded environments in households where they are exposed to adult sexual activities and children learn, children get to know,” Dr Naaz speculated. “So the environment in which we are living could be one factor.”

Furthermore, “in the Maldives girls start having boyfriends at a very young age, grade 5 or 6, which is quite early. It seems more like people are indulging in sexual activities at a very young age,” she explained. “Sometimes these boyfriends may be on drugs and these boys may also be recruiting the girls into sexual activities. Young girls need to be very careful so they don’t get pushed into this.”

Children’s rights violated

Children are not aware of their rights and are not being taught or given opportunities to develop the proper social skills to protect themselves from attempted sexual abuse, including child prostitution, multiple sources emphasised to Minivan News.

“Young people should know their body is theirs and that nobody has a right to violate it. No one – no one – can violate it and there are other ways to earn money,” said Dr Naaz.

“We have to tell young people it’s not alright if your aunt [or anyone] says ‘go to that room with this boy’. Children need to be taught that this is wrong, that these are their rights that are being violated,” she emphasised. “Sometimes children don’t know this, or that they have the right to report [abuse].”

“Parents have a huge role to play, we have to monitor where our children are going. If they’re missing for long hours, we need to know where they are, and whether someone is abusing the freedom their parents have given them,” she continued.

“The child is a minor, so they may not be able to say no if they get pushed into this,” she added.

A ‘Happy Star’ program, created by Dr Naaz, details how parents can communicate to their children – in a language appropriate to children – to improve awareness about the dangers of being lured or forced into child prostitution.

She emphasised that relevant programs must be developed to protect children and teach them about their rights.

“There is a general erosion of values. People don’t seem to know where to set their limits or draw the line. We need to get back to our old values,” she said.

“When a young boy is going to school saying ‘I can’t even say my mum is not doing it, my mum is sleeping with my friend’, that reflects an erosion of values,” she said.

The civil society source investigating the practice of prostitution among young people emphasised that parents and children are “not prepared to deal with these things”.

In addition to no effective sexual education taking place, “There is also no social education occurring and when children get older they rebel because they are not given the chance to be children – instead they are forced to take tuition from age four instead of having play time,” said the source.

“There are parents trying to bring up good kids, but the victims drag other children into their bad behavior,” the source continued.

“We are neglecting the issue, making it worse because no one is dealing with these things. Hiding the issue encourages the practice to continue,” the source declared.

“This has to come out and we have to think ‘out of the box’ to stop the root causes – not just do the same things over and over,” the source added.

Authorities, government uncooperative

The Maldives Police Service had not responded to an emailed series of questions at time of press.

Meanwhile, despite stating earlier this year that the abuse and neglect of children had reached “alarming levels“, the Gender Ministry failed to respond to multiple enquiries from Minivan News regarding child prostitution over the course of this investigation.

Further interviews arranged with relevant authorities in Laamu Atoll were curtailed by the Ministry in Male, with Minivan News ordered to submit a formal letter of enquiry to the office in Male’ requesting authorisation for its staff to speak.

Minivan News submitted such a letter to the Ministry on June 16 seeking “all relevant information regarding the occurrence of child prostitution” in Laamu Atoll and nationwide, as well as a copy of the Laamu Atoll survey conducted in 2010. At time of press, the Ministry had made no response.

Minivan News also contacted Minister of Gender, Family, and Human Rights Azima Shukoor, who did not respond to calls or text messages.

State Minister Dr Aishath Rameela was also not responding to calls at time of press. Minivan News attended her office to set up an appointment directly on Wednesday (June 19), but was informed by Dr Rameela’s secretary that she was unavailable for interview because she was “very busy”.

Victims or suspected victims of sexual abuse, including child prostitution, in Laamu Atoll, can reach the Hadhdhunmathi Family and Children Service Centre on Fonadhoo Island via 771-1721 ,or by calling the Maldives Police Services at 119.

Additionally, a 24 hour toll-free Maldives Child Helpline is available on 1412.

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