Maafushi jail inmate dies of apparent natural causes

An inmate serving a 10-year sentence for drug abuse died at the Maafushi jail last night of what appears to be natural causes.

Ahmed Lishan, 23, complained of chest pains to prison guards during a head count at the low security unit, home ministry media coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samad told Minivan News.

“He was taken to the island health centre where the doctor pronounced him dead,” he said

Thazmeel said the inmate is believed to have died en route to the health centre around 8:55pm last night. The cause of death remained unclear and the authorities were awaiting a report from the doctor, he added.

While rumours of a custodial death began circulating on social media last night, both Lishan’s family and the human rights watchdog have said there were no signs of physical abuse when the body was brought to the cemetery in Malé.

A family member told Minivan News that Lishan had been admitted at hospital with chest pains about six months ago. Lishan had sustained an injury to the chest when he was hit by a ball while playing sports at the jail.

He had been complaining about the pain getting worse, the relative said.

The family was informed of his death around 9:00pm last night.

The relative said the family does not suspect foul play as the authorities had shown the inmate’s body to his father around 1:30am. The body was brought to Malé for burial at the family’s request and was reportedly laid to rest after dawn prayers.

However, a source familiar with the matter alleged that prison guards had ignored pleas from Lishan’s cellmates to take him out for treatment after he complained of chest pains.

The source claimed Lishan was dead when he was taken from the cell. The Maafushi jail has not had a resident doctor for a month, he added.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has meanwhile launched an investigation. An HRCM team visited the Aasahara cemetery to inspect the body.

The commission said that it will share findings with the authorities after concluding the investigation.

In February 2014, Ibrahim Azar, an inmate serving a five-year sentence for drug abuse, suffered severe head injuries after being attacked by two cellmates. He died in April last year while undergoing treatment in India.

On April 9, police began investigating an incident in Addu City where a 28-year-old detainee suffered extensive burns to his back. The victim was being held at a cell inside the Hithadhoo police station ahead of transfer to a detention centre.

The HRCM is also investigating the case and the authorities have yet to reveal how the detainee caught on fire.


Parents tell national inquiry of lack of access to education for children with disabilities

“For normal children, the government provides free books and free education – doesn’t a child with a disability have the same right?” asks a tearful Aishath Hussein.

One of hundreds of people giving testimony to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives’ (HRCM) “National Inquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities” – Aishath is the primary caregiver for her eight-year-old autistic nephew.

She told the panel how she had to put her life on hold as she struggled to find a proper treatment and education for the him in the capital.

Fathmath Hussein, a mother to two autistic children aged thirteen and three-years-old, narrated the struggle she has gone through – describing under-resourced facilities and bureaucratic finger-pointing as her children struggle to claim their right to an education.

With state failure to provide necessary services, NGOs and private practices have taken up the responsibility, she told the inquiry – scheduled to finish today.

Private services are costly, however, with a single diagnostic assessment costing MVR5000 and an hour of therapy costing MVR500 – none of these services are covered by the ‘Aasandha’ universal health insurance program.

Fathimath explained how her elder son – who attended a standard international school abroad from grades 1- 3, studying thirteen subject and passing every single one of them with good grades – became isolated once the family returned to the Maldives.

The preschool currently attended by her younger son was said to have not only failed to provide him with any special attention, but according to Fathimath had not even provided basic services.

“I have seen other students pushing him around, poking him with pencils. But when I complain they say there are no trained teachers to take care of such children. He is very hyperactive,” she said, noting that at times teachers have made hurtful comments to him.

Shortly after Fathimath’s testimony, the parents of Yusuf – a child with partial hearing – explained how their hopes for his development were crushed by the unavailability of services.

“They cannot do a simple ABR test [Auditory Brainstem Response Test] here [in Maldives]. There is no speech therapy either,”  she was told by authorities.

Another parent was concerned about the absence of any official policy, procedure, or guideline on access to special education at schools which claim they do not have enough space.

The National Inquiry

The HRCM inquiry is an open investigation to identify systemic issues in access to education for children with disabilities which hopes to find solutions through the engagement of state, public, civil society and experts.

Through it the commission will review existing practices, policies, laws and identify difficulties faced by parents and ways in which the rights of such children are being violated.

According to the HRCM, statistic from 2009 indicate that, out of 2250 children with disabilities, only 230 were attending schools at the time.

Inquiry teams led by the commission have travelled to 22 islands across 12 atolls in recent months, collecting nearly five hundred statements from parents, teachers, council members, and other stakeholders.

“It is an opportunity for the government, other state institutions and the public public to learn about their hardships. It is about listening and accepting without judgment,” said Mohamed Shihab, who was on the inquiry panel as an expert from the education field.

These are not just official statements and information, said Shihab, these are first hand accounts of their lives and personal experiences – their stories and their struggles.

Who is listening?

As the public hearings continue in Malé, frustrated and aggrieved parents, one after another, continued to pour out their concerns before the inquiry panel.

Aishath Hussein explained how she had to put her life on hold as she was still struggling to find a proper treatment and education for her nephew, Saif, in the capital.

Saif was recently brought to Malé by his father’s family after he went through traumatic experiences with his mother’s family, often being tied and locked up as family struggled to deal with his hyperactivity.

They brought him to Malé with hopes of providing better care. As Saif’s primary caregiver Aishath has tried to enrol him in a special educational needs class, to get treatments provided by NGOs and private practices, and to obtain the speech therapy recommended by doctors.

All her efforts have so far been in vain, however, with all the services unavailable or full. Even a doctors appointment at IGMH would have to wait another two months said Aishath.

“None of this is easy. I am not asking the government to send a doctor to our home. But at least when we go there provide us with some service,” she told the panel before breaking into tears.

If education is a universal right, why cant children like his brother get an education, she asked the panel.

“If you conduct programs like this, it should be accompanied by action. What we want is action, we want the same opportunities as other children. We don’t want them to be set aside just because they are children with disabilities,” she said.

Acknowledging Aishath’s statement, panelist Shihab expressed regret that state institutions and other invitees were “too busy” to be present and listen to her grievances.

The commission invited, among others, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and Gender, the City Council, MPs, MP-elects, the Maldives Police Service, the police commissioner, and senior members of these institutions.

None of these people or institutions have been represented at the hearings so far.

The public and media response to these open hearings was also weak, with HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal – an inquiry panelist – noting that people giving statements were discouraged by the absence of state institutions.

“The most important thing about this inquiry is sharing the voice of citizens directly with government and relevant authorities. They should at least listen. But now their concerns will be raised to the state through us,” he said.

In addition to other panelists, Tholal remarked that during their trips to atolls, council members, school management, the police, and other institutions were often present at the hearings – resulting in immediate action on some issues and discussion on others.

Systemic Issues

Concerns raised by hundreds of parents across the country were similar in many way, though – as with several other issues – things were worse for those living outside the capital and the other main islands.

At the Gaafaru public hearing a woman told the HRCM panel that her 12-year-old daughter, who has difficulties with hearing and speech, has been repeating classes as the school did not employ teaching methods appropriate for her.

Mariyam Liusha, a partially sighted nine-year-old from Kaashidhoo, is facing similar difficulties as her school has failed to provide her with larger prints of notes and exams, causing her to lose all interest in attending school.

As the Education Ministry policies do not allow special exams,  children with disabilities are made to the same exams as others, explained Easa Rasheed, a leading teacher at Kaashidhoo School.

“We don’t have the budget or trained personnel. Bringing someone [trained] from Malé would cost at the least travel expenses, which could go up to MVR15000. Our budget allocations are very specific, and it does not include such expenses,” he said.

To provide an example of difficulties faced by schools, Easa explained the case of a student with a walking disability who the school is finding “difficult to accommodate”.

Easa said that failing to include these pupils in the school system resulted in many children with mental disorders ending up in the Home for People with Special Needs in Guraidhoo or in the Education and Training Center for Children in Maafushi.

“And those who grow up in the community become victims of harassment and bullying,” continued Easa, contending such attitudes have become part of the local culture.

In addition to public attitude towards children with disabilities, a lot of systemic issues were noticed during the inquiry.

“Children face incidents which would discourage them from attending schools and parents have to deal with extremely difficult procedures to get them into special education classes. Many parents are unaware of procedures to acquire the disability allowance. Children with mental disorders get labelled and are punished, making their conditions worse,” explained the HRCM’s Tholal.

HRCM Secretary General Shamun Hameed – also an inquiry panelist – said the biggest concern for him is the lack of a consolidated plan across the system.

“For instance, the Education Ministry has created SEN classes in some schools, but then doesn’t develop any further – and usually it is just a normal classroom. Lack of a [consolidated] plan makes all such efforts wasteful. Isolated action will be unsustainable,” Shamun said.


Shamun assured that formulation of such a long-term master plan would be included in the inquiry’s final report. This, the end product of the inquiry, will highlight existing issues and propose recommendations for the state and other stakeholders.

A dedicated mechanism networked with civil society organisations – who also contributed to the inquiry- will then be established within the commission to monitor implementation of these recommendations.

According to Tholal, the HRCM will demand these be implemented through a publicised time-line with focused targets although some of the parents and observers at the hearings were skeptical of future action.

The commission on several occasions has accused the state of ignoring their recommendations, with panelists and concerned parents observing that state institutions are very defensive when approached concerning their failures, often choosing to play a “blame game” instead of taking responsibility.

One of the parents who spoke at the Malé public hearing said she did not have any faith in any state institution and did not expect them to take action.

“We as parents have proposed recommendations to state institutions so many times, but they never respond,” she said.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


Home minister violates Anti-Torture Act

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has failed to publicise a document as specified in the recently passed Anti-torture Act, thereby violating the articles of the landmark legislation.

The actwhich came into force on March 22 this year – states that within 15 days of coming into force (6 April), the minister must publish a complete list of places where people are detained in state custody.

“The deadline for the home minister to make public all places of detention designated as such has passed, and it is disheartening to know that the first violation under this act has been by the state,” Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) member Jeehan Mahmoud has said.

The ministry has confirmed that it was not published by the deadline, with one official explaining that this was mainly due to issues with obtaining information from other institutions with such centres under their authority.

The official said that the ministry is attempting to publish the list by Sunday (April 13).

Within seven days of publishing the list, the ministry was also required to submit a report to the HRCM with the locations of all detention facilities and details of persons held in those places.

The ministry has assured that the compilation of this report is also currently in progress.

The act gives the HRCM overall responsibility for the implementation of the new law, empowering the commission to prevent all crimes underlined in the act by taking direct action.

Jeehan has said the commission is monitoring the deadlines and will take action against any and all schedules that are disrespected by the state.

According to the commission, a written reminder was sent to ministry as soon as the law came into force and another reminder sent yesterday. The issue will soon be discussed in the commission which will then decide on next course of action.

Criminal charges

Commenting on the issue MP Eva Abdulla, who introduced the bill to the People’s Majlis, said it was “not surprising that a government controlled by the Gayoom family would be hesitant, even reticent to implement anti-torture legislation.”

Eva said that the bill has to be implemented on schedule to address the return of torture to prisons.

“We are very concerned about reports of ill-treatment and physical abuse in the prisons again. The legislation needs to be implemented on schedule to address this and to address the feelings of past victims. Implementation needs to be flawless,” said the recently re-elected MP.

The HRCM noted last month that incidents of torture in detention are now on the rise. Minister Umar, who himself served in the National Security Service (police and military service under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom) has previously been accused of torture himself – an allegation he has always denied.

Under Article 23 (g)- 2 of the Anti-Torture Act, establishing, running or maintaining a place of detention other than those publicly announced is considered a crime.

Article 23 (g)- 3 states that failure to publish the mandatory report to HRCM is also a crime. The penalty for both is 1 – 3 years
imprisonment. Criminal offenses underlined in the act are to be investigated and forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office for prosecution.

The HRCM did not comment on the possibility of criminal charges against the home minister, stating that the commission will address the matter as mandated by the act.

Umar Naseer was unavailable for comment as he is currently abroad.


HRCM members summoned to Juvenile Court again over confidential report

With additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer

Members of the Maldives Human Rights Commission (HRCM) refused to attend a Juvenile Court meeting yesterday (April 1), after having asked the Supreme Court to rule on the legitimacy of the court’s actions.

The commission has contended that the Juvenile Court is in violation of “the legal principles and procedures followed in contempt of court cases.”

A press statement from HRCM released yesterday evening noted that the Prosecutor General’s Office had not charged the commission with contempt of court because only the Supreme Court could initiate such cases of its own accord.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem has told Haveeru that the court does not have the authority to summon HRCM members over contempt of court charges.

The court has been requesting the meetings in order to question HRCM members about a confidential report concerning the sentencing of a 15 year old rape victim to flogging and house arrest in 2012.

”We are trying to summon the HRCM members regarding a report they sent to the Juvenile Court on 5 December 2013, in which the HRCM has included false information about the Juvenile Court and it also contained things that could be considered as an attempt to influence the court’s work,” Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaima Nasheed told Minivan News today.

Zaima has argued previously that the constitution states no public officials can “interfere with and influence the functions of the courts”, instead they must “assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.”

The HRCM press release added that the report referred to in the media was a confidential document, which had only been shared with relevant authorities or state institutions.

“We assure that the report does not include any false statements that hold the Juvenile Court in contempt,” the press release stated.

Previous meetings

After refusing to attend the meeting yesterday, the Juvenile Court sent an official court summons  for today (April 2) to each individual commission member, according to local media.

Following the official court summons, the HRCM members appeared before the court this morning at 10am and were told to respond in writing before 3pm.

The HRCM was first summoned to the Juvenile Court on March 12, with a further request to meet made on March 17 after members failed to accede to the previous requests – all five members of the HRCM subsequently attended on March 17.

The HRCM is reported to have agreed to cooperate at this meeting, on the condition that it was given a period of ten days after the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22 before the first questioning session.

The 15-year-old rape victim from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll was convicted of premarital sex at the Juvenile Court and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest.

In June 2012, the girl gave birth to a baby that was discovered buried in the outdoor shower area of her home. Her stepfather was later charged with child sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing premeditated murder.

An official from the Prosecutor General’s Office told Minivan News in January last year that the fornication charges against the minor were related to a separate offence of premarital sex that emerged during the police investigation. The charges were filed on November 25, 2012.

In its verdict, the Juvenile Court ordered the state to transfer the girl to the Children’s Home in Villingili to enforce the sentence of eight months house arrest, according to local media reports.

Following the 15 year-old’s conviction, local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) called on the Maldivian government to pass legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims.

ARC also previously called for reforms of the juvenile justice system and reform of the current protection mechanisms provided to minors who are kept in state run institutions, such as homes and foster programs.


Human Rights Commission receives Juvenile Court summons

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has been summoned to the Juvenile Court for a report that gave a “negative impression” of the court’s conduct during the sentencing of a 15 year old rape-victim to flogging and house arrest.

Following the release of the confidential report, the Juvenile Court has sent an order to every individual involved from the HRCM, summoning them to a court hearing this Wednesday (March 12) at 1:30pm.

The HRCM stated that they will release an official press statement after the court summons this Wednesday.

On February 26 2013 the Juvenile Court convicted the 15 year old girl on the grounds of fornication and sentenced her to 100 lashes and 8 months house arrest. The case attracted global concern from both local and international organisations, and the charges were later annulled in August of the same year.

Although the sentence was eventually annulled, the case attracted international attention to the Maldives’ juvenile court system and their policies in dealing with victims of sexual abuse.

Speaking with Minivan last year, HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud said that the sentence represented a “continuous failure” on behalf of the whole state to protect children and other victims of sexual abuse.

The HRCM submitted an investigative report on how the court handled the case, taking into account safeguards, rights, and protections afforded to a victim of child abuse under the Maldivian constitution, Islamic Shariah, and international human rights standards.

Spokesperson for the Juvenile Court Zaima Nasheed explained that some points outlined in the HRCM report were not reflective of how the court conducted its work. She noted that it portrayed a negative impression of the court and tried to exert undue influence on its work.

Zaima added that the HRCM did not hold any discussions or ask for any questions from the Juvenile Court while they were compiling their review.

The Juvenile Court wished to clarify that they sent a letter to the HRCM last month to arrange a meeting, though the commission said that it would not be able to attend.

Following this, the court compiled a written document with all of its concerns and shared this with the HRCM. In addition to this, the court asked to meet again with the HRCM yesterday (March 9) at 10am. The HRCM did not respond to the letter and failed to attend the meeting, said Zaima.

In light of this, the HRCM was in breach of the constitution’s Articles 141, said Zaima. These state that no officials performing public functions can “interfere with and influence the functions of the courts”, instead they must “assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.”

Following the 15 year-old’s conviction, local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) called on the Maldivian government to pass legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims.

ARC also previously called for reforms of the juvenile justice system and reform of the current protection mechanisms provided to minors who are kept in state run institutions, such as homes and foster programs.


Health minister apologises over HIV transfusion as investigations launched

Minister of Health and Gender Dr Mariyam Shakeela has apologised for the transfusion of HIV positive blood to a patient at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), in a press statement issued almost fifteen hours after the incident was made public.

The statement said that “as it happened due to the negligence of a staff working at IGMH” the minister and the ministry “apologised with deep grief” to the patient, the patient’s family, and all citizens of the Maldives.

“Given the modern technological resources and tools established at IGMH to prevent such an incident, the ministry accepts that this incident should not have taken place and this sad incident shouldnt be acceptable for anyone. Today is a sad day unlike any other day this ministry and IGMH has ever seen.”

The ministry said that an investigation was launched as soon as it came to the attention of the government and the hospital, and that the employee found to be negligent was relieved of their duties immediately.

“The ministry assures that, after completing the investigation, strict action will be taken against everyone who is found to have been negligent in this,” read the statement.

Stating that “changing the sorrowful result of this incident is not in the power of this ministry”, assurance were given that all necessary steps are now being taken to prevent such an incident in the future.

Concluding the statement, the ministry requested all health service providers to “learn from the incident” and to be more attentive, kind, and dedicated in providing their services.

Speaking to crowds gathered outside IGMH this evening, local media have reported Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik has pledged to introduce a no-confidence motion against Dr Shakeela in the Majlis.

The MDP earlier accused the government of delaying the news of the incident – first discovered eight days ago – to allow for celebrations of the government’s first 100 day achievements.


Maldives Police Service has confirmed that an investigation in to the incident is being carried out in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

The parliament’s government accountability committee will begin it’s own investigation tonight at 8:00pm,  and will  later summon the minister of health and other senior members of the ministry and the hospital.

Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has also announced the launch of an investigation as well as expressing condemnation and grief over the incident.

“This commission calls upon the state to provide special protection and care in accordance to international standards for the person who sustained an irrevocable loss in this incident, and to provide health care of the highest standard for the person,” read a press release this afternoon.

The commission noted that the right to life and right to security and safety of the person of the victim have been violated and requests the government and state to ensure the victim and family are provided with their rightful social protection and are not discriminated against in any way.

Requesting that legal action be taken against all responsible parties, the HRCM also demanded the strengthening of regulations and procedures in accordance with international best practices.

In a separate ‘public appeal’ statement today, the commission called on the media and members of the public to respect the grief and privacy of the victim and family, and to refrain from any action liable to cause further harm and distress by willfully imparting false information.


HRCM introduces benchmark for migrant worker rights

Coinciding with the International Migrants Day, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has launched a national benchmark for protecting migrant worker rights.

The benchmark was launched by HRCM President Mariyam Azra and Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Naaif Shawkath at a ceremony held at Nasandhura Palace Hotel today.

Officials from various stakeholder institutions such as the Maldives Police Service and the Immigration Department were present at the ceremony, later taking part in a forum to discuss the utilisation of this benchmark in their work.

According to the commission, the purpose of having such a benchmark is to encourage protection of the rights of migrant workers and to provide a guideline highlighting the basic human rights principles to be followed.

It is based on the constitution of the Maldives, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) and other human rights conventions to which the Maldives is a party.

While most of these standards are already obligations on the state, the benchmark itself is not something state institutions are obliged to follow, though the commission members noted the government’s willingness to accept it.

Speaking at the launching ceremony, commission member Jeehan Mahmood said she hoped all institutions would use it as a tool for protecting the rights of migrant workers. She noted the positive response from these institutions in meetings held within past few days to discuss the benchmark’s use in their work.

Advising the government in “formulation of laws, regulations and administrative codes concerning the promotion of a high regard for human rights and the protection and sustenance of such rights” is stated as a key function of the commission in the Human Rights Commission Act.

Speaking at the benchmark launching ceremony Deputy Minister Naaif advised all relevant institutions to accept the benchmark, and thanked HRCM for developing it. He said following it will standardise the work of all institutions.

In a press release issued today, the HRCM called on the state to facilitate implementation of  the recently ratified Anti Human Trafficking Act and reiterated their call to ratify and implement ICRMW as as soon as possible. The Maldives has agreed to ratify and implement this convention on various occasions.

The HRCM has cited the issue of healthcare as major challenge for undocumented migrant workers living in Maldives. According to a video presentation given at the ceremony, such workers hesitate to see a doctor even if they can afford to.

The video also showed that, out of all complaints submitted to the commission regarding rights of migrant workers, 68 percent of cases involved non-payment of wages, unfair expulsions, and the failure to provide food and shelter. 18 percent of cases were said to concern health issues while in detention.

Among other complaints received by the commission are the withholding of travel documents and work visas, refusing leave from work, and the termination of employment contracts without prior notice.

While there is no accurate official figures of the migrant worker population in the Maldives, the highest estimates suggest that it crossed the 100,000 mark in 2011, whilst the number of undocumented migrant workers have been placed as high as 44,000.

These numbers indicate that migrant workers might now represent more than one third of the total population.

The country was this year kept on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, with promises that demotion to the third tier would be guaranteed in 2014 without significant progress being made.


HRCM calls on authorities to ensure inmates are able to vote

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has issued a statement calling on authorities to ensure that inmates detained at state penitentiaries and police custody are able to vote during the presidential election.

The HRCM stated that the police, human rights and Gender Ministry as well as the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation (DPRS) should complete the things they have to, in order to make sure all persons detained in their facilities are able to vote.

The commission said it had sent a letter to the Supreme Court to discuss the verdict regarding the issue.

On September 5, a source within the Maafushi Prison told Minivan News that more than 200 inmates were not registered to vote because they do not have national identity cards. The source claimed that inmates have to pay the prison department to renew their ID cards but that there are inmates in the cells who have no way to get money.

He said that inmates have contacted politicians and been told it is  the responsibility of the Home Ministry to make ID cards for all the inmates who do not have them.

The source also claimed that inmates have complained about both the Prison Department and the Home Ministry stealing the money the government had given them to get ID cards for inmates.


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.