Maldivian youth need access to sexual reproductive health education, services: Department of National Planning

Maldivian youth need sex education and access to reproductive health services, given high numbers of unsafe abortions, rising infanticide, as well as increasing risk factors that contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, a Department of National Planning study has found.

The study examined how much human development progress has been achieved in the Maldives in terms of population and development, reproductive health and rights, gender equity, equality and empowerment of women as well as education during the period 1994 – 2012.

The thematic Programme of Action (PoA) goals were established during the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and adopted by 179 participating governments, including the Maldives. Thus, the “Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014” study was conducted under the supervision of the Department of National Planning (DNP) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Overall the study found that the Maldives has “accomplished remarkable progress” in achieving the ICPD PoA goals, with “impressive advancements in all development areas… and notable achievements in sexual and reproductive health.”

However young people and women continue to lack access to quality services, particularly in regard to sexual and reproductive health, which is putting their health at risk.

Youth comprise the largest population group in the Maldives and “[with] the number of young people entering their reproductive years on the rise, special attention to ensure that adolescents and youth are provided with sufficient knowledge about their anatomies, sexual and reproductive health, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases is needed,” stated the study.

“Access to contraceptives is limited to the married population despite overwhelming empirical evidence suggesting the need to provide contraceptive information and access to the youth population,” the study noted.

“Information must also be provided on the risks of getting pregnant in young age and of unsafe abortion,” the report continued.

“Simultaneously, it is also essential to establish more comprehensive and confidential reproductive health services which are more accessible and affordable,” the study found.

The report repeatedly noted that although information regarding reproductive health, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are technically “available to everyone regardless of age, gender and marital status…access to reproductive health services are still limited to the married population.”

However, even the married population is not always ensured access to accessible, affordable and confidential reproductive health services, according to the study’s findings.

Contraceptive use among married couples is “relatively low”, with “Only 27 percent of married women using modern methods”.

“With regard to reproductive rights, men often control decisions regarding women’s reproductive health, often based on religious and cultural grounds,” the report noted.

“[Furthermore,] the sudden growth of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking is an emerging challenge, particularly for women and young girls,” the study stated. “There have been increase towards certain trends such as preference for home schooling and refusing vaccination and other medical services for women based on religious beliefs.”

Sex, drugs, and reproductive rights

The report highlighted the “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents and youth population.”

High numbers of unsafe abortions – mostly through injections and pills – were noted as “one of the main causes of preventable maternal deaths in the country.”

Infanticide also appears to be increasing, as demonstrated by media reports of “several new born babies and few premature babies found in parks and/or buried in secluded places and/ or thrown into the sea,” said the report.

“These are clear indications for the need of life skills programmes and reproductive health education,” the study suggested. “Access and utilisation of contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies must also be advocated to minimise these issues.”

The lack of reproductive health rights and services for women and girls have also lead to observed increases in non-communicable diseases such as breast cancer and cervical cancers, according to the study.

Meanwhile, male reproductive health issues are often ignored, while “family planning and use of contraception is largely considered a woman’s responsibility.” Therefore, the study recommended strengthening awareness information and access to male reproductive health services.

In order to create the awareness needed about reproductive rights and reproductive health, the report suggested using “Carefully targeted programmes using innovative and youth friendly tools such as social media and text messaging.”

An interrelated issue includes widespread drug use and substance abuse among Maldivian youth, with cases reported to the Maldives Police Services increasing from 195 cases in 2001 to 1,160 cases in 2010, noted the study.

“The high level of drug usage coupled with the increase in commercial sex workers imposes great risks for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections and reproductive tract infections,” said the report.

The lack of sexual reproductive health access and awareness combined with risk factors including sharing needles to inject drugs, sexual activities among adolescents and youth, extramarital sex, and commercial sex workers, “could contribute to an increase in the incidence and prevalence of STIs and HIV/AIDS,” the study found.

“It is therefore crucial to educate the population on the risks of STI’s and HIV/AIDS through carefully designed behavioural change communication strategies,” the report recommended. “It is equally important to promote awareness on the availability of voluntary counseling and testing services and contraceptives such as condoms in Male’ and in regional level.”

The report recommended giving special consideration to “identify these high risks groups and provide them with the necessary information, treatment and services.”

Age appropriate sexual and reproductive health education needs to taught in schools to combat the increasing “sexual health illnesses” in the Maldives, according to the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC).

In 2012, CCHDC’s Public Health Programme Coordinator Nazeera Nazeeb revealed that studies have found high risk behaviors – including “unprotected sex, drug and alcohol abuse, homosexuality and prostitution” – are putting young people at high risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.


Condoms and black magic: police raid Usfasgandu

Additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

Police raided the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest camp at Usfasgandu this morning, after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court and cordoning off the area from MDP demonstrators.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi was inside the cordon showing the warrant to a group of media representatives shortly after 8:00am, as dozens of police began to gather in the area.

Reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected criminal activity”, “damage to public property”, and “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

Under evidence, the warrant alleged that people in the Usfasgandu area verbally abused police officers and damaged a police vehicle on April 20, obstructed a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) exercise of May 9, and on May 25 “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”

As blue-gloved officers from the Drug Enforcement Department (DED) arrived, a group of largely female protesters began to gather at the barricades set up near the STELCO building. The barricade was itself lightly manned by police, however a group of police stationed further back near the Dharubaaruge convention centre were equipped with riot shields, gas masks and rubber bullet guns.

The crowd was noisy and upset, but non-violent. An altercation erupted at the front between a group of women and several young men, whom protesters claimed had been sent by a government-affiliated party to provoke the crowd. Minivan News later observed one of these men being arrested by police after trying to break through the barricade.

Meanwhile, DED officers fanned out at the Usfasgandu site and began poking through plants and debris around the padlocked container under the main stage. A large group of police on the other side were picking through rocks along the seawall, while a police boat waited outside the harbour.

Media raced over to photograph the first discovery, retrieved from a nearby bush: cigarette butts and a brown substance wrapped in an MDP membership form. Police near the stage had meanwhile lifted up a wooden board and found a small plastic baggie containing the remnants of a dried substance.

A major find occurred after police broke open the container, searching through old paint tins and debris before reaching into a ceiling cavity, triumphantly producing a packet of condoms (‘Moods’ ultrathin).

The Usfasgandu area had been given to the MDP by the (MDP-dominated) Male’ City Council, after it was evicted by police from its previous camp just metres down the road at the tsunami monument. Police at the time claimed the area was being used as a hub for criminal activity and assorted deviancy, and a similar raid uncovered beer and condoms. The camp was immediately dismantled by the police and MNDF, and walls were painted over grey to remove all trace of the MDP from the area.

The Usfasgandu raid this morning ends a stalemate between the Home Ministry – headed by former Justice Minister during Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s rule, Dr Mohamed Jameel – and Male’ City Council.

The Housing Ministry initially sought to repossess the area from the Council, which refused to cooperate. The Home Ministry then instructed police to retake the area, who approached the Criminal Court for a warrant. The court initially denied this warrant, stating that the repossession was a civil matter and not within its jurisdiction.

Eight days later and Home Minister Jameel yesterday announced that the Ministry had received complaints of criminal activity in the area: “No complaints of any criminal activities had been raised with us at the time [of the original court order request]. But now many complaints have been received including criminal offences,” he told local media.

Police Spokesperson Sub-inspector Hassan Haneef said that following a search of the area a decision would be taken on whether to shut down the site.

“If there is reasonable evidence of crimes being committed there, we would look to close the area,” he said.

Male City Mayor Ali ‘Maizaan’ Manik was standing next to a cage full of crows – kept on the site by the MDP demonstrators to mock President Mohamed Waheed, who is caricatured as a crow on the popular Maakanaa Show.

“I’m too angry to talk right now,” he told Minivan News, as police were left to pick through the area after media scurried to protect their cameras from the sudden downpour.

Back through the police barricades, one visibly upset protester expressed frustration at what he described as “a police state”.

“We just want somewhere to peacefully protest,” he said. “They are just going to plant something, like drugs or explosives, so they can blame us. What can we do? We are helpless.”

An older man came up, put his hand on his shoulder, and led him out of the rain.