The Ministry of Health and Family has today condemned some islanders on Dhidhoo, Haa Alifu Atoll, for what it has called the “inhumane treatment” of a 13-year old school girl.
The girl in question is an alleged victim of a sexual abuse case involving eight men, including two under the age of 18. The case came to light in April and was under police investigation.
The Health Ministry has hit out at the reported treatment of the girl by members of the local community that have been accused of trying to block her from returning to public education.
“Even if it’s the actions of a few, we are saddened to see that at a time when the girl is already undergoing physical and mental trauma, there are people who attempt to deprive the [alleged victim] of her basic rights and inflict more trauma,” the ministry stated in a press release.
After a long period of absence from public education, the girl attended school yesterday. However, a group of islanders barged into her class and removed her chair in an attempt to get her out of school, according to local news service, Haveeru.
She reportedly remained in class without a chair during the morning, and when she left school at interval time, the same group went and locked the entire building in an attempt to stop her from returning. Police confirmed that they had “received reports of the closure of the Dhidhoo School” and had later re-opened it.
The school’s role
One local islander, who wished to use a false name to protect her identity, told Minivan News that there had been concerns about the alleged victim’s return to her school.
“Most islanders object to the fact that she is able to go back, while the school goers among the male suspects involved in the case are barred from [attending],” said Aiminath Sheenaz,18, a resident of the island.
Sheenaz said that when the abuse case first came to light, after a couple of days the girl did attend school. However, she added that disturbances created by some islanders had led to her staying home.
“The Ministry of Education informed the school to take her back that’s why she was in school yesterday,” Sheenaz claimed.
The principal of Dhidhoo school, Hussain Badheeu, was not answering calls when contacted by Minivan News and was unable to confirm the reports.
However, according to the press release published by the Health Ministry, the school had asked the alleged victim’s parents not to send her to back until the investigation was complete.
“When this ministry became aware of this, we contacted the relevant authorities and requested they facilitate her return to school,” the release stated. “Education is a basic right, and after concluding the alleged victim is not at fault for what happened, the Ministry of Education asked the school to take her back.”
Despite the ministry’s verdict, Sheenaz said that some islanders believed it remains unfair that the alleged perpetrators can’t attend school.
“It was consensual. She did all that, fornicated with so many men,” she added.
Although being closer in age to the alleged victim, Sheenaz claimed she was also convinced of the 13 year old’s “willing participation” in these acts, adding that this was the prevailing belief of most islanders also. When the eight men suspected of having involvement with the case were first arrested, a group of islanders protested and called on the police to release the group that resulted in clashes.
Asked if attitudes about the case were likely to change in the future if the court case went on to prove that the male suspects had sexually abused the girl, Sheenaz was adamant that it would be impossible.
“A lot of people have given assurances that the girl agreed to the sexual acts,” she said. The fact that these assurances apparently originate from the alleged suspects themselves does not seem to make a difference to these attitiudes.
The President of Dhidhoo council declined to comment on the issue when contacted by Minivan News.
However, it is believed that both the suspects and the victim are presently living on the same island at present. Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that the suspects implicated in the case were freed after a court had ordered their release.
The sub-inspector added that the investigation had now been completed, with the case expected to be sent to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office very soon.
Shiyam said that the reported disturbance that occured in Dhidhoo concerning the case would be investigated and action taken against anyone who threatens fellow members of the public.
The Health Ministry has also bemoaned the lack of organisations such as NGOs advocating the rights of the alleged victim or voicing concern about the treatment she has received on her island.
“Actions like this by the public – hindering the girl from attending school – even if it involves [a few people], encourages perpetrators of similar crimes to repeatedly offend,” said the ministry press release. “We call upon everyone to stand up against injustice like this and work towards protecting the rights of the victims.”
Official police figures given to Minivan News this week indicated that a total of 163 sexual abuse cases were reported last year. By comparison, the same statistics also revealed that 108 sexual abuse cases had been reported up to the end of May 2011.
According to these figures, 30 of these cases allegedly involved victims aged between two to 12 years.