Close to two hundred arrests have been made by police this year alone on allegations of child abuse.
The latest such arrest was on Wednesday, when a father was charged with sexually abusing his own daughter.
A total of 198 arrests were made for child abuse cases from the beginning of the year to the end of September 2010.
Though the charges are all of crimes against children, the type of abuse varied greatly. Children had been kidnapped, falsely imprisoned, sexually abused, abandoned and assaulted. One had been killed.
The most common among all types of crimes against children is that of sexual abuse. 131 of the 198 arrests made by police this year for crimes against children were for sexual offences.
A Gender Ministry report on women’s health and well-being, an academically rigorous and groundbreaking countrywide survey of Maldivian women produced in 2007, revealed that over 12 percent of Maldivian women between the age of 15 and 49 are sexually abused as a child.
Almost ten percent of women’s first sexual experience is either forced or coerced, the report shows. The younger the woman is, according to the report, the more likely that her first sexual experience is forced on her or that she is coerced into it.
The crime of child abuse is most common in Male’. More than 16 percent of girls in Male’ under the age of fifteen are sexually abused, four percent higher than the national average.
The national average stands at 12 percent – of every 100 Maldivian girls under the age of fifteen, twelve are sexually abused.
For almost two-thirds of these girls, 60 percent, the experience is not a one off, but repetitive and prolonged. Most perpetrators of the crime, according to the report, are male family members of the children.
The second most common perpetrators are male acquaintances of the family, neighbours, teachers or religious leaders.
In August this year, renowned Qary Hussein Thaufeeq, a leader of Friday prayers and a teacher of Qur’an to children on national television, was arrested on multiple charges of child sex abuse. He has since been transferred to house arrest.
24 percent of girls under the age of 15 who were sexually abused were victims of strangers while for eight percent of the girls, the perpetrators were their fathers or stepfathers.
The Gender Ministry report also shows that a quarter of Maldivian women become sexually active between the ages of 15 and 17, before the legal adult age.
Six percent of female Maldivians are under the age of 15 when they have their first sexual experience. For many of them, the experience is forced or coerced.
From comparisons with similar research done by the WHO on 11 other countries, the Gender Ministry report also reveals that only two other countries – Namibia and Peru – have areas with higher rates of child sexual abuse than Male’.
The density of the island’s population, which forces girls into sharing sleeping space with a large number of people, especially older males, is one of the main factors the report identifies as contributing to the frequency of the crime in Male’, the report says.
Girls who are forced to travel to Male’ to study and have to board with relatives, friends and strangers are also identified in the report as being particularly vulnerable.
The fact that the most common type of child sex offender is a male family member may contribute to its high rates in Male’, the report says.
“Perhaps in Male’, where extended families live together, often in crowded conditions, young women and girls are more at risk from their male family members that they live with”, it says.
International research into the impact of child sexual abuse has shown that victims of child sex abuse are likely to become afflicted by a large number of behavioural and psychological problems including negative impact on reproductive health, relationship problems, sexual dysfunction, depression, thoughts of suicide, deliberate self-harm as well as substance abuse and sexual risk taking.
The penalty for child sex abuse, according to the Child Sex Abuse (Special Provisions) Act, is 10-14 years but can be extended to 15-18 years if the accused was in a position of trust with the children he allegedly abused. The new Act is not retroactive, and its sentencing does not apply to child abuse crimes committed before it was implemented.