“Surprise” water sports event kicks off in Maafushi children centre

A water sports programme for the children at the Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) on Maafushi island kicked off on Sunday.

ETCC is an all-boys shelter and a school for children above 10 who are taken under the state care for various reasons such as having no legal guardians or for rehabilitation on parent’s request.

According to the program organiser, NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC), over next three days the children shelter will have the “unique opportunity to learn and enjoy windsurfing, sailing, beach games, wake board, water ski, banana and fun tubes”, thanks to the support from Club Aeolous Waters Sports from the Club Faru Resort.

“Through fun water sports, we are trying to promote a healthy lifestyle. It will also build children’s skill and talents and inspire them to work as a team,” Zeneesha observed.

According to ARC, all 37 children currently housed at the centre are participating in both theory and practical lessons of water sports on the island beaches.

“The children are very happy,” Mohamed Abdullah, Principal of ETCC, told Minivan News over the phone. “We did not tell the kids about it until yesterday. It was a surprise. They were very happy to go into the water.”

“The children stay inside the centre for 24-hours. They don’t have opportunities for fun sports like these. All the kids want to wind surf,” he added.

“I am really glad ARC took the initiative to help the center and its children,” he observed, noting that the centre is facing numerous challenges including staff shortages, poor infrastructure and budget cuts.

Zeneesha said that the NGO believes such sports activities will open new future prospects for the children living at shelters.

ETCC Principal also agreed; “Often, when the children reach legal age and move out from the shelters, they struggle to find jobs and earn a living. They wont even have the same confidence as others. So we are putting great emphasis on helping the children find a way to earn a living when they leave the shelter.”

He noted that the centre has talked with resort operators to open apprentice slots for children who graduate from the shelter: “This year hopefully the first batch of 16 year-olds will be be sent for training.”

Despite several challenges, Zeneesha said the NGO has expanded its support to the three shelters following the ARC’s Stakeholder Conference on Children’s Shelters 2012 focused on ETCC, Kudakudhinge Hiyaa on Villigili providing care for children below nine years and the Correctional Training Centre for Children (CTCC) on Feydhoo Finolhu.

She noted that under its sports program initiative, a total of 27 children from the Villigili shelter participated in a chess programme, which was held every weekend for two months. A similar badminton program is underway.

Meanwhile she added that these centres need a lot of capacity building. “Therefore, we have been providing life-skill and parental skill development workshops to the shelter’s staff,” she says.


Delays slow implementation of public sex offenders registry

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 children.

Gut-wrenching details of heinous child sexual abuse cases grabbing headlines in the past few years eventually gathered enough public pressure in the Maldive  for the  authorities to pass a law stipulating stringent punishments for sexual predators.

Since the passage of “Stringent Punishments for Perpetrators of Sexual Violence Against Children Act’ in 2009, several pedophiles have been incarcerated for 10 to 20 years of life.

According to Prosecutor General Office (PGO), 46 cases of sexually abusing a minor were submitted to the courts in 2011. In 2010, 35 cases were submitted. The year before, 41 cases.

Some high profile cases make headlines but often cases go under-reported. With no public statistics on the number of incarcerations, the total figures on how many cases are successfully prosecuted and who has been put behind bars are unknown.

Yet, more cases are being reported and investigated.

In 2010, the magistrate court on Ungoofaaru island alone convicted eight people in relation to 10 different child abuse cases from Raa Atoll. Among them were fathers who raped their daughters, a mother who hid her husband’s sexually deviant crimes,  and men who abused little boys no older than 10.

Do you know who they are? No – but it is definitely your legal right to know.

Article 77 of the aforementioned legislation not only obligates the authorities to publicise  the identity of the offenders convicted under the law, but also tells the authorities to create a website through which the can public know who the sexual offenders are.

Were the system stated in law to be established, people can even retrieve information on sex offenders by sending a text. Almost four year after the law has been passed, the Gender Department says the system “is still under maintenance.”

According to Police Sergeant Abdul Jaleel fromt the police Family and Children Protection Department (FCPD), discussions are underway between the authorities to create the database of offenders. He admitted, “the delays are unfortunate and we need to make it a priority issue.”

Stressing on the importance of such a database, Jaleed recalled an incident in Meemu Atoll where a man who had a record of child abuse was found to have committed the same crime against another child.

“This man was banished to an island onto an island in Meemu Atoll. When we were investigating a child abuse case in 2009, we found that this man was responsible and he even had a previous record of abusing children.” Jaleel noted. “But the islanders did not know that.”

He noted that the dispersion of the 300,000-strong population over 190 islands made it easier for perpetrators to switch islands, and blend in among people unaware of their crimes.

“Therefore, a central website where sex offenders can be tracked, monitored and public can find about the convicted offenders is crucial to safeguard children and adults from such perpetrators.” Sergeant Jaleel observed.

“It would also definitely expedite our investigations with better coordination between authorities on different islands.”

Several countries worldwide have adopted such measures.

For example, the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) in the US, provides not only an opportunity for several states  to participate in an unprecedented public safety resource by sharing public sex offender data nationwide, but provides a platform for parents and authorities to collaborate for the safety of both adults and children.

However, often arguments are taken against such public registries as it may be defamatory and makes life difficult for a person identified as a “sexual predator”.

Jaleel agreed that the idea of a public sex offenders registry is new to the Maldives and may face similar challenges.

However, he argued that legislation can be made clarifying who can be included or not depending on the magnitude of the crime. “If we look at domestic violence cases, the perpetrator’s name can be avoided depending on whether it was first offence or the matter is solved if its between a couple.”

“But in heinous crimes such as sexually abusing a child, there should be no excuses,” he contended. “And repeat offenders must be made public too.”

He also said provisions can be made whereby police or authorities can decide to release a name of a person not convicted for the sexual offence, should they have reason and substantial evidence to believe the person is a threat to society.

Aishath Ibrahim, the mother of a five year old working as a teacher in Male’ says, “It will be very easy for parents to identify potential threats and protect our children if we can know who the offenders are.”

“Today we don’t even know who is our neighbor,” she added.

In the crowded capital Male’, people live closely together in rented housing or shared apartments within large family units, a factor that has been identified as contributing to instances of child sexual abuse.


Report identifies 155 juvenile crime cases so far in 2012

A new report released by the Juvenile Justice Unit (JJU) has detailed 155 cases of crime committed this year by young offenders.  Most of the cases are linked to suspects between 16 and 18 years of age, whilst a growing number of crimes were also found to involve young women.

Local media has reported that of the 155 cases of juvenile crime committed this year, 20 were related to assault, while 20 were filed over theft and robbery. A total of 18 cases related to drug abuse were also filed.

The JJU, which is run under the auspices of the Home Ministry, also reported that a number of crimes in the report were found to include “sexual misconduct”and vandalism.

Last year, the JJU concluded that the “vast majority” of crimes linked to young offenders between April 1 and June 30, 2011, related to people who did not attend school.

According to Haveeru, the JJU’s latest report found 68 percent of young offenders included in the report were found not to have attended school. A large proportion of the crimes committed in the report were linked to suspects aged between 16 and 18.

Local media added that there was a growing number of cases involving young females related to possession of alcohol and “disruption of harmony” relating to illegal gatherings.

The JJU concluded that a lack of proper nurturing, the negative influence of media and adults pushing young people into a life of crime were some of the key drivers for the number of offences in the report.

When adressing the work of a correctional training centre based in Kaafu Atoll, the report added that six children had undertaken rehabilitation programmes at the site so far this year.  However, Haveeru reported that there were concerns children being reintroduced back into society after committing offences were not getting the “necessary” encouragement and support.


Maldives “lagging behind” on tackling malnutrition

The Maldives is “lagging behind” in addressing malnutrition, a senior medical expert has said, as the country continues to work towards meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for health.

Public Health Programme Coordinator for the Center for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC), Dr Fathmath Nazla Rafeeq, told Minivan News that malnutrition in the country was “quite alarming” considering the number of medical advances made in the country over the last few years.

Her comments, made on World Health Day, relate specifically to fears over the national promotion of healthy diets, including issues of vitamin deficiency in expectant mothers and children, to the consumption of high-calorie junk food and energy drinks by young people.

According to figures published in 2009 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), 17.8 percent of children under five years of age were found to be underweight in the Maldives according to international standards for ascertaining health in young people. The same figures found that 6.5 percent of children were classed as overweight in the country. 20.3 percent of children in the same age group were found to be suffering from ‘stunting’, a term describing children suffering growth retardation as a result of poor diet and infection.

Hunger for information

Co-founder of the NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC), Zenysha Shaheed Zaki, believes parents and schools across the Maldives require greater access to trained nutritionists, reflecting a demand for education on healthy eating.

ARC is focusing on overcoming a widespread cultural prevalence for convenience foods in the country by promoting healthier lifestyles – particularly among younger people.

Dr Fazla said that the government continued to rely on NGOs to helping to promote healthier lifestyles across the country’s atolls.

“The state cannot do this alone. Therefore we welcome the support of NGOs to improve health across the country,” she said.

Though not all educational programmes relating to nutrition in the country in recent years have succeeded, the CCHDC claimed in certain cases children were able to teach their own parents about the need to cut down on junk food like french fries and other dietary offenders, as a result of their own learning.

Dr Fazla said there was also a strong concern about the amount of high-calorie junk food being consumed by school-age children.  She also said that the number of expectant mothers suffering with anaemia – a condition that can have health impacts for children later in life – also needed to be addressed.

Energy drinks

Dr Fazla stressed that beyond just dealing with food intake, the government continued to be concerned about a growing trend among parents providing children with caffeinated energy drinks. There was, she said, a common misunderstanding that such drinks were the same as sports drinks designed for rehydration after physical activity.

“We understand that some parents are under the misconception that sports drinks are the same thing as energy drinks,” she said. “Right now we are looking to address concerns about giving energy drinks to children.”

Rather than solely treating nutrition as an education issue, Dr Fazla claimed that wider national issues of food security and supply were also important to the debate about the quality of the nation’s eating habits.

Supply issues

Supply issues are hampering efforts to encourage healthy eating in the Maldives, said Dr Fazla.

“There is a perception among some people that when we encourage people to eat fruits, these be products like apples and oranges – things grown in in other countries, rather than locally available produce like papaya,” she added.

“We also have to think about affordability. I can go to tell someone to buy vegetables, but for products grown on farms say in India there are a lot of variables like shipping costs that impact the prices of such goods.”

Dr Fazla stressed that projects were underway to try and encourage a wider variety of agriculture, but issues of food security and availability should not be understated.

She was ultimately optimistic the country could succeed in fostering a culture of healthier eating among young people, and the rest of the nation.

“We should be able to overcome the challenges of how to feed our young properly,” she claimed.

Awareness issues

ARC yesterday launched a new website for its HEAL campaign, originally launched in April last year, designed to introduce young children to a five-point program designed to promote healthier lifestyles.

According to ARC co-founder Zenysha, the NGO is educating parents and schools to replace fast foods and flavoured soft drinks with fruits and vegetables, water and a generally more active lifestyle. Efficient promotion of ARC’s message remains a major challenge, she said.

“Raising awareness [of healthy eating] among young people is a key challenge we face right now. There are a few nutritionists in the country, but the ARC has had to get two nutritionists from New Zealand to help with our work,” she said. “There is a lot of demand among parents and pre-schools for dietary advice and information. We have had nutritionists meeting with parents at pre-schools in Male’, Hulhumale’ and Villingili – events that were popular, but people are still demanding more advice.”

Children were often wary of being taught lessons, Zenysha said, so ARC was attempting to combine education with games and activities to raise awareness about the importance of healthier eating.

The HEAL plan emphasises the importance of healthier snacking, such as yoghurt or dried fruits and nuts, eating a mix of different coloured fruits and vegetables, avoiding processed foods like sausages and burgers, and aiming for at least an hour a day of physical activity.

Drinks are also included, with parents being asked to reduce their children’s consumption of added-sugar drinks such as packaged juices and flavoured milk, by favouring bottles of water and lower fat or skimmed milk.

Though the HEAL campaign was launched back in April 2011, the launch of the new website this weekend represents an ongoing collaboration with nutritionists to promote a national discourse on the need for healthy eating.

Zenysha said information on the website was at present solely provided in English, though attempts were underway to provide Dhivehi translations.

ARC said it was also looking to schools to try and have a single day each week where children are invited to bring lunches and snacks consisting solely of fruits and vegetables.  Water would also be encouraged in place of added-sugar drinks.

Meanwhile, ARC said it had been invited by a large number of groups and organisations around the country to attend events in order to promote the HEAL campaign, providing games and activities to help parents and children better understand the need for nutrition.

After a festival held last year to promote its nutrition message, Zenysha said the NGO was now looking to hold a similar, much larger event to promote child nutrition in 2012.

ARC had now been in operation for two years and was seeing strong support from government, fellow NGOs and the private sector, though difficulties were still felt in attracting active volunteers, she said.

“While we have lots of interests in our campaigns, we are a relatively small team, so getting trained volunteers for our projects can be difficult,” she said.


“Negligence” to blame for deaths of four children in three weeks: HRCM

While attention in the Maldives focuses on a political crisis which shows no sign of abating, the people are faced with another issue of urgent attention: an increase in the number of child deaths.

Four children under the age of 10 have been reported dead in isolated incidents in just the last few weeks.

The first case was reported on February 19 after a one year-old baby fell from the second-floor balcony of a house in Male’.

A week later, a 10 year old boy was reported dead on the island of Miladhoo in Noonu atoll on February 27. According to local news outlet Sun, the boy had consumed paint thinner (a toxic solvent) while playing around with friends and was subsequently poisoned.

In the first week of March, a two year-old girl was found dead in a fish pond inside a house on Maaamigili in Alifu Dhaalu Atoll, while a six year-old boy was fatally injured after he was hit by a speeding motorbike in a road accident on Gan in Laamu Atoll. The boy went into a coma and died on Thursday night.

Following the death of the boy, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) released a statement saying that the children deaths had increased recently due to “negligence in providing the necessary protection required by the children”.

Expressing concern over the deaths, the commission had urged the government to identify potential threats to the children in the community and formulate the legal framework to protect the children from harm, and educate parents to minimise such incidents.

Speaking to Minivan News, Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam observed that “it is difficult to believe that any mother or father would deliberately neglect the child or cause any harm”.

However, he noted that the way of life has changed drastically over the past years including children’s behavior and playing habits. “Therefore it is necessary to be more attentive to what the children are doing all the time,” Shiyam said.

He noted that police are investigating the reported deaths of children to determine if there was any negligence involved, and will forward the cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG).

“The PG will decided whether to prosecute the cases,” he said.

The deaths come amid the political unrest in the Maldives, which continues to attract almost all of the public’s attention. Cross party peace talks backed by international support have failed to resolve the political stalemate.


Education Ministry slams news website for publishing names and allegations against students

The Education Ministry has expressed concern over an article on a Maldivian news website that published the names and schools of four students it alleged had sex.

The website said that one of the students had become pregnant and aborted the child, and that the school had “taken action” against these students. The website blamed the Education Ministry’s “inadequate policies”.

Deputy Education Ministry Dr Abdulla Nazeer said the allegations were untrue, misleading, and extremely damaging to the students.

“Publishing these sorts of untrue stories about students hurts the reputation of the students, ruins their education, and amounts to psychological abuse,’’ Dr Nazeer said.

“No student in those schools have committed any such activities, and the accusations are totally untrue,’’ said Dr Nazeer. “We are concerned as this disrespects the rights of children. Parents have complained to the ministry about the article.’’


Malnutrition impeding children’s growth

Malnutrition is the biggest impediment to the healthy growth of children here, the Health Ministry has said.

A 2009 survey by the Community Health and Disease Control Unit showed substantial percentages of children not achieving the expected height, strength or weight for their ages, reports Haveeru.

A programme was launched in seven atolls four years ago to monitor the growth of children who could not achieve the desired height as a result of malnutrition. The programme also includes teaching parents to make nutritious meals from locally sourced products.

Haveeru sources, however, noted that the programme had not had much impact.


Children would do better than World leaders on Climate Change action: President Nasheed

“Many people around the world have criticised their leaders for behaving like children. But perhaps our critics give us too much credit. If we took 191 children from each corner of the globe… if we explained the climate crisis to these children, I suspect they would act more sensibly than we do,” said President Nasheed at the ‘Cartagena Group / Dialogue for Progressive Action’ being held on Saturday and Sunday at Bandos Island resort near the Male’.

“I cannot accept that the Maldives must disappear, so others can carry on polluting,” he said.

“Deep divisions” obstructed progress at Copenhagen, Nasheed claimed. “[We] must start in Cancun by reaching agreement across all core issues, especially the inter-related issues of mitigation, finance, and monitoring, reporting and verification.”

Nations need to change the way they present the issue of climate change action to their domestic electorates, according to the President.

“Cutting carbon should not be considered a burden that will destroy jobs and hamper economic growth,” he said. “Instead, going green should be seen as the greatest economic opportunity since the Industrial Revolution.”

Transcript of President Nasheed’s speech


Children kept in Feydhufinolhu centre indefinitely, confirm police

The Maldives Police Service have confirmed they have taken kids from the streets whom they suspect could become involved in crimes, and placed them in a Correctional Training Centre on Feydhufinolhu for an indefinite duration, without a court order.

The children taken to the centre, who are under the age of 18, are kept “until we can guarantee that they are fully ready to be released into society,” said Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam.

”They are kids who are on the streets, and do not attend school,” Shiyam said. ”We only take the children after informing their parents and after they have agreed.”

Many children taken to the centre “are illiterate and do not even know how to pray,” he said, explaining that they were taught subjects like Islam, handicrafts and computing.

”We have 18 children in the centre,” he said. ”We have not released any kid since [it opened in] August.”

”At first some parents were not satisfied,” Shiyam said, ”but later they realised that their children’s behaviour was improving, and now they are happy.”

He said that the date the kids would be handed back to their parents was yet to be decided.

However, a 16 year old boy who was kept in the centre for over two months told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that many kids had been released from the centre, ”hurting the morale of the kids left behind.”

He said parents were told that the kids were being taken to the centre for a special programme and would be released after six months.

”But one day the Commissioner of Police came and said that they had made the duration for 3 months,” he said. ”All the kids were very happy and were hoping to meet their families and loved ones soon.”

He said it had now been more than seven months: ”They released some of them, and kept the rest,” he said. ”There are kids there taken from Fuvamulah, Addu and Male’.”

He said that he was taken while sitting in front of his house.

”Police suspected that I was involved in a stabbing case and took me away,” he said. ”Everyone there is so young and so isolated and stressed – on September 5 a kid there even attempted suicide because he missed his Mum and Dad. Everyone feels like they have been banished.”

He claimed that the police only gave the children a five minute phone call to speak with their families, and that many parents confused about what was going on and when their children would be released.