The Maldives has no laws governing adoption as the practice is forbidden under Islam, Minivan News learned yesterday during an investigation of the staff shortages at the Kudakudhinge Hiya orphanage in Vilingili.
State Minister for Health and Family Mariya Ali explained that the courts permit a “long-term guardianship” as there is no ‘formal’ adoption law in the Maldives.
One consequence of this ‘informal’ system is that the Maldives maintains a reservation regarding adoption after signing the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Communications Officer for UNICEF Humaida Abdulghafoor said there is no adoption law in the Maldives “but it is being looked into right now.”
“The Maldives has a reservation on adoption in the Conventions for the Right of the Child (CRC), but culturally, we have an informal system where extended families will look after a child if his or her parents cannot do so.”
“There is no formal structure,” she said, “and the laws are not very strong.”
Mariya explained that if a child cannot be cared for by his or her parents, the court must look for next of kin.
“According to the Family Law, there are a number of people they must check first,” she explained.
If no one is found to care for the child, then they must be placed under care of the state, but the Ministry tries not to remove children from their homes if at all possible, she said.
Mariya explained that a study carried out by the ministry on adoption under Islam identified that “clearly the Western form of adoption cannot happen.”
In the Western form of adoption, a child takes his or her adoptive parents’ surname, “but in Islam that cannot happen.”
The alternative is long-term fostering: “We want the children to know their roots, which means there won’t be any corruption of lineage.”
But this has no guarantees of permanence, and finding adequate foster care is a long process.
“It is up to us to find parents who don’t have a history of sexual abuse, who don’t have a history of fraud, who don’t have a history of other offences,” Mariya explained, meaning the ministry had to do an assessment of every person who came forward wanting to foster a child.
She said the process of assessment can take up to six months – “It is very difficult for us to find a home for a child because we don’t have proper legislation to support us.”
In the meantime, the ministry has now completed regulations on minimum standards for children’s homes. Mariya said now that the costing for these guidelines to be implemented is finished, “this week we will send it to the Attorney General’s office, who will then table it in Parliament.”
“As soon as this comes through it will be a guiding document for the workers,” she said.
Mariya explained that due to staff shortages at the ministry, there was a backlog of cases waiting to be processed.
“There is only one staff member doing the case work,” she said, adding that they were hoping to get some assistance from NGOs in fast-tracking the case work.
“Ideally, babies need to be placed with carers before they’re one year old. This is the year when they form attachments,” she noted. “For children to form healthy attachment, we need to place them soon.”
She said the ministry had expressed its concerns over staff shortages many times, but “have not had any feedback about whether we’re going to get more staff or not.”
Another issue is age: “Most carers and most families that come forward want babies,” Mariya said, adding that “very few want an older child.”
Because babies need be placed with a family as soon as possible, issuing the cases quickly is essential.
She said “most of the time parents want to be given the child permanently, “which takes even longer. If they request for temporary fostering we could at least place the child with the parents and then proceed with the process, but right now we don’t get such offers.”
Kudakudhinge Hiya children’s home in Vilingili was started in 2006 and is a state-run initiative managed by the Ministry of Health and Family. They are currently caring for 51 children and is the only government institution of its kind in the country.
Minivan News reported yesterday that there was a shortage of cooks. Community Health Officer at Kudakudhinge Hiya, Iyaz Jadulla Naseem, said the staff shortage was due to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) removing the post of cook from civil service.
Spokesperson for the CSC Mohamed Fahmy Hassan said there are still some offices and institutions which have cooks working under the CSC, “but not island offices” because the post of cook had been “abolished by the Ministry of Home Affairs.”
“A children’s shelter is under the Ministry of Health and Family,” Fahmy said, “and therefore, if they require a cook, I’m sure the CSC would appoint someone.”
He said the home’s administration had to make a request, which then had to be submitted by the Ministry of Health and Family to the CSC.
“They are in a special category, and any post that is required to safeguard the children will be created.”
Mariya Ali said the recent staff shortage “was due to downsizing” and added the ministry has “brought up the issue of staff shortage eight times” in meetings at the ministry.
“It is dangerous not to have enough staff [in a children’s home],” she said. “The CSC has a blanket formula… there are actually not a lot of staff taking care of the children.”
Mariya said the corporate sector was also helping the ministry, and “one major resort operator is willing to give us a doctor who will be visiting the facility regularly.”
On the issue of the cooks, she said the ministry has “advertised and approached the corporate sector to ask if they are able to give us a temporary solution to the cook, but they have not given us an answer.”
A helping hand
There are several ways to help Vilingili Orphanage. Mariya said there are two funds at the moment, and there is a donation box at Kudakudhinge Hiya, one at Hulhumalé ferry terminal and one at IGMH.
“Or people can approach us directly [at the Food and Drug Authority building] and we will direct them where to go.”
Mariya said setting up a pay-pal account for people to make deposits into the fund’s bank account was “a great idea” and she would look into it.
“We are also planning a sponsor a child campaign,” she said, which would hopefully ease the strain on the government to care for all the children at Vilingili.
“It is the responsibility of all of us to care for these children,” Mariya said.
She added that she hopes “different corporate sectors and even the public, individuals, can come forth and say to us ‘we are willing to cover the staff costs for one person.’ Then we could have enough staff.”
She noted the corporate sector is already sponsoring staff at the Ministry of Health and Family to go on a training course in England with UK-based children’s charity, Barnardo’s.