ARC invites submissions for photography competition

NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) has invited submissions from the public for ‘The Rights of Children Photography Competition 2014’.

According to ARC, the objective of the competition is to raise awareness on the rights of children as per the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“Twelve photographs, one for each topic, will be selected and used in the design of ARC’s official calendar for the year 2015,” the NGO explained.

“Winners will be announced on Universal Children’s Day, the 20th of November, 2014, following an exhibition of selected photographs. The calendar will be launched on International Human Rights Day, the 10th of December, 2014. All proceeds from the calendar sales will be used to fund ARC’s H.O.P.E. Campaign against Child Abuse.”

The 12 topics or themes for the competition as well as guidelines for submission can be found on the ARC website.


A National Enquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities to commence hearings on Thursday

The National Inquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities (AECD) along with the Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM) will be holding a hearing at the National Art Gallery from May 8 – 13th from 09:00 – 23:00.

The purpose of this inquiry is to look in to the practices, policies and laws related to the education for children with disabilities and to determine the States role in providing for people with disabilities in a non-discriminatory manner, with a special focus on the educational needs of children with disabilities.

The meetings will be used to collect statements from parents of children with disabilities. The AECD will then compile these into a report which they will present to the relevant Ministries, and the AECD will monitor how they are followed.

Representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education will also be present, said a member of the AECD.


ARC launches ‘Respect’ campaign against bullying

Childrens’ rights NGO Advocating for the Rights of Children (ARC) on Saturday launched a campaign against bullying and discrimination titled ‘Respect’.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of these issues among children in order to equip them to respect both themselves and others’ boundaries and surroundings.

The ‘Respect’ campaign was initiated as a result of a survey conducted by the NGO in 2012, which “showed alarming statistics of bullying in schools”.

Under the campaign, a number of sessions will focus on anti-bullying and anti-discrimination with the primary aim of supporting students, teachers, and parents to promote positive and respectful behaviour and to create safe and healthy environments for children.

Launching the campaign this weekend, ARC held events at the Children’s Shelter and Muhyidheen School in the island of Villingili. The campaign includes a week-long programme consisting of material to teach the children how to acknowledge and accept differences between themselves and others.

The programme will help participants understand the term ‘bullying’, to identify bullying behaviour, and to recognise the emotional and psychological impacts of such behaviour. Children taking part will also learn the difference between assertive, aggressive, and passive communication and will learn to use assertive communication to stop or prevent bullying.

The programme involves both indoor and outdoor activities over the span of a week. Participants in the first of the series of programmes include 58 students from Grade 1 at Muhyidheen School and children ages 6 and over from the Children’s Shelter.

‘Respect’ will be conducted by foreign consultant Karen Boswell and ARC’s Senior Consultant on Education Fathimath Nahidh Shakir.


A 2012 survey conducted across grades 6 and 7 in all primary schools in capital city Malé, Hulhumalé, and Villingili found that 80 percent of students claimed to have seen another student being bullied or discriminated against, while 61 percent of the participants revealed that they had been bullied themselves.

Of those interviewed, 17 percent admitted to having bullied other students.

Regarding types of bullying, 15 percent noted being physically hurt, 28 percent had rumours and lies spread about them, and 32 percent reported having been teased.

Participants reported that 10 percent of bullying incidents took place near the toilets in school, 14 percent in school playgrounds, 16 percent in corridors, and 37 per cent in classrooms.

Almost half of the bullying victims – 45 percent – did not report bullying incidents to anyone. Of those who did, 49 percent of complaints were made to teachers and 45 percent to parents.

Those surveyed suggested that physical appearance was the primary reason for bullying – 36 percent giving this explanation – while personality, academic performance, and differences of opinion were cited as the next most prominent causes.

The report revealed that children felt bullying could be prevented by anti-bullying policies (19 percent), increased adult supervision (17 percent), and raising awareness of the issue (16 percent).

The ‘Respect’ campaign will stretch through out 2014 and will be held in various preschools, primary, and secondary schools.


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.


Parliament fails to pass critical child protection bills: report

A study recently published by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) highlights numerous participation and protection policy deficiencies putting Maldivian children at serious risk of harm.

The report, Child participation in the Maldives: An assessment of knowledge analyses how much the Maldives – as a fledgling democratic state and society – knows of children’s rights to participation, and assesses the mechanisms in place to protect their fundamental human rights.

The UNICEF-backed report, which was finished in 2011 but only published in January 2013, discusses children’s rights in regard to situations of violence, healthcare, family, media, and play. Children consulted were primarily from Male’ and various alternative care facilities located near Male’.

Ultimately the report recommends government and civil society organisations “push for a radical change in the traditional thinking which dominates Maldivian perceptions of children: children should be seen and not heard,” as this study states.

“If children are not heard today, who will speak for the Maldivian democracy tomorrow?”

The wide gaps between policies, legislative instruments, and their actual implementation are limiting the realisation of “progressive” measures that have been developed to enable and protect children’s rights, according to the report.

These shortcomings occur as a result of a lack of resources, political will, qualified professionals, and deliberate obstruction due to political polarisation.

In one example the report highlights the lack of a tracking system for the Ministry of Education to monitor nationwide attendance records. Thus, without the cooperation of the parliament, education cannot be made compulsory.

“The Ministry of Education is concerned with the remarkably long period of time it is taking for the parliament to pass the education bill (pending from 2009 onwards),” the report states.

The Juvenile Justice Act is another piece of legislation parliament has yet to be enacted, despite the establishment of a Juvenile Justice Court.

“This has meant that minors who commit offences, however major or minor, enter into the country’s criminal justice system, and have to be dealt with as adults.”

In practice this has led to sentencing being delayed until the child has reached 18 years of age, despite “substantial changes in behavior”. There are no separate detention centers for adults and minors, and “reformatories” are only available for boys.

“This is a form of gender discrimination at the state level that should not be occurring, and which the state should address as a matter of urgency,” the report added.

“We feel that we don’t have any rights to speak”

Focus group consultations with children as well as interviews with youth in “alternative care” facilities demonstrated how these policy shortcomings are harming Maldivian children.

The political polarisation paralysing parliament has prevented concepts of “democracy, human rights, and active citizenship,” as well as current affairs, from being discussed in schools, the report states. As a result many children are unaware of their legal rights and try to seek information outside of school.

“When we ask about issues that are talked about in parliament, we don’t really get an explanation. Also, if we become unruly and loud in the class, we are seen as ‘becoming the Majlis’,” said one child.

In a related issue, school administrations are preventing children’s participation in civil society organisations by either banning it outright or requiring school permission.

“Please let me go” – 13 year-old ETCC Maafushi resident

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

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, the report said.

It cites the conditions at the Maafushi island Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) run by the Ministry of Education as an example.

“None of [the children] are properly informed of the reasons why they are at the centre, nor are they given any clear indications as to why they have been detained, how long they can expect to be there, and what the procedures are for leaving.

“Many were left completely in the dark by their families about their intentions to send them to Maafushi—some children only found out en route or once they arrived at the centre,” the report added.

Similar circumstances exist at the Kudakudhinge Hiyaa (Children’s Shelter) on Villingili island. The limited access to resources creates a gulf between the government’s Minimum Standards for Alternative Care Institutions and actual quality of life at the centre, the report found.

Feydhoo Finolhu Detention Centre

“A fundamental problem with the facility” exists at the Correctional Training Centre for Children on Feydhoo Finolhu island – run by the Juvenile Justice Unit (JJU) of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Maldives Police Service’s Child Protection Unit.

“None of the children who are at the facility have been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one,” stated the report.

The children held in “administrative detention” at Feydhoo Finolhu are identified by police as “dangerous to the wider society and themselves… because they possess the potential for committing serious offenses,” the report added.

Police officers in civilian clothes care for, guard, and teach the children. The centre reports that its success rate for correcting antisocial behavior is 80 percent.

However, sources familiar with the facility alleged to Minivan News that two juveniles detained at the facility were beaten by police officers and chose to swim to Male’ rather than stay in the facility.

Children’s rights marginalised

No state or independent institutions are mandated solely to protect children’s rights, and no coordinating body exists for the various government agencies to address different children’s issues. “Lumping” children’s rights with issues pertaining to other vulnerable groups has marginalised them, according to the report.

“[This] reinforces the general perception of children as no more than another segment of society that needs protection… thus children at large – not just their views and opinions – are very often neglected or pushed to the bottom of the state’s list of priorities.”

Few policy and legislative mechanisms exist that “formally require” children participate in decisions that will affect their lives. Both the 2008 constitution and the Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child (91/9) lack such a provision.

Instead there is a tendency to focus on protections while excluding “positive” rights, such as children’s right to be heard, to information, and participation in political and social affairs, the report notes.