PG announces policy for not prosecuting first time offenders

Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin has announced a new policy for not prosecuting first time offenders for petty crimes under a “second chance programme.”

At a press conference yesterday, Muhsin explained that a special committee would consider eligibility of persons arrested by the police for various offences and sign an agreement with the offender.

As the purpose of the programme is to allow first time offenders to seek employment – which is made difficult due to a requirement for a police report – Muhsin said criminal records would be cleared once the agreement is signed.

The criteria for eligibility meanwhile includes taking into consideration the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances under which it was committed, physical or psychological harm caused, the rights of injured parties, and the penalty prescribed by law.

Persons who commit crimes for which a punishment is prescribed in Islamic Shariah would not be eligible, he noted.

In his address to the nation on Independence Day (July 26), President Abdulla Yameen revealed that criminal records have been cleared for 3,588 youth since he took office in November.

Home Minister Umar Naseer had told parliament earlier that month that criminal records of more than 2,000 youth have been cleared or expunged since the current administration took office in November.

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Criminal records cleared for over 2,000 youths, home minister informs parliament

Criminal records of more than 2,000 youth have been cleared or expunged since the current administration took office in November, Home Minister Umar Naseer told parliament last week.

Appearing for minister’s question time at Wednesday’s sitting of parliament, Naseer explained that criminal records are cleared for suspects involved in cases that are not forwarded for prosecution following investigation by police.

Criminal records would not be cleared for suspects whose cases are sent to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office, he added.

“So we are following that rule now and the number of youth with criminal records will be fewer than before now,” he said.

However, Naseer stressed that the Home Ministry could not expunge all criminal records as “this involves employers’ rights as well”.

Employers needed to “know who they are giving a job to,” Naseer said.

The home minister was responding to a question from Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP for Addu Feydhoo, Ibrahim Didi, who said he received a lot of calls from young people in his constituency who were unable to get jobs due to criminal records.

Most of the youth had criminal records for minor offences, he said.

In January, police revealed that records of 1,023 persons arrested for various offences were cleared under an initiative to provide job opportunities to youth.

A 2012 report on gang culture in the Maldives noted that lack of employment opportunities was one of the main reasons young people join criminal gangs.

Criminal records even for minor offences are not cleared for five years, the report noted.

“Sustained effort”

Meanwhile, in April, President Abdulla Yameen granted clemency to 169 convicts serving jail sentences or under house arrest or banishment following an announcement at a campaign rally in Fuvahmulah.

Naseer told Minivan News in the wake of President Yameen’s announcement that the release of inmates would not present any difficulties to ongoing efforts to combat drug trafficking.

“It will not be a hindrance because the present Clemency Act prevents serious offenders from being released. Furthermore, this process will be monitored by the Home Ministry,” he said.

President Yameen also commuted the sentences of 24 inmates in January while his predecessor Dr Mohamed Waheed released 39 convicts during his last days in office.

The “main difficulty” at present for law enforcement was the delay in concluding cases through the criminal justice system, Naseer told MPs.

While the role of police was over after sending a case for prosecution, Naseer said cases were often delayed either at the PG’s Office or at court.

Asked about efforts to combat drug trafficking, Naseer said he estimated a period of 15 years would be needed with a “sustained effort” by successive administrations to address the country’s drug problem.

The police Drug Enforcement Department (DED) has conducted more operations in the past six months than was previously conducted in one year, Naseer claimed.

More drugs were also seized in the past six months than previous years, he added.

Discussions have taken place “at the technical committee level” with airport operators and customs officials to “seal” all points of entry, Naseer said.

In an interview with Minivan News in January, Naseer said that the main target of his ministry for the next five years would be curbing drug-related crimes.

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Police clear criminal records of 1,023 young persons

Police have cleared the police records of 1,023 young persons who were arrested for various criminal offenses, as part of police work to provide job opportunities for young people.

In a statement issued today the police said Commissioner Hussain Waheed had urged all young persons to make the best out of this “golden opportunity” and to leave the crime environment and become useful people to society.

Police reported that they had cleared the criminal records of 564 cases where young people were involved.

Furthermore, the police statement noted that they were trying to conclude the investigations into at least 80 percent of the cases submitted to police before the first 100 day of the new government ends.

A lack of jobs was cited as one of the major reasons for young people to join gangs in a 2012 report made by Dr Aishath Ali Naaz for the Asia Foundation.

The report, which collected data through 20 focus groups and 24 in-depth interviews with gang members, highlighted problems with the legal process, which produces a criminal record – which cannot be cleared for five years –even for minor offences.

“Due to police record, we can’t get a government job,” said one interviewee. “When government does this, the private sector usually does the same.”

“Hence it’s hard to get a job if a person has a police record…so join a gang to earn money,” a gang member interviewed by Dr Naaz’s team said.

Meanwhile, the day before yesterday (7 January) the Juvenile Court released the statistics from last year showing the number of convicted minors that applied to participate in the Correctional Center for Children, revealing that 21 had applied to take part in the programs and only six completed it successfully.

Escaping gang culture

In March 2010, Minivan News interviewed three gang members who spoke about the gang culture in Maldives, describing being stuck with the gangs because they could not get a job as they had criminal records which could be cleared only after five years.

The gang members told Minivan News they wanted jobs, but felt unable to get them because of the stigma attached to their police records.

One of them said he now prefers selling drugs instead of looking for a job “because it pays more”, while another said he was compelled to stay in the gang until his police record was cleared.

“In five years when my police records are cleared I will get a job,” one gang member said.

A senior gang member said his family forced him to earn money but that he was unable to get a job – again because of his police record.

“I would like to be like other people, going to work and earning money,” he said, adding that the government “must provide more job opportunities for the people.”

Earlier this month, in a speech given at the inauguration of the police organised camp “Blues for Youth” by the Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed he said that there was a crucial need to increase participation of adolescents in the work to create a responsible youth generation.

“There is no pleasure any one can reap from frequenting scenes of crimes. It is by strongly staying away from crime and being responsible that real happiness can be achieved,” Waheed said.

He assured that the police force is ever willing to be of assistance to “bring youth to the right path” and to work for youth development.

Speaking at a National Day event, the Youth Minister has also unveiled plans to find employment for all youth by the end of the coming year, 2015.

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Family court requires criminal records and police reports for underage marriage

A new regulation at the Family Court requires underage couples applying for marriage to submit criminal records and police reports, in a bid to ensure that young girls are fully informed of their partner’s social standing.

Maldivian law allows girls and boys under the legal age of 18 to marry so long as they have reached puberty and have parental consent, and if the court finds no substantial reason to object to the union.

As of January 1, 2012, couples in which one or both partners is underage must now submit criminal records and a police report to the Family court, as well as confirmation of parental consent and medical reports.

The Marriage Registrar will also decide whether the couple holds a valid reason for marriage.

Speaking to Minivan News, Marriage Registrar Ahmed Abdullah said that the new regulation aims to “protect young girls” following observations that in most cases of underage marriage the applicant is a female below the age of 18 who wishes to marry a man of legal age. The man is sometimes found to hold a criminal record, he said.

Abdullah said that these criminal records are mainly related to drug offences- and that the girl and her parents are often “unaware” of them prior to the marriage.

However, he explained that the court would not decline a marriage request based on the criminal history of an applicant, as long as the legal requirements are met.

“Submission of criminal records would only help the girls and parents make a more informed decision about the partner”, Abdullah added.

Contrary to the assumption that most underage marriages in Muslim countries are “forced”, Abdullah assured that the court has not registered any marriage in which the court had identified the “slightest hint that any partner was forced”.

Rather, Abdullah claims that most girls applying to marry between the ages of 15 and 17 do so to escape poor living conditions.

“Most underage girls are from very poor backgrounds living in very harsh conditions, often with no parent or reliable guardian to support them,” said Abdullah. “So, they want to get a better life by marrying”.

In the event that a marriage request is denied, Abdullah said some girls write repeatedly, “pleading for approval”.

According to him, there are exceptional cases where the boy and girl come from very good backgrounds and “they want to get married because parents do not approve of relationships out of wedlock”.

“Most parents are scared their kids might make a mistake, that is why want them to get married,” Abdullah observed.

As a Muslim nation, the Maldives subscribes to social standards in keeping with Quranic teachings, which strictly regulate the relations between a man and a woman. While Maldivian culture similar opposes “dating” in the modern sense, the “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationship, or bitun, is fairly common.

Last year, almost 50 underage marriages were registered at the court.

Although the Maldives is known for its record-high divorce rate, Abdullah noted that the “divorce rate in under age marriages are surprisingly lower” than in legal age marriages.

Former Gender Minister Aneesa Ahmed argued that a lack of information and social pressure combine to make it difficult for young girls to make healthy decisions regarding marriage.

Though it may appear that young girls want to get married, Ahmed said “often they are lured into marriage by their parents” who find the prospect of a wealthy son-in-law appealing. “The girls would not be able to make a good decision about their marriage partners” in that context, she added.

Ahmed observed that in most marriages between a young girl and an older man, the man has wealth, high social status, or both. She added that the girl is rarely consulted, and “parents are often to blame”.

In the event that an underage girl claims to have no parent or legal guardian, the state becomes responsible for her security. Ahmed pointed out that this mechanism does prevent girls from lying about their background, and allows for higher scrutiny.

“The court also must play an important role to ensure the rights to the underage girl”, she said.

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