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.