Between December 2010 and October 2011, 1,138 cases of child abuse were reported to the Gender Department from atoll family and children service centres.
1,005 cases involved minors while 133 cases involved victims aged 18 and above.
A majority of cases (348) involved children aged 11 to 15; 30 percent of these cases were classified as sexual abuse.
Approximately one-third of the 81 cases involving children less than one year old involved neglect. Sexual abuse was reported in a quarter of the 192 cases for age group one to five, and in a fifth of the 230 cases age group five to ten.
Acting Head of the Child and Family Protection Services Aishath Ahmed said the report said more about the record keeping system than the issue itself.
“I would say the statistics show an improvement in the reporting system because people are more aware of how to file a report. I don’t think the situation is getting better, as far as I know the number of cases is increasing,” she said, explaining the report only accounted for cases reported.
However, Ahmed said people are less hesitant about filing reports than they were five years ago.
“Back then people didn’t want to report the cases, they didn’t want to get involved in other people’s business. But now they can report anonymously,” said Ahmed, explaining that island residents were also filing reports more regularly.
“Before, some people believed that only sexual penetration constituted child abuse,” she explained. “Now, they know more about the different kinds of abuse. The definition of sexual abuse is also clearer, so they can distinguish.”
Child abuse cases are divided between four categories: sexual, physical, psychological and neglect. Statistics show that 57 percent of abuse cases reported were physical. Ahmed said the second most common form of abuse was neglect (17.4 percent).
Family problems such as domestic violence, runaways and complications due to divorce were identified in 14.1 percent of the cases. Behavioral problems including teen pregnancy, self-mutilation, attempted suicide and anger management accounted for another 14 percent of reported cases.
In it’s own report, Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM) yesterday said its offices had received 500 complaints of human rights violations in the past year, 74 of which involved the social protection of children, elderly and disadvantaged people.
HRCM is one of several organisations with which individuals may file a report on child abuse in the Maldives.
A report submitted to the United Nations by HRCM in July this year found that physical discipline in some schools qualifies as abuse.
“For instance, the investigation carried out by HRCM on Lale’ International School (2010) made apparent that number of students experienced physical and psychological abuse in the school. Some of the findings include abuses such as strangling and whipping children with belts. The findings of HRCM were further validated when the Criminal Court in August 2010 found the former principal of the school, guilty of assaulting children and sentenced him to pay Rf200 (US $12.97 ) as fine under article 126 of the Penal Code.”
Staff of Lale’ School, including the deputy principle, fled the Maldives in 2010 over allegations of child abuse and other misconducted, which was investigated by HRCM.
Article 10 of the Law on Protection of the Rights of the Child states that punishment in schools should be age-appropriate and should not affect them physically or psychologically.
According to Ahmed, child abuse has a lasting impact on the individual and the community.
The aftermath of abuse can vary by the age of the victim and the severity of the treatment. “If a child has experienced repeated sexual abuse, then as the child approaches sexual maturity she or he may have a difficult time adjusting within the age group. Physically abused children may also develop violent habits in their own marriages later in life,” said Ahmed.
Abusive behavior can also impact children’s social development. “It affects education as well. Children who have been abused sometimes can’t cope with their peers, and they might lash out or withdraw. They may have a hard time paying attention in school,” she explained.
HRCM’s report said the Ministry of Education (MoE) acknowledged that school monitoring and inspection was insufficient.
“Due to the fact that corporal punishment is existent in the education system, it is important that the MoE come up with a discipline policy where it could provide clear guidelines disciplinary actions/corrective measures in schools. It is equally significant that all staffs, including teachers are sensitized to the rights of the child and other related rights that are relevant while working in the education sector.”
HRCM’s action plan includes the public outreach campaign ‘Every Neglect is an Abuse’. The commission has also released handouts informing citizens of the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), of which the Maldives is a signatory.
Last week, the Maldives recognised “World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse: Every Neglect is an Abuse“. Children’s festivals were organised by government groups and NGOs including the Child Abuse Prevention Society (CAPS), HRCM, the Ministry of Education, the Department of Gender and Family, Maldives Police Service, Care Society, Maldives Autism Association, Maldives Red Crescent and Tiny Hearts.
Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who attended both events, said the efforts to raise public awareness of child abuse was an indicator of Maldivian society’s growing concern over the issue. Listing the four categories of abuse–physical, sexual, psychological and neglect–he urged parents not be overly-critical of their children.
When asked if there were sufficient resources for the Maldivian community to address child abuse, Ahmed said the network is growing.
“People can contact the police, NGOs, HRCM, and there’s a Family Protection Unit in IGMH [Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital]. The cases are also forwarded to us, and we review them to see how best to address them,” she said.
Ahmed explained that a series of interviews, visits and follow-up reports are conducted to evaluate a claim. Sometimes the situation is not as severe as initially reported. “We may close a case when we feel there is no further assistance we can provide, but we rarely close a case.”
Child and Family Protection Services will be working to create more awareness throughout the year. A more specific action plan has not yet been drawn up.