Police investigate “suspicious” death of a newborn

Police are investigating the suspicious death of a two-day old healthy newborn at the ADK hospital on Tuesday, Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef has confirmed.

According to the Haneef, the investigation commenced after police discovered the baby boy’s mother had been married three months before the delivery, suggesting that the baby was conceived before the marriage.

“There are some suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the baby. We have found out the mother was married just three months before the baby was born,” Haneef noted.

Speaking to Minivan News, Managing Director of ADK hospital, Ahmed Afaal, said doctors who examined the boy has declared it was “sudden death” as the boy was born perfectly healthy and had no complications.

Afaal said the real cause of death cannot be identified without an autopsy in sudden death cases.

He noted that the boy had died while under the care of mother, who is reportedly from Nilandhoo in Gaaf Alif Atoll.

Newborns are not admitted to the nursery and transferred under family care if no complications are found, he added.

“The hospital staff were alerted by the family on Tuesday morning after the boy was found not breathing. The staff examined the body and declared the boy was dead,” according Afaal.

Meanwhile, local media Haveeru has quoted an unidentified official from ADK saying that the “doctors assume the baby had died of choking but that they couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of death without carrying out an autopsy”.

Haveeru quoted another police media official saying “the boy had an identical bruise to the sides of his nose” and had claimed their journalists had observed the bruise.

However, both Afaal and Sub-Inspector Haneef did not confirm any physical injuries and added they cannot comment further as the investigation is pending.

However Haneef added that the police so far believe that the death was “normal”.


Under the form of sharia law practiced in the Maldives, both sex before marriage and adultery are offences punishable by flogging. But attitudes towards sex reveal a discrepancy. While it is acknowledged in private that both take place, social norms and cultural attitudes restrict public discussions on the subject. As a result, students are not taught about contraception at school as for many this would be tantamount to condoning sex outside of marriage.

While premarital and extramarital sex is widespread, high rates of divorce and remarriage (including sex between marriages), and poor access and practice of contraception lead to a high number of unwanted pregnancies. The stigma of having a child out of wedlock compels women and girls to opt for abortions – which is illegal in the Maldives except to save a mother’s life, or if a child suffers from a congenital defect such as thalassemia.

Subsequently, anecdotal evidence suggests some women have resorted to abortion-inducing pills and injections administered by amateur abortionists, while others turn to harmful vaginal preparations, containing chemicals such as bleach or kerosene. Although infrequent, some insert objects into their uterus or induce abdominal trauma.

The severity of the situation was signalled last year following the discovery of several dead premature babies and abandoned alive on Male’ and across islands.

The Criminal Court last year sentenced the mother of a prematurely born baby found inside a milk can in ViliMale’ on 19 May 2011 to one year imprisonment.

Aminath Shaira, 30 of Manadhoo in Noonu Atoll, was charged with disobedience to an order under article 88(a) of the 1968 penal code as well as violations under the Child Protection Act.

Her accomplice in the crime, Mariyam Rizna, 18, of Guraidhoo in Kaafu Atoll, was sentenced to six months for assisting Shaira in delivering the baby. Rizna’s fingerprints were found on the Coast Milk can.

In the same month, a dead infant was found in a plastic bag in the swimming track area of Male’. A medical examination later concluded that the baby’s had sustained cuts, bruises and other wounds. No one was arrested or charged.

Meanwhile, in June 2011 an abandoned newborn was discovered alive inside a garage on Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo island while in a similar case, a newborn was found abanded alive in bushes near the Wataniya telecommunications tower in Hulhumale’ during Novermber 2010.


Health authorities focus on mosquito controls as hospital confirms infant dengue fatality

Male’s Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) has confirmed that a nine-month old child died today from dengue fever as health officials look to combat further spread of the virus through attempts to control mosquito numbers.

Hospital spokesperson Zeenath Ali confirmed that the child was pronounced dead at 12:27am after being admitted with suspected dengue fever two days earlier.  Ali added that she was unable to give any further details of the specific strain of the virus that the child was thought to have suffered from or any additional details about the death without the consent of the infant’s family.

According to figures supplied by the Male’ Health Services Corporation Limited, a total of 59 people have been admitted to hospital between June 1 and June 20 this year suffering from the virus. Of these cases, six were admitted on suspicion of catching dengue fever, 50 were hospitalised with the dengue hemorrhagic variant of the virus and three others were diagnosed with dengue shock syndrome – where blood pressure drops so low that organs cannot function properly. Over the same period, 25 people were diagnosed by the hospital of having dengue fever and were treated as outpatients.

Early symptoms of virus are said to include fever, joint paint and a distinctive rash and headache, although it can be difficult to distinguish from the milder Chikungunya disease which can last for up to five days. However, even healthy adults can be left immobile by dengue for several weeks while the disease runs its course.

More than 300 cases of dengue fever in the Maldives were reported during the first two months of 2011, compared with 737 cases and two fatalities reported over the course of last year. While many of these cases were reported in Male’, most of the fatalities have been islanders, with the more serious cases thought to have disproportionately affected children.

Amidst these concerns, health authorities in the country have claimed that they are committed to a programme of working to control mosquito populations to try and combat the spread of the virus, particularly in island areas.

Geela Ali, Permanent Secretary for the Health Ministry, told Minivan News that while officials had not received any official reports of recent fatalities linked to dengue as of yesterday, there was concern in the ministry about outbreaks of the virus across the country of late.

Ali claimed that under present government health strategies, clinicians were being put at the forefront of efforts to try and provide local people with the best means to prevent potential infection of the virus, particularly in its more prominent forms like the type 1 strain.

“The main challenge is working with clinicians to pass on case management strategies to local clinics,” she said. “One of things we are trying to do is control [mosquito populations] and we are consulting with local councils and even the media in trying to do this.”

According to Ali, the hones for trying to combat dengue in the country remained on encouraging the public to locate and destroy mosquito breeding areas as to reduce incidences of the virus as effectively as possible.

While accepting that additional chemical spraying around various islands was one possibility being considered by the government  to stem the problem, she added this was strictly to be used only after clean ups of breeding grounds particularly on private property had taken place to ensure long-term effectiveness.

Earlier this year, the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) conducted spraying of mosquito breeding sites in Male’ and the surrounding islands, but reported difficulty obtaining access to residential and construction sites.

Virus management

Back in April, Minivan News reported that health experts believed fears over a growing number of dengue fatalities was potentially related to lapses in managing the disease, particularly due to the high turnover of foreign doctors on islands.

Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, a former head of the CCHDC, observed that January and February 2011 had seen higher instances of suspected dengue shock syndrome occurring in the country.

“Our initial theory was that this was a new strain of dengue,” he said. “There are four different strains, and strains one and three have been most prevalent. We took samples and sent them abroad but I had left the office by the time the results came back. I’m told out of the samples we sent a few tested positive for dengue one, which means no new strain.”


Comment: Dead babies do not lie

The decomposing corpse of a dead baby was found in a polythene bag, in the park near the mosque in Hulhumale’ yesterday. The baby was possibly strangled to death by an underwear wrung tightly around its frail neck.

Two days ago, a three month old foetus was found discarded in a tin can, hidden in the bushes on the adjacent island of Vilingili.

Earlier this month, the corpse of another foetus was found underwater at the swimming track in Male’, with cuts and wounds to its head and limbs.

Just a few months ago, yet another baby was found – still breathing – abandoned near a cell phone tower in Hulhumale.

Much has been written about the apparent increase in such cases, and the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.

But even as the tide of outrage swells and recedes with each breaking story of a dead or mutilated baby found abandoned in the islands, there is the issue at the heart of the matter that the worthy, indignant citizens have yet to address.

Dhivehi social attitudes, dictated by religious mores that lay greater stress on appearances and labels than on any visible code of conduct or value system, have created a society where pre-marital and extra-marital sex is widely prevalent and tolerated, but open discussions on contraception and sex-education is still taboo.

We don’t need no education

Dr Mauroof Hussein, reportedly the sole contender for vice-presidency of the Adhaalath party, complained on his personal blog in 2009 about a public ad for contraception. In the same post, he equates ‘safe-sex’ education allegedly provided by counsellors to senior students on one island, to “fornicating without getting pregnant”.

Referring to condoms as “one of the pillars of the modern uncivilization(sic)”, he also expresses worries about having to enlighten his own child about such immorality as knowledge of safe sex.

While the good doctor calls the public interest ads ‘immoral and stupid’, the dead babies discarded in tin cans and polythene bags would suggest otherwise.

World over, the mullah, the bishop and the rabbi have united to advocate striking the fear of God into the hearts of potential sinners as the ‘only solution’ to prevent unplanned pregnancy, but until such day as this can be achieved, there clearly needs to be steps taken to generate greater sexual awareness among the young and sexually active.

One of the great travesties of clerical opposition towards reproductive sciences is their adamant stance that sex-education is somehow the same as encouraging young men and women to engage in ‘fornication’.

This rather unfortunate fixation of the mullah on ‘fornication’ blinds them to the fact that sex-education does not, in fact, involve classroom orgies – and that it is ignorance that results in thousands of unplanned teenage pregnancies every year, not condom ads.

Adolescents and teenagers desperately need the tools of education, not the shelter of ignorance, in order to understand and deal with the rapid physiological and hormonal changes occurring in them.
In a society where convicted paedophiles proudly strut about in the streets, or run Qur’an centres that provide unlimited access to young children, a well-rounded, early sex-education could ensure that young children are well-equipped to identify and guard themselves against sexual abuse.

Young men and women who are well-informed about protective sex, venereal diseases, and the nature and risks of contraception, STDs and pregnancy are much less likely to engage in irresponsible sexual behaviour than those that aren’t.

Abstinence-only education, on the other hand, shies away from openly discussing matters of reproduction, and has failed spectacularly in tackling the issue of pre-marital pregnancies – even though the influence of the Church and the Mosque means that billions continue to be poured down this endless drain.

In the absence of readily accessible scientific information about sex, young people turn to dubious pornographic websites, exaggerating peers and commercialized sex in music videos that objectify women, contain demeaning lyrics and gives exactly the wrong message.

Without a clear understanding of sex in the proper social and biological contexts, or proper scientific understanding of the consequences, it is hardly surprising that young Maldivians frequently engage in risky sexual behaviour – resulting in hundreds of unplanned pregnancies.

An undesired pandemic

According to reports, two of the babies found in the past months were foetuses, ripped prematurely from the womb. The other babies were also seemingly discarded immediately upon birth, with the placenta and umbilical cords still attached.

It doesn’t take NASA to figure out these were botched attempts to deal with undesired pregnancies.

Abortions are illegal in the Maldives, except if the mother’s life is at risk, or the child suffers from a severe congenital defect.

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of Maldivians flying to neighbouring ports of India and Sri Lanka to have their unwanted pregnancies ‘fixed’, many teenagers and other young people are unable to afford such trips and find themselves staring at a lifetime of severe social stigma and ostracism, as well as the added pain and humiliation of public flogging by the long arms of Maldivian justice.

What results is a gut-wrenching nightmare that makes for uncomfortable reading.

While in some another countries, the women could have approached a qualified doctor and terminated the pregnancy in a safe, controlled manner – in the Maldives, the task falls into the hands of unqualified quacks and shady ‘uncles’.

Some are repeatedly punched in the stomach to force a miscarriage. Others have objects such as knitting needles and coat hangers inserted into the vagina to tear the amniotic sac. The risk of potentially fatal infections and perforated intestines in these cases cannot be understated.

Girls, often as young as 12, have illegal prescription drugs, poisonous herbs, fabric bleach, kerosene and other toxic concoctions pumped into their uterus, sometimes with fatal results.

Worldwide, 21.5 million women underwent unsafe abortions in 2008, according to a paper published by the World Health Organization in 2011.

The WHO also estimates that 5 women die every hour from botched attempts at abortions.

Research compiled by the Guttmacher Institute in February 2011 suggests over 47,000 women die every year from complications resulting from risky abortion procedures, including hemorrhage, sepsis, shock and multiple organ failure – accounting for about 13% of all maternal deaths.

Of those who survive, over five million suffer from long term health complications, according to a 2009 paper titled ‘Unsafe Abortion: Maternal Mortality’ by Dr Lisa B. Haddad and Dr. Nawal M. Nour.

With almost half of all induced abortions worldwide deemed to be unsafe, Dhivehin need to acknowledge that this issue transcends mere crime and punishment, or mere outrage at aborted foetuses.

It is quite literally a matter of life and death for hundreds of young girls who find themselves in the loneliest spot in the world – caught in a situation that they’re either too immature or ill-equipped to deal with, finding the young promise of the rest of their lives suddenly snatched away, and having absolutely no one – no family, or support group, or NGO, or doctor to approach.

The tiny corpses unearthed across the capital region could be explained – if not justified – as the result of sheer panic and emotional distress, but the lives of hundreds of young women are at risk every day at the hands of a society that won’t extend a safety net of empathy, support – or safe abortion rights.

The combined grip of social stigma, lack of sex-education and awareness, an insensitive legal system, absent support and rehabilitation process and an emerging section of society that seeks to address every problem with the much favoured tools of intimidation and shame has left society vulnerable to making murderers out of unwed mothers.

These are ugly realities that the Government and Dhivehi society equally refuse to confront, and choose to stow away instead – much like the dead babies hidden away in the bushes.

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]


Third female arrested in connection with dead infant found in Villingili

Police have arrested a third female in connection with the prematurely abandoned baby found inside a Coast Milk Tin in Villingili last week.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that the arrest was made.

‘’She’s an 18 year-old female,’’ said Shiyam, adding that investigation was ongoing.

Shiyam said the six month premature baby was discovered after police were informed about the incident.

Yesterday, Deputy Head of police Serious and Organised Crime Department Inspector Abdulla Nawaz told the press that police had arrested a 30 year old woman from Noonu Atoll who was the suspected mother of the baby, and a 24 year old woman from Kaafu Atoll who was alleged to have assisted her deliver the baby prematurely.

Nawaz identified the suspected mother as Aiminath Shaira, 30 of Manadhoo in Noonu Atoll and the 24 year-old woman who allegedly assisted with the abortion the baby as Fathmath Aniya of Hura in Kaafu Atoll.

According to Nawaz, both women live in Male’ in the same house.

Nawaz told media that Shaira had confessed giving birth three days ago but was unable to tell police where the baby was, and that Aniya had confessed to assisting Shaira deliver the baby.

Meanwhile, islanders on Manadhoo told Minivan News they felt “deep shame” as news of the incident circulated.

‘’The island of Manadhoo has a very low profile in crime and it has remained like that for ages, until we heard that an islander of our island has given birth to an illegal child and thrown the baby away,’’ said an islander.

Shaira was a dancer, he claimed.

‘’Others arrested in connection with this case are not related to our island, we hear that they are members of her dance group,’’ he added. ‘’It’s the first time something like this happened concerning our island, we are all in deep shame, especially because people notice this island as an island that maintains a low crime rate compared to all other islands in this atoll.’’

Having a child out of wedlock remains heavily stigmatised in the Maldives. Previous studies conducted in the country by groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) have anecdotally pointed to high rates of illegal abortion, while other studies on HIV risk factors have pointed to high levels of promiscuity and limited use of contraceptives.


Doctor’s examination shows dead infant’s body had cuts, wounds and bruises

Doctors examining the body of an dead infant found in a bag in the swimming track area have reported that the baby’s body had cuts, bruises and other wounds.

A police officer swimming in the track area on Thursday discovered the corpse of the premature baby underwater.

“The doctor said there were three cuts in the arms, not very deep cuts,’’ said spokesperson for Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), Zeenath Ali.

‘’There were two bruises on a leg and two wounds to the head,” she added.

She said it was difficult to say the cause of the injuries.

‘’It may be the ropes in the area caused  these injuries,’’ she said, adding that the infant appeared to have been born 26-28 weeks prematurely.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam also confirmed that several injuries were found on the infant’s body.

‘’We cannot say the cause of the injuries exactly,’’ Shiyam said. ‘’The dead body has now been laid to rest.’’

He said police were currently investigating the case.

Local media reported that the baby was bleeding when it was taken out of the water and that the umbilical cord and placenta were still attached. Haveeru published a picture of infant which appeared to have been put in a plastic bag.

In November last year another abandoned newborn female baby was discovered alive in some bushes near the Wataniya telecommunications tower in Hulhumale’.

As a Muslim country, abortion is illegal in the Maldives except to save a mother’s life, or if a child suffers from a congenital defect such as thalassemia. Several studies on HIV in the Maldives have identified risk factors including high levels of promiscuity and little use of contraception, and anecdotal evidence points overwhelmingly to a high rate of abortion.

In an article on the subject in 2009, Minivan News reported that many women unable to travel to Sri Lanka resort to illegal abortions performed by unskilled individuals in unhygienic settings. Abortion-inducing pills and injections administered by amateur abortionists are one recourse while others turn to harmful vaginal preparations, containing chemicals such as bleach or kerosene. Although infrequent, some insert objects into their uterus or induce abdominal trauma, such is the stigma of having a child out of wedlock.


Police search Hulhumale hospital during investigation of abandoned baby

The police yesterday searched Hulhumale’ hospital to investigate the circumstances around the discovery of an abandoned infant found last week.

An abandoned newborn female baby was discovered in some bushes near the Wataniya telecommunications tower in Hulhumale’ last week. The baby was first taken to Hulhumale’ hospital for treatment and now has been transferred to Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

Initial reports in the media said the baby appeared to have been born prematurely and discarded by the mother. The umbilical cord was still attached to the infant.

Police Sub Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police had collected “necessary information” for the investigation from Hulhumale’ hospital.

”The baby is now in a good condition at IGMH,” Shiyam said, adding that ”no further information can be disclosed yet.”

Head of Hulhumale’ hospital Dr Ahmed Ashraf told Minivan News that the infant’s condition was “very weak” when she was first brought to the hospital.

“Her condition was very weak when she was brought here that day in the afternoon,” Dr Ashraf said. “We treated the infant and her condition was stable when she was referred to IGMH that evening.”

He said police officers searched the hospital after obtaining a warrant from the Criminal Court, and “collected information they needed for the investigation.”