More than 1000 cases of child abuse reported in 2011

Between December 2010 and October 2011, 1,138 cases of child abuse were reported to the Gender Department from atoll family and children service centres.

1,005 cases involved minors while 133 cases involved victims aged 18 and above.

A majority of cases (348) involved children aged 11 to 15; 30 percent of these cases were classified as sexual abuse.

Approximately one-third of the 81 cases involving children less than one year old involved neglect. Sexual abuse was reported in a quarter of the 192 cases for age group one to five, and in a fifth of the 230 cases age group five to ten.

Acting Head of the Child and Family Protection Services Aishath Ahmed said the report said more about the record keeping system than the issue itself.

“I would say the statistics show an improvement in the reporting system because people are more aware of how to file a report. I don’t think the situation is getting better, as far as I know the number of cases is increasing,” she said, explaining the report only accounted for cases reported.

However, Ahmed said people are less hesitant about filing reports than they were five years ago.

“Back then people didn’t want to report the cases, they didn’t want to get involved in other people’s business. But now they can report anonymously,” said Ahmed, explaining that island residents were also filing reports more regularly.

“Before, some people believed that only sexual penetration constituted child abuse,” she explained. “Now, they know more about the different kinds of abuse. The definition of sexual abuse is also clearer, so they can distinguish.”

Child abuse cases are divided between four categories: sexual, physical, psychological and neglect. Statistics show that 57 percent of abuse cases reported were physical. Ahmed said the second most common form of abuse was neglect (17.4 percent).

Family problems such as domestic violence, runaways and complications due to divorce were identified in 14.1 percent of the cases. Behavioral problems including teen pregnancy, self-mutilation, attempted suicide and anger management accounted for another 14 percent of reported cases.

In it’s own report, Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM) yesterday said its offices had received 500 complaints of human rights violations in the past year, 74 of which involved the social protection of children, elderly and disadvantaged people.

HRCM is one of several organisations with which individuals may file a report on child abuse in the Maldives.

A report submitted to the United Nations by HRCM in July this year found that physical discipline in some schools qualifies as abuse.

“For instance, the investigation carried out by HRCM on Lale’ International School (2010) made apparent that number of students experienced physical and psychological abuse in the school. Some of the findings include abuses such as strangling and whipping children with belts. The findings of HRCM were further validated when the Criminal Court in August 2010 found the former principal of the school, guilty of assaulting children and sentenced him to pay Rf200 (US $12.97 ) as fine under article 126 of the Penal Code.”

Staff of Lale’ School, including the deputy principle, fled the Maldives in 2010 over allegations of child abuse and other misconducted, which was investigated by HRCM.

Article 10 of the Law on Protection of the Rights of the Child states that punishment in schools should be age-appropriate and should not affect them physically or psychologically.

According to Ahmed, child abuse has a lasting impact on the individual and the community.

The aftermath of abuse can vary by the age of the victim and the severity of the treatment. “If a child has experienced repeated sexual abuse, then as the child approaches sexual maturity she or he may have a difficult time adjusting within the age group. Physically abused children may also develop violent habits in their own marriages later in life,” said Ahmed.

Abusive behavior can also impact children’s social development. “It affects education as well. Children who have been abused sometimes can’t cope with their peers, and they might lash out or withdraw. They may have a hard time paying attention in school,” she explained.

HRCM’s report said the Ministry of Education (MoE) acknowledged that school monitoring and inspection was insufficient.

“Due to the fact that corporal punishment is existent in the education system, it is important that the MoE come up with a discipline policy where it could provide clear guidelines disciplinary actions/corrective measures in schools. It is equally significant that all staffs, including teachers are sensitized to the rights of the child and other related rights that are relevant while working in the education sector.”

HRCM’s action plan includes the public outreach campaign ‘Every Neglect is an Abuse’. The commission has also released handouts informing citizens of the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), of which the Maldives is a signatory.

Last week, the Maldives recognised “World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse: Every Neglect is an Abuse“. Children’s festivals were organised by government groups and NGOs including the Child Abuse Prevention Society (CAPS), HRCM, the Ministry of Education, the Department of Gender and Family, Maldives Police Service, Care Society, Maldives Autism Association, Maldives Red Crescent and Tiny Hearts.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who attended both events, said the efforts to raise public awareness of child abuse was an indicator of Maldivian society’s growing concern over the issue. Listing the four categories of abuse–physical, sexual, psychological and neglect–he urged parents not be overly-critical of their children.

When asked if there were sufficient resources for the Maldivian community to address child abuse, Ahmed said the network is growing.

“People can contact the police, NGOs, HRCM, and there’s a Family Protection Unit in IGMH [Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital]. The cases are also forwarded to us, and we review them to see how best to address them,” she said.

Ahmed explained that a series of interviews, visits and follow-up reports are conducted to evaluate a claim. Sometimes the situation is not as severe as initially reported. “We may close a case when we feel there is no further assistance we can provide, but we rarely close a case.”

Child and Family Protection Services will be working to create more awareness throughout the year. A more specific action plan has not yet been drawn up.


Comment: Challenges remain for child rights in the Maldives

November 20 marks the 21st anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is a landmark Convention formulated in 1989, founded upon the collective realisation, understanding and agreement among nations of the world that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance.

The CRC underpins the international agreement articulated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 that the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth. The CRC is the most ratified international treaty, having been signed by all countries of the world, bar two, representing a major milestone in the efforts to achieve a world fit for children.

The Maldives ratified the CRC in 1991, being amongst the earliest signatories to the Convention. Accession to the CRC has achieved substantial benefits for the children of the Maldives. The Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Law 9/91), for example, is derived directly from the provisions stipulated in the CRC, providing a legal basis for the protection of children in the Maldives.

The anniversary of the CRC provides an excellent opportunity to take stock of the achievements Maldives has made in the realisation of the rights of children to survival, development, protection and participation as well as to examine opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Maldives has made remarkable progress in development over the last several years having achieved five out of eight Millennium Development Goals ahead of time, making it the first MDG plus country in South Asia. These achievements demonstrate significant progress for Maldivian children with regard to their survival and development. Initial steps are being taken to establish mechanisms for the protection of children. Family and Children Service Centres have been established in the atolls with the intention of bringing protection services closer to the people. There is also widespread dialogue amongst political and civil leaders, as well as the public at large on issues relating to child protection and a greater demand for more urgent and stringent actions to prevent child abuse.

Despite the substantial progress made for Maldivian children, several challenges remain. While the health and nutrition status of children are improving, malnutrition and under-nutrition of children remains persistent throughout the country with one in five Maldivian children under five years being stunted.

The challenges for sustaining achievements in education at the primary level relate to quality and limited opportunities for children with special needs. Furthermore, the low completion rates at lower secondary level combined with limited opportunities for vocational education and recreational opportunities have lead to a whole host of problems surrounding youth including drug abuse, juvenile delinquency and gang violence.

Children continue to be exploited, abused and neglected. The child protection system lacks capacity, adequate resources and proper coordination between agencies responsible for protection, care and rehabilitation. Additional challenges affecting the realization of children’s right to protection include lack of a proper juvenile justice system, including juvenile justice legislations and comprehensive child rights and child protection legislation.

Article 12 of the Convention stipulates that, “State Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”. Children remain left out of the decision making process in matters affecting them.

Recommendations of the CRC Committee to the Combined Second and Third Report of the Maldives to the UN in 2006 highlight key actions that can accelerate the realization of the rights of Maldivian children. The responsibility for success not only lies with the State, but also with the parents, caregivers, and the community.

Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and civil society groups, as well the media, are essential in monitoring and advocating for child rights. Strong families and communities are central to augmenting the gains made for children. Parents can play a critical role in the all round development of the child by providing love, care and a supportive environment. A mechanism for children’s participation in matters affecting them needs to be put in place. The evidence base needs to be strengthened and utilised to ensure the most vulnerable children are identified and reached. Strategic partnerships between the State and civil society as well as the private sector need to be strengthened to guarantee all Maldivian children have an equal chance to reach their potential.

The anniversary of the CRC is a time for us to revisit the pledge the world made for children. Most importantly, it is a reminder for us of what we have left to do to realize all rights, of all children. On this occasion, let us recall the words of former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan who said, “There is no trust more sacred than the one that the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace”.

Bertrand Mendis is the UNICEF Maldives Representative.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Real democracy is when barriers to women’s participation come down

If democracy is to function, barriers to women’s participation have to come down. If the citizens of Maldives are to improve their lives, women voices need to be heard at the political level and the obstructions removed.

Any politician or citizen of good will in the country who wants democracy will need to be honest and understand this aspect, and promote it willingly and without any reservations.

When women who have worked their way up the career ladder are able to be in the front line of the country’s development, can take ownership and are acknowledged for their achievement by political leaders and considered an asset, then it is an indication of a democratic government.

The barrier to this opportunity has not come down in the Maldives. Presently women in the front line are players selected to those positions by the government’s political agenda.

On the broader horizon, the change starts with women. Women need to see that they can do something about improving the quality of their lives, and those of their families and communities, by reaching for political leadership or becoming involved in political and civil activities. Women need to have the will to share and enjoy the privileges and the benefits of a democratic constitution.

How do women think?

The outcome of a woman’s thought is influenced by the role she plays in life. Women’s leadership may not bring all the solutions but then neither does men’s leadership. What makes the difference is the process of decision making and the outcomes when women voice their issues and express what they see as significant to a better environment for living. That is an important difference and must be taken seriously for good governance.

The difference can also be seen as the gender difference. The difference in thinking may be defined in this manner because the woman may have been a mother, or have cared for elderly people, or have experienced marginalisation or exposure to various forms of abuse, etc.

How could a viable political environment be formed without the views, advocacy and judgments that include women’s perspective? Women’s perspective in the Maldives especially is important as it presents grass root advocacy.

Beyond traditional spheres

Being politically active means to reach out to leadership positions and taking a stand for the values of democracy. It means moving into positions that are critical to attain social justice, raising public awareness and accessing visible positions of authority. It means venturing beyond traditional sphere of home and family. It means promoting fairness and no allowance for partiality.

Political engagement does not necessarily mean having a political career, campaigning, and getting into the parliament or the government’s leading positions. You can work up to leadership on the job so that you can implement fair and equal working conditions in your own work environment, you can be socially responsible, you can support people’s development and high-quality resources management.

If you choose to move onto the benches or go into law, you go beyond simply taking voting as your only civic engagement and civic participation, but pursue civil rights for the people and are in a position to advocate for and against implementation of legislative initiatives.

Your political activity may take the form of collective action, by forming associations to reach out to larger groups and transform your society. You would create a common vision, define common goals, invite people with similar aspirations and reinforce each other thus linking individual empowerment to group empowerment.

Moving beyond traditional spheres means change. Today people identify change with empowerment.

Empowerment can be defined as claiming the right by an individual to choose freely and control their own lives. Broadly defined it is the woman’s right to her own body and sexuality including protection against any form of violence, the right to her own income and equal opportunity to earning, power over her resources and fair inheritance, her rights to justice and position in a legal system (including impartiality in the Constitution).

The organisation and political aspects are self-help groups and collective action to bring change. Fundamental to change is the access to information and know-how.

Although this article focuses strongly on women, the content is applicable to men and can help them to become aware of their own disadvantageous position. Without this awareness, neither men nor women can seek empowerment. Empowerment means more than an adequate comfortable adjustment. On a personal level and the community level, it is redistribution of power that does justice to the opportunities and members of the society, does not compromise freedom and does not take happen at the expense of others.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Donor Conference pledges now US$487 million, says Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Aid commitments following the recent Maldives Donor Conference have reached US$487 million, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and State Minister Ahmed Naseem took to the stage this morning to dismiss claims made by the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that the donor conference had raised less US$20 million in pledges.

“That is their own number,” Dr Shaheed said.

“If you add up the money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the UN system, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) it’s almost US$200 million. That is 80 per cent of pledges coming from these big donors.”

Shaheed spoke about monitoring and implementation mechanisms, which would ensure the funds are used according to the donor’s wishes and the government’s pledges.

Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives Mansoor Ali said the donor conference had been very successful and it was “not the time to be negative” about the results.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of the recent climate change meeting held this week by the Progressive Group in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where delegates from 23 countries met to advance negotiations before the next international climate change summit scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico in November this year.

The Progressive Group brings together the countries with a “forward-looking and constructive attitude to international climate change negotiations,” and played a key role in last year’s international climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Delegates from over twenty countries came together in Colombia to “exchange opinions and promote active participation towards the next climate change summit.”

The meeting focused mostly on creating ministerial-level communication between countries, in hopes to ease dialogue between nations and to advance on key issues such as fast-start financing, adaptation, low-carbon development and verification of emission cuts.

Maldives proposed a second ministerial-level meeting to take place in Malé in July this year.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of President Mohamed Nasheed’s recent visit to Europe, and confirmed that German Police officers will be arriving in Malé “very soon” to begin training Maldives Police Service (MPS) officers to work in a democracy.

“They are the ones who retrained the Stasi in East Germany after German reunification, as well as the police force in Kosovo,” Shaheed said. “They are the best in the world at what they do.”

He said the German team will stay in the Maldives from one year to eighteen months, depending on when they believe the MPS is ready, “all at the German government’s expense.”

Dr Shaheed added that Icelandic President, Ólafur Grímsson, will be visiting the Maldives soon to promote sustainable green energy alongside President Nasheed.

Dr Shaheed spoke of the recently signed agreement with the Rothschild banking dynasty, which has agreed to help the Maldives in the bid to become carbon neutral by 2020.

“There needs to be a study on where we have most carbon emissions,” Dr Shaheed said, adding that “they will also try to carbon-proof our current systems.”

The Rothschild group will secure international financing to fund a carbon audit of the Maldives. Dr Shaheed said the surveying will take approximately nine months.

Dr Shaheed ended the press conference with news of the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to draft a new international human rights treaty as an additional optional protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was proposed by the Maldives.

Maldives was chosen to chair the core group discussing the CRC in Geneva, joined by Slovenia, Slovakia, Egypt, Kenya, France, Finland, Thailand, Uruguay and Chile.

The CRC, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, was lacking in allowing cases regarding abuse of the rights of children to be submitted to international UN mechanisms.

The new treaty proposes to allow cases to be sent to international protection mechanisms to intervene when domestic institutions fail to offer protection.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story Dr Shaheed was quoted as saying the visiting German police trainers were  responsible for retraining the Gestapo after the Second World War. This has been clarified as the Stasi, the East German secret police, who were retrained after the reunification of Germany post-1990.


Successful agreement on UN Child Rights Treaty led by Maldives

The Maldives has secured the decision to draft a new international human rights treaty as an additional optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week, reports Miadhu.

The CRC, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, entered into force in 1990. Until now, it was the only major human rights treaty that did not have procedures to allow violations of children’s rights to be reported to UN human rights mechanisms.

The unanimous decision reached in Geneva ends the 20 year deadlock between UN Member States, now allowing international protection mechanisms to intervene when domestic institutions fail to offer protection.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed said the fact that the Maldives was asked to chair and lead the negotiations to secure the agreement on the CRC showed the high regard which the international community has for the Maldives.

He added that the fact that the 20 year deadlock had been broken showed the Maldives’ growing international influence.