Health Protection Agency plan youth services to bridge gap in sexual health education

A sexual health education pilot aimed at young people will be launched in Hulhumalé before the end of this year, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has told Minivan News.

“There is no comprehensive sexual education in the schools,” said the source. “We have to keep talking about these issues, about how to keep young people safe.”

The pilot will provide a comprehensive sexual health and general health service to all young people aged 10-24 years old.

According to the agency’s Reproductive Health Unit (RHU), the the project will attempt to bridge gaps in sexual and reproductive health services for young people.

A member of an established health service provider, who wished to remain anonymous, highlighted age-appropriate guidelines as key barriers to sexual health education.

The comments come after the body of a new-born baby was discovered in a house in Maafanu earlier this week. Local media reported that the 18-year-old mother, currently in police custody, committed infanticide after having hidden her pregnancy.

National Guidelines

The national guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Gender prohibit some elements of sexual health education – including condoms and safe sex – until students are 18-years-old.

“There is a standard which is maintained by the health sector. There are a lot of cultural and religious barriers in providing this information,” the source told Minivan News.

“Unless those issues are not tackled, the stigma in accessing [health education] will not happen.”

Reticence in the health sector is mirrored in the family sphere, argued the source, who stated that family members are reluctant to speak candidly with their children about sexual health.

“There are some views of parents that if you talk about sexual health, they might go and do it.”

With no accurate information from schools or parents, the student will often turn to peers or the internet for support on sexual health, noted the source, which results in the rapid spread of mis-information.

Religious barriers

Under the 2008 constitution the Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, with national guidelines surrounding sexual and reproductive health being strongly influenced by religion.

A report conducted by the Department of National Planning in 2013 concluded that religious beliefs had been the reason behind an increase in trends such as a preference for home schooling, refusal of vaccination and other medical services for women.

Expressing a similar view, the health sector source noted that religion had contributed to some of the barriers in delivering sexual and reproductive health education.

“That’s a huge barrier actually on sexual health education, because there’s certain beliefs on providing information, or on family planning, on safe abortion,” stated the source.

“They [religious scholars] have a lot of myths related to sexual reproductive health.”

The source suggestion that there is support for the assimilation of religion into sexual health education delivery, but that disagreements between religious scholars had meant that progress was slow.

Next steps

The RHU project is underpinned by the imminent release of their new guidelines, National Standards for Adolescent and Youth Friendly Health Services for Young People.

These guidelines outlines the key standards for health education for all young people aged 10 – 24 years, ensuring that they will “enter the productive age in the fullest possible wellbeing.”

Noting the closure of previous similar projects, such as the Youth Health Café, the RHU noted that there are a number of difficulties in launching a new healthcare service.

The RHU source also wished to remain anonymous, reflecting the strong emotions provoked by discussion of sex education.

“Convincing people to initiate something in health facility is not easy,” they stated.

“It will be difficult. At present it is very difficult, unless the person is coming seeking the services it is difficult.”

When asked if they felt that young people are getting the right information at the right age, RHU representatives responded with a firm “no”.

“Not all. They are not getting that information. As far as access, there is no access.”

Issues regarding a lack of support services for sexual and reproductive health in the Maldives have been well-documented in the past.

A report entitled ‘Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014‘, carried out by the Department of National Planning (DNP), claimed that incidents of infanticide and unsafe abortions are symptoms of a lack of sexual education in young Maldivians.

The report identified, “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents

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Police investigating death of baby in Vilimale’

Police have launched an investigation into an incident that occurred in Vilimale’ where a one month baby was found dead.

“Police were informed of the death of a baby and we are investigating the case,” a police media official told Minivan News, before declining to provide further information.

However, the official did say that police were not investigating the murder of a baby, as reported by some media outlets, but was investigating the death of a baby in Vilimale’.

Speaking to Minivan News today Director of Vilimale’ health centre, Ahmed Zahir, said that the dead body was brought to the health centre at 2:20pm yesterday.

“It was a female and one month old,” he said. “The baby was bleeding from her nose and mouth when it was brought to the health centre.”

He said the baby was then taken to Male’ after examining at the health centre.

“The baby’s mother and father was arrested as far as I am concerned,’’ he said, adding that he did not have further information on the incident.

According to local media, the incident occurred yesterday (24 March 2013) in Vilimale’, the fifth ward of Male’ city.

People who had witnessed the baby being carried to the health centre have told local newspapers that the baby was bleeding from the nose and mouth and that parts of the infant’s body were swollen in blue colour.

The papers reported that the mother of the baby had told the neighbours that the baby died after she accidentally crushed it under her body.

Sun Online quoted a member of mother’s family as saying that they knew about the incident when the baby’s mother told them the baby was dead yesterday afternoon.

The family also told the paper that the baby’s body was very hard when they touched it before it was taken to the health centre.

They also told the paper that the family members overheard the couple arguing the night before.

According to the paper, the baby was the couple’s first child and both the mother and father have previous drug related offences recorded with the police.

The corpse of a premature baby boy was discovered in Vilimale’ in May 2011, concealed inside a Coast Milk tin.

At the time police arrested a 30 year-old woman from Noonu Atoll who was the suspected mother of the baby, and a 24 year-old woman from Kaafu Atoll who was alleged to have assisted her deliver the baby prematurely.

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Maldivian youth need access to sexual reproductive health education, services: Department of National Planning

Maldivian youth need sex education and access to reproductive health services, given high numbers of unsafe abortions, rising infanticide, as well as increasing risk factors that contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, a Department of National Planning study has found.

The study examined how much human development progress has been achieved in the Maldives in terms of population and development, reproductive health and rights, gender equity, equality and empowerment of women as well as education during the period 1994 – 2012.

The thematic Programme of Action (PoA) goals were established during the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and adopted by 179 participating governments, including the Maldives. Thus, the “Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014” study was conducted under the supervision of the Department of National Planning (DNP) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Overall the study found that the Maldives has “accomplished remarkable progress” in achieving the ICPD PoA goals, with “impressive advancements in all development areas… and notable achievements in sexual and reproductive health.”

However young people and women continue to lack access to quality services, particularly in regard to sexual and reproductive health, which is putting their health at risk.

Youth comprise the largest population group in the Maldives and “[with] the number of young people entering their reproductive years on the rise, special attention to ensure that adolescents and youth are provided with sufficient knowledge about their anatomies, sexual and reproductive health, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases is needed,” stated the study.

“Access to contraceptives is limited to the married population despite overwhelming empirical evidence suggesting the need to provide contraceptive information and access to the youth population,” the study noted.

“Information must also be provided on the risks of getting pregnant in young age and of unsafe abortion,” the report continued.

“Simultaneously, it is also essential to establish more comprehensive and confidential reproductive health services which are more accessible and affordable,” the study found.

The report repeatedly noted that although information regarding reproductive health, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are technically “available to everyone regardless of age, gender and marital status…access to reproductive health services are still limited to the married population.”

However, even the married population is not always ensured access to accessible, affordable and confidential reproductive health services, according to the study’s findings.

Contraceptive use among married couples is “relatively low”, with “Only 27 percent of married women using modern methods”.

“With regard to reproductive rights, men often control decisions regarding women’s reproductive health, often based on religious and cultural grounds,” the report noted.

“[Furthermore,] the sudden growth of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking is an emerging challenge, particularly for women and young girls,” the study stated. “There have been increase towards certain trends such as preference for home schooling and refusing vaccination and other medical services for women based on religious beliefs.”

Sex, drugs, and reproductive rights

The report highlighted the “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents and youth population.”

High numbers of unsafe abortions – mostly through injections and pills – were noted as “one of the main causes of preventable maternal deaths in the country.”

Infanticide also appears to be increasing, as demonstrated by media reports of “several new born babies and few premature babies found in parks and/or buried in secluded places and/ or thrown into the sea,” said the report.

“These are clear indications for the need of life skills programmes and reproductive health education,” the study suggested. “Access and utilisation of contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies must also be advocated to minimise these issues.”

The lack of reproductive health rights and services for women and girls have also lead to observed increases in non-communicable diseases such as breast cancer and cervical cancers, according to the study.

Meanwhile, male reproductive health issues are often ignored, while “family planning and use of contraception is largely considered a woman’s responsibility.” Therefore, the study recommended strengthening awareness information and access to male reproductive health services.

In order to create the awareness needed about reproductive rights and reproductive health, the report suggested using “Carefully targeted programmes using innovative and youth friendly tools such as social media and text messaging.”

An interrelated issue includes widespread drug use and substance abuse among Maldivian youth, with cases reported to the Maldives Police Services increasing from 195 cases in 2001 to 1,160 cases in 2010, noted the study.

“The high level of drug usage coupled with the increase in commercial sex workers imposes great risks for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections and reproductive tract infections,” said the report.

The lack of sexual reproductive health access and awareness combined with risk factors including sharing needles to inject drugs, sexual activities among adolescents and youth, extramarital sex, and commercial sex workers, “could contribute to an increase in the incidence and prevalence of STIs and HIV/AIDS,” the study found.

“It is therefore crucial to educate the population on the risks of STI’s and HIV/AIDS through carefully designed behavioural change communication strategies,” the report recommended. “It is equally important to promote awareness on the availability of voluntary counseling and testing services and contraceptives such as condoms in Male’ and in regional level.”

The report recommended giving special consideration to “identify these high risks groups and provide them with the necessary information, treatment and services.”

Age appropriate sexual and reproductive health education needs to taught in schools to combat the increasing “sexual health illnesses” in the Maldives, according to the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC).

In 2012, CCHDC’s Public Health Programme Coordinator Nazeera Nazeeb revealed that studies have found high risk behaviors – including “unprotected sex, drug and alcohol abuse, homosexuality and prostitution” – are putting young people at high risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

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Couple charged with aborting child deny murder charges in court

The Criminal Court has  conducted its first hearing into charges of murder against a couple who allegedly aborted their 20-week old foetus.

The local media present at the court identified the couple as Aiminath Shaahy Aalam, 21 and Ibrahim Visam, 26, both from Addu City.

The mother Aiminath Shaahy Aalam was given the opportunity to respond to the charges and told the court she had previously stated how the incident occurred in the statement she gave to police.

The statement was read out in court, in which she confessed she had not sought medical care when she knew she was pregnant, and that she and her husband had discussed the matter and decided to abort the child. According to the statement, she confessed to taking abortion pills.

However, today in court she denied taking the pills with the intention of aborting the child and said she did not know what the pills she used were. She told the court she got the pills from a doctor working in the Dhilshaadh Clinic on Hithadhoo in Addu City.

In the statement she gave to the police investigators, she stated that her stomach had started aching at night while her husband was sleeping. She said said she woke up her husband and told him about it.

She said her husband then took off his shirt and she dropped the fetus on his shirt.

When the judge queried this, she said that she felt that something dropped on the shirt, but she didn’t see what it was, and neither did her husband showed her. Instead, he wrapped the shirt around it and put it into a plastic bag and took it away.

In  the court today, Aalam denied she was involved in killing the baby and told the judge that she wanted the state appoint a lawyer for her.

The father’s trial was also conducted today. He also denied the charges and requested the court give him time to appoint a lawyer, which the judge granted.

Police discovered the foetus buried on the beach of Maradhoo-Feydhoo in December 2012, after local witnesses reported a motorist acting suspiciously in the area, according to local media reports.

Abortion in the Maldives is illegal unless it is proved the conception is the result of rape, or that the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s health.

The Prosecutor General’s Office forwarded the couple’s case to the Criminal Court on May 2.

Police have claimed that the buried foetus was found with its heart beating, but later died after being taken to the hospital.

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Police arrest 17 year-old boy in connection with Foakaidhoo abortion case

Police have arrested a 17 year-old boy and a man in connection with the discovery of a five month-old foetus on Foakaidhoo in Shaviyani Atoll.

a case where a 17 year-old girl gave birth to a 5 month fetus on the island of Foakaidhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, according to Fokaidhoo Island Council Secretariat.

A Fokaidhoo island council member told Minivan News the father of a 17 year-old girl had called the council to inform them his daughter’s pregnancy had been terminated and she had miscarried while at home, and requested police be called to investigate the matter.

“Police arrived at the scene at 1:47am, I was among the first to go there. The baby was inside a bucket,’’ the councillor said.

Photos of the five-month old foetus in the bucket were being circulated on Maldivian social media this morning, with the head blurred.

‘’An under-age boy was arrested in connection with the case after the girl told police that he was the father of the baby,’’ the councillor said. ‘’Another man [around] 27 years of age was arrested for allegedly giving abortion pills to the girl.’’

He said the mother and daughter were placed under police custody but were later released as the girl needed to see a gynecologist.

The councilor claimed nobody on the island had noticed the girl was pregnant.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed police were investigating a case involving a 17 year-old girl who gave birth on the island of Foakaidhoo, but did not give further information.

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Abandoned baby discovered on Male’ pavement

A baby was discovered abandoned on the side of a road in the Maafannu Ward of Male’ early this morning, police have announced.

According to the Maldives Police Service, the child was discovered at 5:45am today on the pavement in front of a house called Release.

Local media has reported that the child, thought to be female, was discovered by a woman in the house after she had heard its cries. The baby was claimed to have been discovered placed on top of a plastic bag.

Authorities have confirmed that police officers were called to the scene early this morning before taking the child to Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in the capital.

A police statement has said that the child was found to be in a healthy condition by doctors at IGMH. The Police Family and Child Protection Department is now investigating the case, while no arrests in connection with the incident have been made at present.

There have been a number of recent incidents reported in the media where pregnant women have been forced to take desperate measures such as self-induced abortions, infanticide or abandoning infants.

Earlier this month, a 26-year old male and 20-year old female were reportedly arrested in connection to the discovery of a five month-old foetus buried on a beach on the island of Maradhoo Feydhoo in Seenu Atoll.

Meanwhile in June, police recovered the body of a newborn infant buried in the outdoor shower of a house on Shaviyani Feydhoo island. The baby’s mother was identified as a 15-year old school student.

Over the last two years, three other newborns have been found dead in the country.  Over the same period there has been two separate incidents where newborn children were discovered abandoned but alive.

Two foetuses were reported discovered during this two year period, one hidden in a milk tin and the other at the bottom of Male’s municipal swimming pool. Another fully-developed baby was thrown into a park having apparently been strangled with underwear tied around its neck.

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CCHDC backs sex education in schools to combat rising sexual health problems

Age appropriate sexual and reproductive health education needs to taught in schools to combat the increasing “sexual health illnesses” in the Maldives, according to the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC).

CCHDC’s Public Health Programme Coordinator Nazeera Nazeeb revealed that studies have found high risk behaviors young people – including “unprotected sex, drug and alcohol abuse, homosexuality and prostitution” – are putting them at high risk of  sexually transmitted diseases and HIV risk.

During a rapid situation assessment of drug abuse in Maldives in 2003 conducted by the Narcotics Control Board it was found that as many as 75 percent of youth surveyed have had reported having at least one sexual experience by age 21. In 2005, a similar outcome was derived in a Youth Ministry survey, which showed  that 14 percent of males and five percent of females under the legal age of 18, admitted to being sexually active.

In both of the unpublished surveys many adolescents and youth reported their sexual encounters were “without condom use”, the basic defense against  sexually transmitted diseases (STI), HIV and unwanted pregnancies.

Meanwhile, in 2008 Biological and Behavioral Survey (BBS) conducted among the five most-at-risk groups – including seafarers, men having sex with men, adolescent youths commercial sex workers, and injecting drug users  – further highlighted the magnitude of vulnerability these group face.

The report noted that unprotected sex with multiple partners is prevalent among these high risk groups and that the sharing of unsteriled needle and syringes is common among drug users. This study also found risky behaviors among the 15-17 year olds and the older youth, including buying and selling of sex for money often to finance drug use habits, sex with non-regular partners, pre-marital sex, group sex and injecting drugs.

The first anticipated outcome of these high risk behaviors were recorded in a report releases by CCHDC in 2011, which states 18 HIV positive cases were detected and over 400 cases of STIs in 2010, of which 97 percent cases involved women.

Detected STIs included chlamydia and gonorrhea – both conditions that can cause infertility if left untreated.

In addition to the heightening figures on sexually transmitted diseases, Najeeb leading the reproductive health unit of CCHDC said that the centre is witnessing an alarming increase in cases of underage and unplanned pregnancies where some girls are getting pregnant “without even knowing it”.

“These unwanted pregnancies are subsequently resulting in more unsafe abortions, baby dumping or infanticide,” she noted.

In last two years, three newborns have been found dead and two alive. The dead infants included two fetuses, one hidden in a milk tin and the other at the bottom of Male’s municipal swimming pool, while another fully-developed baby was thrown into a park having apparently been strangled by the underwear tied around its neck. Two babies were found abandoned and alive, and have now been placed under state care.

During the five year anniversary of IGMH’sFamily Protection Unit (FPU) in 2010, the hospital officials revealed that a total of 121 unmarried pregnancies were reported to the unit involving several women and girls as young as 14.

Unless it is proved that the conception is the result of rape or that the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s health, these mothers do not have the legal right to abortion and are forced to take extreme measures due to the  stigma of having a child out of marriage.

Speaking about the figures at the time, leading gynecologist at IGMH Dr Aseel Jaleel acknowledged that in such cases pregnant mothers often attempt self-induced abortions, which pose great  risks to the mother’s life and pose potential fertility problems later in life.

He reported that two women had died that year from unsafe abortions.

Meanwhile, Najeeb adds: “Not just that, sexual violence committed against girls such as sexual abuse and rapes, remain at alarmingly high levels. “In most cases, abused girls did not even know what happened them, because no one talks to them about it.”

FPU reported that the centre received 42 cases of rape over the five years, of which over half involved minors. Authorities observe that several more cases are likely to be under reported from the Male and especially from  the islands which accommodate two thirds of the Maldives’ 350,000 population.

In 2008 the Global School Based Student Health Survey (GSHS) conducted among 1516 students from secondary school signaled an astonishing amount of sexual violence: 17 percent students reported being “physically forced” to have sex.

Furthermore it found high rates of alcohol consumption (6.7 percent) and life time drug use (5.7 percent) while, almost 20 percent of students surveyed reported having suicidal tendencies.

FPU had reported that in cases of rape and abuse, victims often attempt suicide or suffer grave emotional trauma and found an evident connection between substance abuse and gender based violence.

Despite these eye-opening findings and anecdotal evidence on sexual health problems, Najeeb said that many parents feel reluctant to talk to their children about sex and drugs, while the current school curriculum provides little to no information about reproductive health, leaving adolescents and youth unguarded and vulnerable.

In an effort to provide such information, she said that Life Skill Education (LSE) program and the Youth Health Cafe’ program was initiated by the authorities, but over the years both remained active only on a small scale and had not been successful in expanding systemic outreach to vulnerable groups.

When asked whether incorporating compulsory sex education into Maldivian education system could be a solution, Najeeb responded that “adolescents must receive age appropriate reproductive health education in schools.”

She explained: “Students, except for those studying biology, have little to no information about their reproductive system. In school Islam lessons they teach students about marriage, divorce, cleansing, fornication. They are telling kids what is Haram [forbidden] and Halal [allowed]. But they are not teaching kids about the ramifications of those acts [sex] and reasons for it being forbidden.”

“Teenage years are a very explorative and experimental age. At that age, if the adolescents are not taught about the sexual and reproductive health and ramifications of high risk behaviors such as unprotected sex and drug abuse, they are likely to be more vulnerable and go astray,” Najeeb further noted.

She admitted that the suggested sex education programs in schools was a controversial subject, considering the religious and cultural background of Maldives, a 100 percent Muslim nation.

Therefore, she said authorities must together consult and come to a consensus on the subject of supporting adolescents and youth to protect their bodies and lives.

“We need to take action together. This is not a problem we can solve alone,” Najeeb concluded.

Meanwhile, in an interview to Minivan News, Former Minister for Gender and Family Aneesa Ahmed also echoed Najeeb’s suggestions: “If we can teach children about nose and ears, why can’t we teach them about their sex organs in an age appropriate manner? There is absolutely no shame in it. After all, it is also part of the human body.”

“Today the scale of of sexual abuse, unwanted and underage pregnancies, abortions and infanticide in the community has  gone to extreme levels. Everyone needs to take responsibility for this. Parents, schools and the society as a whole,” said Aneesa, recipient of this years’ US State Secretary’s Women of Courage Award.

Young girls and boys need to be educated about their responsibilities, and given means to guard their bodies and dignity, she added.

Before assuming office as Health Minister, Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, the former Director General of the CCHDC, also publicly stated his support for sex education in schools.

In a blog entry in 2010, he wrote that broader reproductive health should be taught in the schools, either incorporated to the curriculum or as a separate programme.

He wrote: “I believe that we should introduce a comprehensive sex education programme in an appropriate manner in the school. I understand that this is a sensitive terminology with a lot of misunderstanding and misconceptions associated with it. But such a programme would address vital reproductive health issues including abstinence, medically accurate and age/developmentally appropriate information about sexuality.”

Such a programme, he said, should include information on relationship, emotional relations, reproductive rights and responsibilities, decision-making, assertiveness, and skill building; empowering and enabling the youth to resist social or peer pressure and become responsible citizens with safer and healthier behaviors.

“Children should also be taught building their skills on avoiding experimentation on risky and harmful habits like smoking, using drugs, etc. I believe there is no better time to start interventions than in primary education and gradually go along the academic ladder in an age and culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.” he explained.

In the same post,Dr Jamsheed also called for all barriers to access contraceptives be removed: “I understand that some people would condemn this opinion, arguing that this will promote unlawful and out of wedlock sex. However, I don’t believe that the availability or non-availability of condom or contraceptives would ever be a factor determining whether two people who want to have sex will have it or not.”

However, since taking office Dr Jamsheed has not introduced any explicit policies on addressing the sexual health epidemic. “I will talk on the issue later”, he recently told Minivan News.

Minivan News meanwhile wrote  two months ago to the Education Ministry requesting it clarify the ministry’s stand on expanding sex education in schools under the ongoing curriculum review, but it had not responded at time of press.

However an official from the curriculum development unit anonymously confirmed that “every time sex education topic is raised in review meetings, some conservative individuals are blocking it, saying such a measure would increase promiscuity.”

UNFPA Assistant Representative Shadiya Ibrahim however argued that “sex education does not increase promiscuity”. Of 68 studies on family life and sex education in a scientific review, she observed, 65 studies found no associated increases in sexual behavior.

“Young people taking part in such programs had higher levels of abstinence, later start of sexual activity, higher use of contraceptives, fewer sexual partners and/or reduced rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancy,”  Ibrahim noted.
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Police investigate “suspicious” death of a newborn

Police are investigating the suspicious death of a two-day old healthy newborn at the ADK hospital on Tuesday, Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef has confirmed.

According to the Haneef, the investigation commenced after police discovered the baby boy’s mother had been married three months before the delivery, suggesting that the baby was conceived before the marriage.

“There are some suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the baby. We have found out the mother was married just three months before the baby was born,” Haneef noted.

Speaking to Minivan News, Managing Director of ADK hospital, Ahmed Afaal, said doctors who examined the boy has declared it was “sudden death” as the boy was born perfectly healthy and had no complications.

Afaal said the real cause of death cannot be identified without an autopsy in sudden death cases.

He noted that the boy had died while under the care of mother, who is reportedly from Nilandhoo in Gaaf Alif Atoll.

Newborns are not admitted to the nursery and transferred under family care if no complications are found, he added.

“The hospital staff were alerted by the family on Tuesday morning after the boy was found not breathing. The staff examined the body and declared the boy was dead,” according Afaal.

Meanwhile, local media Haveeru has quoted an unidentified official from ADK saying that the “doctors assume the baby had died of choking but that they couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of death without carrying out an autopsy”.

Haveeru quoted another police media official saying “the boy had an identical bruise to the sides of his nose” and had claimed their journalists had observed the bruise.

However, both Afaal and Sub-Inspector Haneef did not confirm any physical injuries and added they cannot comment further as the investigation is pending.

However Haneef added that the police so far believe that the death was “normal”.

Stigma

Under the form of sharia law practiced in the Maldives, both sex before marriage and adultery are offences punishable by flogging. But attitudes towards sex reveal a discrepancy. While it is acknowledged in private that both take place, social norms and cultural attitudes restrict public discussions on the subject. As a result, students are not taught about contraception at school as for many this would be tantamount to condoning sex outside of marriage.

While premarital and extramarital sex is widespread, high rates of divorce and remarriage (including sex between marriages), and poor access and practice of contraception lead to a high number of unwanted pregnancies. The stigma of having a child out of wedlock compels women and girls to opt for abortions – which is illegal in the Maldives except to save a mother’s life, or if a child suffers from a congenital defect such as thalassemia.

Subsequently, anecdotal evidence suggests some women have resorted to abortion-inducing pills and injections administered by amateur abortionists, while others turn to harmful vaginal preparations, containing chemicals such as bleach or kerosene. Although infrequent, some insert objects into their uterus or induce abdominal trauma.

The severity of the situation was signalled last year following the discovery of several dead premature babies and abandoned alive on Male’ and across islands.

The Criminal Court last year sentenced the mother of a prematurely born baby found inside a milk can in ViliMale’ on 19 May 2011 to one year imprisonment.

Aminath Shaira, 30 of Manadhoo in Noonu Atoll, was charged with disobedience to an order under article 88(a) of the 1968 penal code as well as violations under the Child Protection Act.

Her accomplice in the crime, Mariyam Rizna, 18, of Guraidhoo in Kaafu Atoll, was sentenced to six months for assisting Shaira in delivering the baby. Rizna’s fingerprints were found on the Coast Milk can.

In the same month, a dead infant was found in a plastic bag in the swimming track area of Male’. A medical examination later concluded that the baby’s had sustained cuts, bruises and other wounds. No one was arrested or charged.

Meanwhile, in June 2011 an abandoned newborn was discovered alive inside a garage on Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo island while in a similar case, a newborn was found abanded alive in bushes near the Wataniya telecommunications tower in Hulhumale’ during Novermber 2010.

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Comment: Death penalty for infanticide is infantile

Among the many paths in life that lead a woman to kill her newborn baby, it is never this: one day she wakes up with an overwhelming urge to kill.

In order to satisfy that urge, she goes out and seduces/forces a hapless, innocent man to have sexual intercourse with her and to impregnate her. Still with the ultimate end-goal of killing in mind, she covertly carries the baby inside her. After nine-months of ingenious methods of hiding her ballooning figure from all eyes, she gives birth in perilous conditions without any medical attention.

Finally, she experiences the pleasure of killing which she had anticipated and meticulously planned for nine long months. And with immense gratification, she reaches out and makes sure her baby’s first breath is also its last.

Infanticide is not a new phenomenon – cases of it have been recorded from the time human records began, and research has shown a myriad of socially-generated causes behind the offence. Rates escalate in patriarchal societies where women are regarded as second-class citizens, and where crimes against women are on the rise. A recent report published by TrustLaw Women, an online organisation that offers free legal assistance to women, shows that infanticide is a common marker among countries that offer the worst environments for women to live in.

What is driving our women to such desperation? We do not know for sure, because we have invested neither time nor effort to find out. Crime statistics, however, give more than just a hint.

The thin line between perpetrator and victim

Police statistics for 2010 show over 500 sexual offence cases and 299 arrests for the same. By April this year, 58 cases of sexual offences had already been reported to the police.

In the last few months, Minivan News has reported on a whole range of random violent sexual offences against women from gang rape to rape of a 74 year-old. Added to these are less random rapes and sexual assaults occurring closer to home that run the whole gamut from decades-long sexual abuse of daughters by fathers to the attempted to rape of a mother by her son.

In the latest case, reported last month, five men are alleged to have raped an 18-year-old girl in Laamu Atoll Maabaidhoo. Her mother found her after two hours of searching, slumped under a coconut palm, her clothes in tatters and unable to walk from all the injuries the men had inflicted on her.

In March this year, a gang of 15 men abducted, drugged and raped a 20-year-old woman on the island of Hithadhu in Seenu Atoll. They recorded their vile acts on a mobile phone, for post-rape pleasure. Yet, as a coalition of NGOs highlighted recently, ‘not a single case of ‘rape’ [was] in the statistics maintained by either the PG [Prosecutor General] or the Criminal Court’.

Why? Rape is not a crime under our current Penal Code.

We live in a society where years of ‘religious’ preaching and traditions that have refused to bow to the winds of progress have taught women to accept it as their due to be beaten up by husbands for perceived marital transgressions.

Seventy percent of our women believe this to be the case. One in every seven secondary school students are sexually abused, according to an unpublished 2009 report by UNICEF, a vast majority of them girls. A Gender Ministry report in 2007 found that over 12 percent of Maldivian women between the age of 15 and 49 are sexually abused as a child.

The situation is worse for girls in Male’ than elsewhere, where more than 16 percent of girls under the age of fifteen are sexually abused. This means that of every 100 girls you walk by on the streets of Male’ and its auxiliary islands, 16 have suffered sexually at the hands of a man. How many of these offences end up in unwanted and enforced pregnancies?

Some of the girls are in a position to travel abroad for abortions – and yes, whether we like it or not, it is happening; and it will continue to happen.

Refusing to see that this behaviour is not merely a sin, but also a social issue that affects every human society, does not make it into a religious problem alone with only the harshest of religious solutions. Those who cannot have their unwanted babies surgically removed, resort to dumping them somewhere, drowning them, or subject them to worse forms of mutilation and death. These girls/women need help.

Capital punishment is not a deterrent as evidence from various countries where it is in force has shown. The fate of previous perpetrators would be the last thing on the mind of a woman about to commit such an act. If she were capable of rational thought during those desperate moments, killing a baby would be the last thing she would do.

Immaculate conceptions?

The learned men at Adhaalath see only one reason for the rise of infanticides: the “rising popularity of fornication“, and have called for the death of mothers guilty of the crime. It is not sufficient that some of the women have been jailed for life while the men, who must surely have been involved, have walked scot-free.

Without the existence of a crime defined as ‘rape’, it is easy to categorise every such brutal violation of a woman as ‘fornication’ – the type that is only ever ‘popular’ among depraved, misogynistic men who seem to view preying on vulnerable women as a popular sport. By calling for the death of the women who become victims of such men while remaining wholly silent on the men themselves, the ‘scholars’ at Adhaalath are encouraging such behaviour among the men.

And, by taking such a stance on this pressing social concern, Adhaalath is making itself not just a misnomer, but is turning a blind eye to its own slogan proudly displayed on its masthead taken from Surath An-Nisã (The Women): ‘Allah commands you […] that when you judge between people, you judge with justice’ (4:58).

Criticism of Adhaalath’s views, and that of other religious bodies in the country, do not always arise from ‘mad secularists’, as is their constant accusation. Nor is criticism of these views meant to suggest that religion has no role to play in our society. It does; and there is much Adhaalath and other such institutions can do.

Why not preach against rape in their Friday sermons when they have the ears of most of the country’s male population within their reach?

Why not speak then of the respect with which Islam says women are to be treated?

Why not drive the point home that at least 50 percent of the blame [in cases where the conception arose from consensual activity] lies with the men?

Why not repeat the message until it penetrates through the thick haze of misogyny that seem to envelop many among them that women have not been put on this earth for their depraved ‘pleasures’, sexual or otherwise?

Adhaalath, and other religious bodies, could also use their proven ability for fundraising to raise money for proper research into the rising problem of infanticide.

Or to help boost the adoption programme under Islamic teachings that the Gender Department has been trying hard to get off the ground. Or perhaps to provide funding for a shelter for abused young women or a safe place for young girls turning to juvenile delinquency. None of them have proper care; none of them have a place to go. The buruga may cover, but it does not shelter; and being covered up is not the same as being protected.

There are many different ways to help, and many ways that Islam obliges its followers to help those in need; but they can only become clear when the dogma is put aside and room for reason made.

No doubt the next ‘religious’ edict calling for the death of yet another disturbed or disadvantaged group in society would be prefixed with the customary Bismillah. If only, instead of repeating it like some meaningless chant, a moment is taken to consider its meaning: ‘In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, the most merciful…’ Wither the compassion, Adhaalath?

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]vannewsarchive.com

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