February 7 and 8, 2012, was the beginning of a very violent period in the recent history of the Maldives inflicted by its own people, the police and the army, on unarmed civilians, writes former Deputy Health Minister Mariya Ali for Child Rights International Network.
The first democratically elected president was deposed in a coup d’état on February 7. Since then non-violent protests have continued mainly in the streets of the capital city, Male. So far, 412 people have been detained as political prisoners.
Testimonies of male and female detainees confirm that varying degrees of physical, mental and sexual abuse were perpetrated by the police. Violence from the police has been witnessed by children either through their families being directly affected by it or via images on television. Children who witness violence are traumatised with varying degrees of psychological damage that they carry throughout their lives.
This year, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) celebrated Maldivian Children’s Day in their full army clothing, with a designated area created to look like a war zone, and with officers helping children to hold real firearms correctly in their hands and showing them how to use them. Although the MNDF declared that the firearms were not loaded, it failed to recognise the timing and the symbolic message behind the event.
Against the backdrop of continuing violence, growing religious extremism in the island paradise, combined with the message from the current President Mohamed Waheed – “Be courageous. Today you are all mujaheddin [those who fight jihad] who love the nation” – children are internalising the use of violence as a norm.