Criminal court slammed over MVR200 fine for man who assaulted wife

The criminal court today fined a man MVR200 (US$13) for physically assaulting his wife and shoving her onto the deck of a fishing boat in January.

Luthfee Umar from Laamu Isdhoo was found guilty of assault based on his confession and the medico-legal record of his wife, which stated that her lips were torn.

Local media reported at the time that Luthfee was thrown into the sea near the fish market in Malé by angry bystanders and was not allowed to climb out until the police arrived at the scene.

The current penal code enacted in 1966 carries a penalty of either six months in prison, six months of house arrest, or a fine of MVR200 for assault.

However, the new penal code – due to come into force in July – has a penalty of a maximum of four years for assault depending on the severity of the case.

The new penal code was due to come into force in April, but the pro-government majority in parliament delayed its enforcement to July citing lack of public awareness and concerns of religious scholars.

Today’s sentence has sparked outrage on social media, with one user observing that the fine is smaller than that of a parking ticket.

The sentence was passed by criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed, who has previously been accused of misogyny. In 2005, then-attorney general Hassan Saeed sent a letter to then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom outlining several allegations against the judge.

After completing the sentencing of a defendant in June 2005, Abdulla Mohamed allegedly said: “Very few men ever meet women who love them. You may meet a woman who loves and cares for you. You should not run after a woman who does not love you. It is also stated in Holy Quran that women are very deceptive.”

Speaking to Minivan News today, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Rozaina Adam said such sentences “encourage similar abuses instead of acting as a deterrent.”

“We get a hefty MVR750 (US$ 49) just as a parking violation fine. With this sentence, beating a woman means less than a parking ticket,” said Rozaina.

Rozaina said that under the Domestic Violence Act, the police have the responsibility to explain the rights of the victim, such as getting a protection order, which has to be issued immediately.

She also criticised the ruling party for its decision to delay the penal code: “Delaying the penal code was a huge obstruction to justice.”

“The current penal code is severely outdated. 200 rufiyaa was a big figure then. But now it is very little,” said Rozaina.

Photo from social media.

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Criminal Court acquits six men charged with gang rape of 14 year-old girl

The Criminal Court has acquitted six men charged with the gang rape of a minor, on the grounds that the prosecution was unable to offer sufficient evidence to prove they were guilty.

Abdulla Nazeef of Fuvamulah, Mohamed Shifau of Villimale’, Azim Ali from Dhigurah in Alif Dhaalu, Hoodh Mohamed of Male’ special registry, Inash Abdulla of Gaafu Dhaalu Vaadhoo and Ali Ashraf of Maafannu Athuma were charged with the sexual abuse of a minor by a group.

The Prosecutor General’s Office pressed charges against the six suspects on allegations that on June 5, 2010, they abducted a 14 year-old girl, took her to an abandoned area near the Villimale’ antennae area, and raped the victim.

The Criminal Court stated in its verdict that the state had charged the six men under the Special Provisions for Perpetrators of Child Sex Abuse Act of 2009 but had not produced enough evidence as required by the law to declare a person guilty.

According to local media, the court’s verdict stated that the suspects were acquitted as the state had not presented the required number of witnesses to the incident.

The verdict also stated that all the defendants had denied the charges.

According to local media, two of the accused – Abdulla Nazeef and Mohamed Shifau – are among the suspects charged with the murder of Ahmed Mirza Ibrahim.

In April 2011, Mirza Ibrahim was struck in the head with an iron bar while he was sitting inside a park in Villingili, the ward of Male’ where he lived.

Mirza suffered severe head injuries in the attack and was rushed to Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), where he was placed on life support but later declared brain-dead.

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Police searching for 24 year-old man in connection with gang rape of 16 year-old girl

Head of the Police Child Protection Department, Chief Inspector Hassan Shifau, has said police are searching for Mausoom Abaas of Hunaru in Maafannu Ward in connection with the gang rape of a 16 year-old girl in February.

Police first sought public assistance in locating Mausoom Abbas in mid-February.

Yesterday (May 29) Chief Inspector of Police Hassan Shifau issued a video interview regarding the case and said that on February 12, a 16 year-old girl was gang raped by four men, three of whom had since been arrested. The fourth was yet to be located, he said.

Shifau stated that Mausoom was on the police service’s list of the 50 most dangerous criminals, with a record of 16 criminal offences ranging from drug related crimes to assault and robbery.

The three already arrested over the gang rape were aged 18, 19 and 22, and all had previous criminal records, he said.

According to Shifau, the victim had marks on her body that indicated she had been sexually harassed when she came to the police to report the case.

He also said that the DNA samples taken from the clothes she was wearing that night matched with the DNA samples of the persons arrested.

Police have not revealed details of the case nor have they identified the three arrested in connection with the matter.

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Human Rights Ministry sends orphans to mental disability centre without psychiatric evaluation

The Maldives’ Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights has admitted transferring two children from the Villlingili island orphanage ‘Kudakudhunge Hiya’ to the Centre for People with Mental Disability on the island of Guraidhoo, without determining if they were in fact special needs children.

The Ministry confessed to transferring the 18 year-olds – two of eight children sent to the Guraidhoo centre – without a doctor’s consultation, local media outlet Sun Online reported.

The Ministry was summoned to a parliament committee meeting in regard to an ongoing investigation initiated by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM). The investigation was launched in response to allegations of children being taken to the Guraidhoo facility and given psychiatric medication.

Speaking to the parliamentary committee, State Minister for Gender and Human Rights, Dr Aminath Rameela, admitted the children were transferred to the special needs centre without a proper doctor’s evaluation.

“[Regarding] the children who were taken there [to the Guraidhoo facility] without a psychiatric recommendation, keeping the children at Kudakudhinge Hiya at that time was viewed as a threat,” she said.

“They were powerless to control them,” Dr Rameela told the committee, according to local media.

Rameela denied the children were given psychiatric medication and that “the Ministry is currently in the process” of conducting a psychiatric evaluation of he two children, local media reports.

The HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal told Minivan News the matter is currently under investigation and procedure prevented them from divulging any information.

“We do not want to compromise the investigation process,” he stated.

Children victimised “over and over”

Tholal stressed that the number of incidents occurring at both the orphanage and the Guraidhoo centre for were greatly concerning.

“Incidents are occurring repeatedly. Children under the care of the state need a safe environment; it’s a concerning issue.

“The fact is there is no special shelter or place for girls in trouble with the law. HRCM has raised the issue several times – both the need for education as well as psycho-social support and counselling,” Tholal added.

He said the Maldivian government has a responsibility to protect children from being “systemically” victimised, and once the state has been notified, children should not be put back in a situation of neglect or abuse.

“Vulnerable children are often from difficult families or are abandoned and are victimised over and over again. Currently [government] support is haphazard, and we are not properly equipped. A safety net needs to be established,” stated Tholal.

He cited the recent incident where two underage females living in the Villingili orphanage were arrested and sent to Maafushi prison in January.

The parliamentary committee investigating their arrest learned that all concerning authorities had neglected their duties and responsibilities to protect the rights of children.

In March 2013, police returned seven underage girls who escaped from the ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’ orphanage on Villingili, otherwise known as Villi-Male’. Local newspaper ‘Haveeru’ reported another two girls who escaped from the orphanage were found on a ‘bokkura’ – a small local vessel – in the lagoon near Villingili with two boys.

In 2011, police arrested a female staff member working at the Villingili children’s home, after she allegedly physically abused a boy living in the centre.

In October 2010, the Maldives Police Service and the Health Ministry commenced a joint investigation into “serious issues” concerning the mistreatment of children at Kudakudhinge Hiya, the only orphanage in the Maldives.

The Guraidhoo centre has also been the subject of scrutiny. In January 2013, four men were allegedly arrested in Kaafu Atoll over drug and sex offences related to their work at the Centre for People with Mental Disability on the island of Guraidhoo.

Several sources with knowledge of the matter have claimed the four suspects stood accused of giving hash oil cigarettes to women staying at the centre and then having sex with them. One of the four suspects was said to have been charged with filming the alleged crimes, according to the sources.

Minivan News understands that although the woman were staying at the Centre for People with Mental Disabilities, they were not thought at the time to suffer from any mental health issue or physical disorder.

“I have information that these girls were first kept at the orphanage in Villingili and when they were old enough to get out from the orphanage and had nowhere to go, the government sent them to the Centre,’’ a source familiar with the matter claimed.

Tholal explained that the only other institutions for children are for boys, the Maafushi island Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) and Feydhoo Finolhu, a Correctional Training Centre for Children run by the Juvenile Justice Unit (JJU) of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Maldives Police Service’s Child Protection Unit.

Acute staffing and budget shortfalls combined with the lack of children’s rights education and the exclusion of children’s feedback have “deprived [residents] of their liberty”. Staff caring for the children are often excluded from important decisions impacting children’s quality of life at the facilities, a recent HRCM report stated.

The report, Child participation in the Maldives: An assessment of knowledge, highlights numerous participation and protection policy deficiencies putting Maldivian children at serious risk of harm.

Government support lacking

Tholal emphasised the lack of understanding regarding children’s and women’s victimisation is reflected in the national budget and lack of Gender Ministry support. Not enough funds are allocated, instead these “far reaching and cross cutting” issues are eclipsed by the need for generating state revenue.

“How can you sustain revenue if the social fabric of society is in such bad state?” Tholal asked.

“There must be a gender sensitive budget process to identify the gaps between problems and funding. Parliament and the Finance Ministry must demonstrate the need, want, and dedication during their budget preparations.

“Priority issue areas that need to be captured properly are children, gender, and related social aspects,” Tholal said.

The Maldivian constitution guarantees individuals’ human rights and state obligations to fulfill these rights, including ensuring children’s protection and education,Tholal explained. As a result, the HRCM has repeatedly recommended establishing children’s shelters.

“On the brighter side, the HRCM and Gender Ministry are engaging in more liaising to find solutions in the best interest of the children. We are working together to find a proper, systemic solution for the long term, not an ad hoc fix.

“Discussions between the Gender Ministry and HRCM have been significant and very positive. We are working together to ensure things are in place. Thing can improve, we don’t want to play the ‘blame game’,” said Tholal.

Government alternative care institutions intended to provide shelter, rehabilitation, or “restorative justice” suffer from the “large gaps between policy and reality,” the recent HRCM report stated.

The HRCM serves as the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) with the responsibility to “ascertain that people detained under State care are in satisfactory condition and their basic human rights are respected and fulfilled and that no inhumane and degrading treatment has taken place against the person detained,” the HRCM website states.

This was established under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (OPCAT), which the Maldives has ratified along with the Convention against Torture (CAT) .

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights was not responding to calls at the time of press.

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Rape victims punished, failed by Maldives justice system

The Maldives court on Tuesday sentenced a 15 year-old girl to 100 lashes and eight months’ house arrest, for having pre-marital sex with a man.

At any given time in the Maldives, thousands of female tourists are on the country’s beaches in bikinis, with their male counterparts. Many of them are straight and gay couples, married or unmarried, enjoying sex on rose petal-covered beds in water bungalows. For them, this chain of islands with white beaches and blue shimmering waters is a short escape to heaven.

While they enjoy a piece of paradise on a luxury resort vacation, just a few miles away 300,000 locals face the grim reality of a struggling democracy and increasingly radicalised interpretation of Islam.

Women and girls are bearing the brunt of this. Calling it sheer hypocrisy would be a gross understatement.

The 15 year-old girl  is from Feydhoo island in Shaviyani Atoll, one of the 200 remote islands in the country with less than a thousand inhabitants. She was arrested last year on the island, when police discovered a dead newborn buried in an outdoor shower area in the yard of the house. The investigation uncovered a disturbing yet common reality in the capital and isolated islands of Maldives: sexual abuse.

The girl’s stepfather had been raping her for years. Her mother assisted this gruesome abuse by turning a blind eye and deaf ear to her pain and cries. When the girl became pregnant as a result of rape, they pulled her out of school afraid that the community would find out the family’s dark secret. They waited patiently for nine months, and killed and buried the newborn after delivery.

Soon after the baby’s body was dug up, the parents were arrested and charged with murder and abuse of a minor.

While any authority with professionalism and common sense would be expected to protect a child who has suffered such horrifying abuse and provide help of a psychologist, the Maldives police and prosecutors had a different plan.

On the contrary, the girl was arrested, interrogated and charged with fornication within a few months by the authorities. They claimed that she had confessed to having consensual sex with another man – not the stepfather. The identity of this man, who has not stood up, been found, arrested or charged to this date, remains a mystery.

And yesterday, despite the ongoing debates challenging the legitimacy in pursuing fornication charges against victims of child sexual abuse, the court issued its ruling to flog the girl 100 times. A conviction against her abusive step father, and neglectful mother is still pending.

This case is just the latest in a series of unashamed attempts by the Maldivian Sharia-Common Law based judicial system to punish sexual abuse victims, instead of providing protection and justice.

While, several in and outside the country are taking to the social media to condemn this ruling as morally wrong, cruel, degrading, and a violation of human rights and protection guaranteed to children and victims of sexual abuse under national and international laws, the police who arrested her, the PG office that charged her and the court which sentenced her have not even flinched.

In fact, shortly after reversing its decision to withdraw the fornication charges, the Prosecutor General stated that they have found “no substantial reason to withdraw the charges” and allowed the trial to continue. They repeatedly emphasised the case is “unrelated to the rape”. Furthermore, both the PG and courts repeatedly defended the decision in media, claiming that there is nothing illegal or wrong in this case.

Under Sharia Law, both men and women – adult and children alike – can be punished with 100 lashes and house arrest if they are found guilty of having pre marital sex or adultery. Of course, the tourists are exempted – they are free to have sex, eat pork or drink alcohol as much as they wish, on islands designated as “uninhabited”.

Flogging is the one remaining Islamic Sharia penalties that continues to be practiced in Maldives, despite the century old moratorium on other Shaira penalties such as stoning, capital punishment and cutting off hands. UN Human Right’s Commissioner Navi Pillay and other international organisation’s calls for the moratorium of flogging have been rejected by current and past governments, amid mass protests from conservative factions of society.

As with any other Sharia offence, fornication is only proved with a confession or four witnesses. Notably, ninety percent of those flogged are women, accordig to the 2011 Judicial statistics report. It revealed that out of the 129 sentenced to 100 lashes, 11 were minors – 10 girls and one boy.

However, in 2010, the parliament passed a legislation to prevent corporal punishment  of children in sexual related offences and provide stringent punishments for child abusers, as a response to curb the widespread cases of incest and child molestation in the Maldives: one in seven children is reported to be a victim of sexual abuse. The legislation for the first time paved an easy road for the prosecution of child sexual abuse cases by reducing the Sharia-based burden of proof, which otherwise makes it impossible to prove the sexual offences without a confession or four witnesses.

This legislation, as part of the common law practiced alongside Sharia, set the precedent that no child below 13 can consent to sex and that any sexual relations will be deemed as child abuse. The same law also adds in clause 25 that no child between 13 – 17 can consent to sex either ,”unless proven otherwise”.

It must be noted that hundreds of children have been protected under this law, and several child rapists and abusers have been put behind bars for decades since it came into effect. However, in this specific case, the authorities report that the girl confessed to having consensual sexual relations, and that therefore it cannot be treated as a case of abuse.

But what is highly questionable is the failure by the state to provide a motive that can justify pressing charges against an abused victim, especially a child, with utter disregard to the mental trauma she has suffered in an endless cycle of abuse.

In the past, the court had sentenced a man for abusing a 16 year-old girl. However, the same girl was sentenced to 100 lashes and house arrest after being found guilty of confessing to having consensual sex with the same man who was found to have abused her. This conflicting ruling, stands out as clear evidence that fornication charges against minors in sexual abuse cases are being pursued by authorities, simply because its legally possible to do so with a confession, regardless of whether the victim is abused or not.

In the face of growing international pressure over such incidents, the government claimed in media that it would review and “correct” laws that victimise young women and minors who have suffered sexual abuse. However, no information was made public of any such attempts apart from this public condemnation.

Another issue worth noting is also the significantly low rape convictions in cases where the rape victim is an adult. Annual judicial statistics report show that in past three years, zero cases of rape have reached a positive verdict. This year alone, three rape cases have been reported,while 1 in 3 women aged between 15 – 49 are found to be victim of physical or sexual abuse – a statistic that is a reminder of a justice system that is failing women in every way possible.

According to Human Rights Lawyer Mohamed Anil, rape is defined as ‘forced fornication’ in the currently practiced outdated laws. The aforementioned legislation provides special provisions in child abuse cases, however, he explained, rape and sexual assault victims aged 18 or above, are denied justice because of the Sharia’s burden of proof – confession of the rapist or four male witnesses – is required to prove fornication, whether forced or consensual.

A state prosecutor once commented that proving rape is “next to impossible” despite the most prudent investigations, because the only two kinds of admissible evidence is never available. Both lawyers have said that this cannot be changed unless the amended penal code – which includes rape as an offence-  is passed by the parliament, where it had been stuck for more than half a decade.

Alternatively, the parliament could pass the sexual offences bill submitted by MP Mohamed Nasheed. This bill defines actions to be taken against specific types of sexual offences, including rape, spousal rape, prostitution, sexual trafficking, bestiality and incest etc. While submitting the bill, Nasheed echoed the immense need for an updated legislation to deal with the modern day sexual offences to bridge the shortcomings, especially related to proof and evidence and leniency in the current legal structure.

Meanwhile, in recent years reports of infanticide and baby dumping have increased to alarming levels, as women and underage girls – including those who become pregnant as a consequence of rape – are forced to take desperate measures, such as self-induced abortions, infanticide or leaving babies abandoned. Such was the case with the 15 year old girl in question.

With an unforgiving system and laws stating that is a punishable offence to give birth outside of marriage, driven by a thirst to punish the victims rather than protect them, victims find themselves alone, helpless and forced to remain silent.

These are just a small fraction of the many deep-rooted gender issues in the justice system of Maldives, that ripple outward from the branches of justice system into the entire society.

In her recent visit to Maldives, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers issued a statement in which she commented “all members of the justice system should be sensitised to gender equality and women’s rights to make access to justice a reality for women in the Maldives.”

She also also expressed concern over low representation of women in the judiciary. There are currently no women sitting on the Supreme Court and only eight women sitting in the High Court, the Superior Courts and the Magistrate Courts. It is arguable that the gender issues in the system are arising due to lack of a diverse representation in the court benches and decision-making bodies.

When women and girls are stripped off their dignity and rights for having sex or being raped, it is not an issue that can be simply ignored. Meaningful action is needed by the authorities to remove the gender issues through legal and structural reforms, and prevent the culture of impunity currently enjoyed by sadistic perpetrators such as rapists and child molesters.

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Police commence investigation after 11 year-old child gives birth

An 11 year-old girl who on Thursday prematurely gave birth to a child is said to be in a stable condition, as police today confirmed investigations were now under way into the case.

The girl, who cannot be identified due to her age, gave birth to the child two months prematurely. The child died early morning on Friday (November 2), after being taken to Feydhoo regional hospital in Seenu Atoll for further treatment, local media has reported.

The Maldives Police Service confirmed investigations into the matter were taking place, but said further details could not be disclosed due to the age of the child and the risk she could be identified and face possible recrimination.

A police spokesperson was unable to confirm the nature of the investigation at present.

However, local newspaper Haveeru, citing what it called reliable sources, reported that the girl had allegedly been a frequent victim of sexual assault before becoming pregnant.

“She came here with her mother complaining of constipation and stomach pain. Doctors had examined her and given an injection. But when she started to complain of severe pain, upon further examination doctors found that she was pregnant. The girl admitted that she got pregnant after someone had sexually molested her,” Haveeru quoted a local health centre official as saying.

The Health Ministry has meanwhile forwarded further requests for information on the case to the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, which is mandated to deal with the matter.

Gender Minister Dhiyana Saeed was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Abuse statistics

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

Rates of sexual abuse for girls are almost twice as high than for boys at 20 percent – one in five girls have been sexually abused – while the figure for boys was 11 percent. Girls are particularly at risk in the capital Male’, the report found.

In recent years, local authorities and NGOs have released a number of findings trying to detail the extent of child abuse and wider sexual assaults within society.

The state-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH’s) Family Protection Unit reported in 2010 that the centre was notified of 42 cases of rape between 2005-2010. Most of these cases were found to involve minors.

According to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, 13 rape cases were reported last year alone, the majority of which most were gang rapes or assaults involving minors.

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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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Human trafficking worth US$123 million, authorities estimate

An ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives has uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

The authorities’ findings echo those first raised by former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Dr Selina Mohsin, reported by Minivan News in August last year, and which saw the country placed on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watchlist for human trafficking.

However prior to the current investigation, ordered by President Mohamed Nasheed and which involved the military taking over immigration and human resources duties for a two week period, few facts were known about the Maldivian side of the operation.

“People have been creating fraudulent companies and using them to apply for fraudulent work permit quotas, and then diverting these quotas to keep bringing in illegal workers,” said President Nasheed’s Spokesperson, Mohamed Zuhair.

“A would-be worker [overseas] pays money and ends up here on fraudulent papers obtained by a bogus agent, from quotas at a non-existent company,” Zuhair said. “Sometimes they are expected to work for 3-4 years to make the payment – workers have told police that this is often as much as US$2000.”

Authorities currently estimated the industry to be worth US$123 million a year, he said.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that many illegal workers identified by police through the investigation – the majority from Bangladesh – had sold their land, their property and moved their families to pay the fees demanded by the bogus recruiters.

When they arrive they find the job a totally different prospect from what they were led to expect, he said.

“Sometimes there is no job and they are released straight onto the street. We found some people who had paid before coming – they arrived at the airport and nobody came to pick them up,” said Shiyam. ”The case is very serious – this is not the way things should be, and it has been going on for a long time.”

Zuhair said that in some cases workers brought to the Maldives were themselves recruited to help enlist others from their country – in addition to seven Maldivians, 12 expatriates have been arrested during the case so far.

Paper companies and ministerial corruption

The expansive investigation has seen 18 ‘paper companies’ raided by the police commercial crime unit, headed by Inspector Mohamed Riyaz, who revealed to the media last week that police had seized 4000 passports confiscated from trafficked workers.

Two of the seven bogus companies identified as trafficking workers, Ozone Investments Pvt Ltd and Arisco Maldives Pvt Ltd, had brought in 3000 workers between them.

Using the fake companies, the traffickers fraudulently obtained work permit quotas for non-existent projects from the Human Resources Ministry by stealing the identities of unwitting Maldivians, or even the deceased. Police had received many complaints about such forgeries from the confused third party, Riyaz told the media.

Moreover, many of the quotas requested from the Human Resources Ministry had been approved despite obvious warning signs such as the importing of construction workers for specialised IT projects, Riyaz said.

Zuhair told Minivan News that while he was unable to “point fingers” as the investigation was ongoing, the current findings implicated senior officials in both the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Human Resources.

In addition, the persistent use of fraudulent companies implied further scrutiny of the Ministry of Trade was required, Zuhair said.

Trade Minister Mahmoud Razee confirmed to Minivan News that the Ministry was providing information to police as requested. Establishing a company in the Maldives carried few requirements under existing laws, he explained, “and even before this we have been proposing amendments to company law to require additional clearances for directors, based on their records.”

Even for those individuals found guilty of the crime labour trafficking presently represents a violation of the Employment Act, and only carries a small fine.

Zuhair said punishment was a matter for the judiciary “and I’m confident justice will be done”. However he acknowledged that the greatest impact would come from exposing those involved: “The people involved will be named and shamed,” he pledged, which would limit their capacity for further fraud or criminal enterprise and hopefully ward off further victims.

The investigation was ordered by the President, he noted, as the Immigration Department and the Human Resources Ministry “were each accusing the other for the problem. The government has stepped in as a neutral party to conduct a holistic investigation, without incrimination.”

He said the government would need to “seek assistance” to deport the large numbers of illegal workers the investigation was likely to uncover.

“The origin countries also have a responsibility to repatriate their nationals,” he said.

Minivan News asked Zuhair why the government had only acted after several years of accusations that labor trafficking was prolific in the country – the US State Department recently renewed the Maldives’ position on the trafficking watch list for the second year running.

“The accusations have been apparent for the last few years, but the extent to which the situation has developed, and the lines between system error, human error and intentional fraud have been unclear. It has now become clearer,” he said.

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Health Ministry criticises “inhumane treatment” of alleged sex abuse victim

The Ministry of Health and Family has today condemned some islanders on Dhidhoo, Haa Alifu Atoll, for what it has called the “inhumane treatment” of a 13-year old school girl.

The girl in question is an alleged victim of a sexual abuse case involving eight men, including two under the age of 18. The case came to light in April and was under police investigation.

The Health Ministry has hit out at the reported treatment of the girl by members of the local community that have been accused of trying to block her from returning to public education.

“Even if it’s the actions of a few, we are saddened to see that at a time when the girl is already undergoing physical and mental trauma, there are people who attempt to deprive the [alleged victim] of her basic rights and inflict more trauma,” the ministry stated in a press release.

After a long period of absence from public education, the girl attended school yesterday. However, a group of islanders barged into her class and removed her chair in an attempt to get her out of school, according to local news service, Haveeru.

She reportedly remained in class without a chair during the morning, and when she left school at interval time, the same group went and locked the entire building in an attempt to stop her from returning.  Police confirmed that they had “received reports of the closure of the Dhidhoo School” and had later re-opened it.

The school’s role

One local islander, who wished to use a false name to protect her identity, told Minivan News that there had been concerns about the alleged victim’s return to her school.

“Most islanders object to the fact that she is able to go back, while the school goers among the male suspects involved in the case are barred from [attending],” said Aiminath Sheenaz,18, a resident of the island.

Sheenaz said that when the abuse case first came to light, after a couple of days the girl did attend school. However, she added that disturbances created by some islanders had led to her staying home.

“The Ministry of Education informed the school to take her back that’s why she was in school yesterday,” Sheenaz claimed.

The principal of Dhidhoo school, Hussain Badheeu, was not answering calls when contacted by Minivan News and was unable to confirm the reports.

However, according to the press release published by the Health Ministry, the school had asked the alleged victim’s parents not to send her to back until the investigation was complete.

“When this ministry became aware of this, we contacted the relevant authorities and requested they facilitate her return to school,” the release stated.   “Education is a basic right, and after concluding the alleged victim is not at fault for what happened, the Ministry of Education asked the school to take her back.”

Islanders Attitudes

Despite the ministry’s verdict, Sheenaz said that some islanders believed it remains unfair that the alleged perpetrators can’t attend school.

“It was consensual. She did all that, fornicated with so many men,” she added.

Although being closer in age to the alleged victim, Sheenaz claimed she was also convinced of the 13 year old’s “willing participation” in these acts, adding that this was the prevailing belief of most islanders also. When the eight men suspected of having involvement with the case were first arrested, a group of islanders protested and called on the police to release the group that resulted in clashes.

Asked if attitudes about the case were likely to change in the future if the court case went on to prove that the male suspects had sexually abused the girl, Sheenaz was adamant that it would be impossible.

“A lot of people have given assurances that the girl agreed to the sexual acts,” she said.  The fact that these assurances apparently originate from the alleged suspects themselves does not seem to make a difference to these attitiudes.

The President of Dhidhoo council declined to comment on the issue when contacted by Minivan News.

However, it is believed that both the suspects and the victim are presently living on the same island at present.  Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that the suspects implicated in the case were freed after a court had ordered their release.

The sub-inspector added that the investigation had now been completed, with the case expected to be sent to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office very soon.

Shiyam said that the reported disturbance that occured in Dhidhoo concerning the case would be investigated and action taken against anyone who threatens fellow members of the public.

The Health Ministry has also bemoaned the lack of organisations such as NGOs advocating the rights of the alleged victim or voicing concern about the treatment she has received on her island.

“Actions like this by the public – hindering the girl from attending school –  even if it involves [a few people], encourages perpetrators of similar crimes to repeatedly offend,” said the ministry press release.  “We call upon everyone to stand up against injustice like this and work towards protecting the rights of the victims.”

Official police figures given to Minivan News this week indicated that a total of 163 sexual abuse cases were reported last year.  By comparison, the same statistics also revealed that 108 sexual abuse cases had been reported up to the end of May 2011.

According to these figures, 30 of these cases allegedly involved victims aged between two to 12 years.

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