“Alarming” level of child abuse, neglect prompt Gender Ministry to push for guardianship amendment

Children’s neglect and abuse have increased to an “alarming level”, compelling the the Maldives’ Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights to submit an amendment that would transfer parental guardianship of children in cases of negligence.

The Ministry submitted the amendment to the president’s office Sunday (April 7), which would allow for strict legal action to be taken against neglectful parents, and guardianship to be transferred within the principles of Islamic Shari’a, according to local media.

Acting Gender Minister, Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor, said 59 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the Gender Ministry in March and 37 of the abused children were transferred into state care.

She urged politicians and journalists to give more attention to the problem since “cases of neglect and abuse of children have increased to an alarming level”.

The number of babies abandoned after birth is also increasing, according to Minister of State for Gender and Family Dr Aminath Rameela. She noted “with dismay” that this “is being done by people with good jobs”.

Shakoor emphasised that “strict legal action” will be taken against parents who neglect their children.

“This is a situation the whole [Maldivian] society needs to take care of. Things need to be done to rehabilitate these children back into society,” said Shakoor.

“Non-profit organisations and private individuals should assume the responsibility of taking care of children who are abandoned by their parents until the children can be taken under the care of the state,” Shakoor added.

She said that close to 80 children were currently in the Villingili island orphanage ‘Kudakudhunge Hiya’ and that parents visit with gifts, but their children are “sad” the visits are brief.

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, as well as the President’s Office were not responding to calls at time of press.

Problems with state care

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal previously stressed to Minivan News that the number of incidents occurring at state institutions caring for children 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.

In March 2013, the Maldives’ Gender Ministry 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.

Earlier in March, 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 January 2013, an incident occurred where two underage females living in the Villingili orphanage were arrested and sent to Maafushi prison.

The parliamentary committee investigating their arrest learned that all concerning authorities had neglected their duties and responsibilities to protect the rights of children.

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

Children’s rights

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.