New child abuse prevention campaign launched

The ministry of gender and law in association with UNICEF has launched a new child abuse prevention programme, Ahan, to increase awareness of child rights and reporting of child abuse.

The campaign was launched on the occasion of international children’s day, which is marked across the world today.

State minister for gender Dr Haala Hameed said the reporting of child abuse cases has increased four-fold within the past four years. The ministry has set up a hotline 1412 for child abuse reporting.

Minivan News was unable to obtain the exact number of cases reported in the past four years at the time of going to press. According to previous figures by NGO, Advocating for the Rights of Children (ARC), 388 cases of child abuse were reported between January and November 2014.

Majority of reported cases relate to sexual and physical abuse, Haala said.

“In one sense, the increase in reporting is positive. It indicates an increase in awareness among the public,” she said.

Haala said the ministry has received complaints people are unable to contact them through the hotline, but said the ministry is “looking for ways to fix it.”

Police figures show 577 cases of sexual abuse in 2012, 573 in 2013 and 475 in 2014. Majority of the cases relate to sexual abuse of children. Meanwhile, domestic violence cases amounted to 179 in 2012, 207 in 2013 and 186 in 2014.

The human rights watchdog has previously said only a small proportion of reported child abuse cases gain justice and said many victims remain re-victimized due to systemic failures.

“Most prevalent challenges include delays in obtaining evidence and overly strict evidentiary requirements,” the HRCM said in a report to the UN human rights council in September.

The HRCM also noted that societal attitudes that treat child abuse as a private matter or that force child abuse victims to deny testimony in court in order to protect family honor prevent victims from gaining justice.

The state is yet to establish a registry of child sexual offenders, the commission noted, and said the child protection system is weak in the Maldives as it is under resourced, with inconsistencies in capacity and coordination.

In a statement today, the HRCM called for justice for child abuse victims and a system to monitor perpetrators once they are released.

Attorney general Mohamed Anil today said a “holistic approach” is needed to tackle child abuse.

“Awareness is also one very important component, we also need to improve the state authorities, give them better equipment, better training, strengthen relations between all related institutions, and improve monitoring mechanisms,” he said.

He also noted the importance of strengthening laws related to child rights and said his office has drafted a new child protection bill. A new juvenile justice system bill will also be ready by August, he said.

“But not having the necessary laws is not a reason to let these issues slide,” he said.