President vetoes amendments to Child Protection Act

President Abdulla Yameen has vetoed amendments passed by the People’s Majlis to the Child Protection Act on October 14, requesting revisions based on advice from the attorney general.

In a letter to parliament – read out at today’s sitting – President Yameen explained that the government submitted the amendments to the 1991 law to remove inconsistencies with the new Constitution adopted in August 2008.

Article 36(b) of the Constitution states, “Primary and secondary education shall be freely provided by the State. It is imperative on parents and the State to provide children with primary and secondary education. Opportunity for higher education shall be generally accessible to all citizens.”

However, the amendment bill (Dhivehi) passed by parliament states that the state shall freely provide pre-school, primary, and secondary education to all “Dhivehi children living in the Maldives.”

President Yameen noted that the amendment to Article 5(b) of the Child Protection Act contravenes Article 36(a) of the Constitution – which states that “Everyone has the right to education without any discrimination of any kind” – as it implies that the state does not have to provide free education to foreign or expatriate children residing in the country.

“And considering Article 2 and 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the Maldives has acceded, providing free primary education to all children living in the Maldives without discrimination is obligatory,” the president’s letter explained.

Therefore, it added, the amendment to the Child Protection Act was contrary to the obligations placed on the state by the convention.

Moreover, the president observed that the amendments make it mandatory for the state to provide pre-school education to all children.

The amendments also contravene rules for the state to assist pre-schools operated by local councils specified in the Pre-schools Act of 2012.

The president noted that providing mandatory free pre-school education in all inhabited islands would place a burden on the state budget and recommended consultations with the education ministry and finance ministry regarding government policy.

In the ensuing debate, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi criticised parliamentary committees for hastily approving legislation without proper study or consultations with stakeholders.

Leader of the Majlis have in recent weeks, however, called upon committee members to speed up work after a number of Majlis sessions were cancelled due to lack of work on the house’s agenda.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Jameel Usman had submitted the amendments on behalf of the government in June. The social affairs committee reviewed the amendments and forwarded the legislation to the Majlis floor earlier this month, after which it was passed with 51 votes in favour and two abstentions.

MP Ahmed Nihan – parliamentary group leader of the PPM, the majority party in the Majlis – conceded that the inconsistencies with the constitution and pre-school law were missed due to an oversight in the legislative process.

Nihan said the majority party should ensure that such incidents do not recur in the future.

Following the debate, the amendment bill was returned to committee for further review with 58 votes in favour and one abstention.