“Mother gave child animals to kill”

Securing womens’ rights is essential to protecting the rights of children, declared Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali at a human rights function last night, moving the audience with her experience of handling a particularly insidious case of maternal child abuse.

“I first saw this case in 2000 when I started working in the childrens’ rights unit,” Maryia said. “At the time, the child was 11 years old. We had first accepted the case when he was six – he had bitten a classmate’s cheek and chewed off a piece of flesh, and his class teacher was despairing about what to do with him. He asked us to send him to the juvenile centre in Maafushi.”

The child had been diagnosed with attention-deficit-with-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she said. “But his mother wasn’t told to avoid feeding him certain foods, or not to give him Coke or sugary things, or any information like that. So she gave him Coke. And then, when he stole a lump of sugar from a neighbour’s house when he was six, she poured scalding hot water on his hand.”

No assessments of the child’s family background had been made, and nobody “realised just how bad his life was,” Mariya said.

“Because he had ADHD he was difficult to control – so he was put in chains. When I went to the house, his foot was chained to a pole in the middle a dark room with nothing in it except a bed.

“He hadn’t been fed because he had misbehaved, so I asked him what he had done. He got scared and hid under the bed and started to cry, saying, ‘sister, please save me from this place.’ I touched his head and saw it was swollen all over – he said he was beaten by his brother.”

In later appointments, Mariya discovered that each of the other siblings in the family had some kind of psychiatric problem. It later emerged that the child had also been sexually abused.

“When I was evaluating the child, his mother told me ‘he only stays still when you show him horror films’ – she would show him five a day. She told me he couldn’t sleep without killing some kind of animal or living thing, and when the animals were buried, the next day he would dig them up and cut off pieces.”

Horrified, Mariya turned to child psychology experts in the UK for advice. She was told the damage could not be reversed even if the boy was given 11 years of therapy.

“A lot happened to this child,” she said. “It began with ADHD; that was something we could have managed. But [the situation] went beyond of our reach because we because we failed to assure his rights for him. When we consider the human rights conventions [that the Maldives has signed], here is a case where so many of those rights have been violated.”

The Ministry was now working to strengthen the mechanisms for child protection and fulfil its obligations under the convention, she said.

“Securing women’s rights is essential to protecting children rights: mothers have to be psychologically fit to take care of a child.”