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.