HRCM urges state to refrain from prosecuting children coerced into crime

With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has noted the increase of child participation in serious crimes, stating that children coerced or forced into committing such crimes should not be prosecuted.

“It has come to our notice that children are taking part in serious crimes of late. As children are persons who are sometimes unable to reflect on their situations and judge wrong from right, the number of children who realise they are committing a crime will be few,” the commission said.

The HRCM described it as “unacceptable that some adults are coercing children to commit crimes so that they can remain safely in the background and free of legal repercussions while it is the children who are prosecuted for these crimes.”

“Crimes involving children must be fairly investigated, and those who coerce the children to commit those crimes must be duly prosecuted and brought to justice,” the statement continued.

The participation of young people in Malé’s prominent gang culture has been well documented, as have the links between organised crime and powerful local politicians and businessmen.

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed also noted the increase in child offenders, stating that theft, assault, drug abuse, and mugging were the most common crimes into which children are coerced.

Waheed spoke of the importance of organising a national level movement to bring an end to children being forced to participate in criminal activity.

The HRCM called upon parents to be mindful and for the relevant state authorities to raise the rights of the child as their highest priority.

The commission’s statement – released on the occasion of Children’s Day – followed the government’s introduction of regulation enabling the reintroduction of the death penalty last month, which allows for the sentencing of juvenile offenders once they turn 18.

Urging repeal of the new regulations, the spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, has said that such “deeply regrettable” practices contravened international law.

“We urge the Government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, particularly in cases that involve juvenile offenders and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether,” said Shamdasani.


MNDF marks Children’s Day

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) conducted equipment demonstrations and allowed children to handle firearms during an event on Saturday to mark Children’s Day.

MNDF Spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem said the National Library requested the MNDF set up a stall as part of the day’s events, “so we demonstrated our equipment, and people took photos with it.”

Some of those photos – of toddlers handling heavy machine guns and staring down the barrels of pistols – were met with concern by Maldivians on social media channels, who described the images as “just not right”, and “sick and wrong”. One Maldivian twitter user questioned whether the event was part of the new government’s civic education syllabus.

Photo: Jaawid Naseem

In response to concerns, Major Abdul Raheem emphasised that the event was “very safe”.

“When we took the weapons outside we did not take any ammunition,” he explained. “The weapons were technically disabled.”

There was no possibility of even an unloaded weapon falling into the hands of a member of the public, he said.

Mariya Ali, former Deputy Minister of Health and Family with a 20 year background in child welfare in the Maldives, questioned the objective of the exercise.

Photo: Jaawid Naseem

“These children have witnessed violence from the [police and army], and now they are being exposed to the tools of violence. If it is not explained correctly, it can have a longstanding effect on them,” she said. “It is not appropriate for children under the age of eight to be exposed to this.”

Mariya said research into how children perceived authority figures such as the police showed that “Children see them as protectors – in their minds they separate the act of protecting – violence – from the protective side.”

“It would have been better to focus on the protective side, rather than the guns – things like fire safety, and cleaning up after accidents,” she suggested. “Children look up to them, they are important role models.”

UNICEF Resident Representative to the Maldives Zeba Tanvir Bukhari said the organisation was “quite taken aback” and said she hoped the MNDF would consult it when organising future events.

“It’s really very worrying. Children are very fragile at that age – the focus needs to be on care, affection, education and health.  There is a huge risk of influencing children,” she said.

Images courtesy Jaawid Naseem/Jade Photography. Republished with permission.


Male’ cinema celebrating Children’s Day with free 3D screening

The Athena Cinema on Male’s Boduthakurufaanu Magu is inviting children to a free screening of the 3D animated film “Despicable Me” this afternoon as part of a promotion to celebrate Children’s Day.

Schwack Maldives Pvt, which operates the cinema that specialises in showing Bollywood and Hollywood films, has said that the 200 tickets being made available for this afternoon’s 2:30pm showing of the 3D film will be provided on a first come, first serve basis.

According to the company, the film is being screened free of charge to try and appeal to families as a means of celebrating Children’s Day together in the capital.

“Despicable Me” was first released last year and has been rated PG for containing some rude humour and mild action.

Further details about today’s showing are available from the Athena Cinema on 333 8998.