Majlis begins investigation into Ibthihaal’s death

The government accountability committee investigation into the death of Mohamed Ibthihaal in Vaavu Rakeedhoo, has decided to collect relevant information from government ministries and other state institutions.

The motion to investigate into the death of the three-year-old, who was found dead on January 28 with signs of severe abuse, was proposed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Rozaina Adam and MP Ahmed Falah along with Jumhooree Party MP Moosa Nizar.

Multiple investigations into potential state negligence have begun after it emerged that authorities had prior knowledge of the abuse.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed, who chairs the government accountability committee, told Minivan News that some opposition MPs had initially proposed summoning relevant authorities to the committee.

“Later, after discussions all members of the committee agreed to collect relevant documents regarding the case to the committee and then to decide on proceeding further”, said the Vilufushi MP.

He also said that a date has not been set for the next committee sitting.

MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef stated that the committee decided to collect information and documents from Rakeedhoo Island Council, the Maldives Police Services, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Ministry of Law and Gender, and the Family Protection Unit.

“We will be sending out the letters requesting information tomorrow. After we receive them, the committee will analyse the first hand information,” Shareef stated.

State negligence?

Meanwhile, the 26-year-old mother of the child, Afiya Mohamed was arrested Friday (20 January) afternoon after having spent the previous 48 hours under police watch.  Media reported that Rakeedhoo Magistrates Court ordered 15 days of detention.

On Friday, a protest march circled the capital Malé to raise awareness of child abuse. Authorities are reported to have received record numbers of child abuse reports in the days since Ibthihaal’s death.

After local authorities revealed that both the police and the gender ministry had been aware of the abuse prior to the incident, Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said the child was living in a safe environment when officials last visited.

“He was not living with the mother when our team visited the island. He was in a safe environment. But we acknowledge that the situation was not properly monitored afterwards, which resulted in the child being returned to the mother,” Sun Online reported Anil as saying.

Ibthihaal’s two siblings are currently in the care of family members, local authorities have said.

Other than the government accountability committee’s inquiry, suspicions of state negligence in the case have prompted investigations from HRCM and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

NGO Advocating for the Rights of Children has pointed to deficiencies in the legal, judicial, and social sectors tasked with the protection of the rights of children, while the HRCM has condemned the state’s failure to protect him.

In another development, Haveeru has reported that police are investigating reports that Ibthihaal’s mother was raped three years ago.

Related to this story

Body of abused child found in Vaavu Rakeedhoo

State negligence investigated in death of Rakeedhoo child

ARC condemns “systematic flaws” after death of Rakeedhoo toddler


ARC condemns “systematic flaws” after death of Rakeedhoo toddler

Local child protection NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) has condemned “systematic flaws” in child protection systems following the death of a three-year-old boy in Vaavu Rakeedhoo.

ARC called on the state to enhance protection measures without delay after it emerged that authorities had been made aware of the regular abuse suffered by Mohamed Ibthihaal prior to his death.

“ARC remains deeply concerned about the systematic flaws in the child protection system in the country, and that cases of child abuse continue to be neglected and overlooked due to the deficiencies in the legal, judicial and social sectors tasked with the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in the Maldives,” read the statement.

Ibthihaal’s body was found in his home just before midday yesterday (January 28), with locals describing severe bruising to his left ear and genitals.

Police have revealed that the mother has been taken into custody after the Criminal Court produced a warrant. Haveeru has reported multiple island sources as saying that she has confessed to the killing.

Rakeedhoo Island Councillor Abdulla Rasheed told Minivan News that officials from the Ministry of Law and Gender were also on the island, while the victim’s siblings were in the care of their grandmother on another island.

History of abuse

ARC’s statement revealed that it had been unable to receive information from the ministry on the case, though the island council has said the ministry was aware of the mother’s record of abuse.

The gender ministry has yet to release any statements on the incident, though the Family Protection Authority has today denied having any prior knowledge of the case.

ARC has been joined by Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon today in welcoming the launch of investigations into the Rakeedhoo abuse case.

Dunya stated that the death of the boy once again underscores the critical need to strengthen the national child protection mechanism and highlights the absolute vulnerability of children in society, read a foreign ministry press release.

“Every child is a precious gift from God who makes our lives joyous and wholesome, and it is our duty to protect and safeguard them” said Dunya.

Never again

ARC called upon the government to update legislation on child protection, noting that the state is obliged under international law to assure the protection of children.

“ARC strongly urges the Government to conduct an assessment of the State’s capacity to respond and react to cases of abuse with a specific view to enhance the child protection system by providing sufficient resources to Family and Children Service Centres (FCSC) in the Atolls, and to establish an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure the safety of children who are removed from their home environment.”

The NGO noted that the existing legislation on child rights was adopted in 1991, calling on the government to submit the draft Child Protection Bill to the People’s Majlis at the earliest opportunity.

As members of the public prepare to hold a rally in support of child protection tomorrow afternoon in Malé, ARC arranged an event titled ‘Break the Silence on Child Abuse’ at the Youth Centre in the capital.

The event – held between 5pm and 6pm – is seeking to raise awareness of the role individuals can play in preventing child abuse.

“In the wake of this horrific incident, ARC invites everyone to attend this event and vow to fulfill our individual responsibility to work together to ensure that never again will such an atrocity be committed against children in our country,” read a statement regarding the event.

The NGO has also called upon media to observe ethical practices by not publishing pictures or personal details of the victim.

Pictures taken of Ibthihaal just weeks ago by a local photographer has been used widely in the coverage of the case (see main picture), but some outlets have today published images of the boy’s dead body.


Related to this story

Body of abused child found in Vaavu Rakeedhoo

State negligence investigated in death of Rakeedhoo child


Body of abused child found in Vaavu Rakeedhoo

The body of a three-year-old child with signs of severe abuse has been found on the island of Rakeedhoo in Vaavu Atoll.

The boy’s mother was known to the authorities as having a record of abusing the boy, who is the eldest of three. Haveeru has published old images of child, appearing to show a black eye from past abuse.

“We previously informed the police and gender ministry that the kid was being abused, but when [the mother] was questioned she was going to take care of the boy and stop abusing him,” explained Rakeedhoo Island Councillor Abdulla Rasheed.

Rasheed explained that the council was alerted to the case today by health centre officials after the mother ran there before passing out.

Council members subsequently went to the woman’s home where they found the boy on the sitting room floor, head on a pillow, naked except for a rug covering him from the waist down.

As well as scratches to the head and neck, the boy has extreme bruising to his left ear and genitals, said Rasheed.

He said that the mother – whom he questioned previously about the abuse of her son – had since regained consciousness but was refusing to talk.

One of the woman’s other children is now with neighbours, and another is still with the mother. Previous offers from other islanders to adopt the abused boy had been turned down by the mother. Rakeedhoo has a population of just 84 people.

The Ministry of Law and Gender told Minivan News that it was still gathering the facts of the case and would be releasing a statement shortly. Police media officials were not responding to calls at the time of press.

The prosecutor general has told media it is investigating the case for possible negligence on the part of state institutions.

“It is unacceptable that the child was handed over to the mother for the second time after it was found that she was beating him,” said Muhthaz Mushin

Former Attorney General Azima Shukoor in 2013 described “alarming” levels of child abuse in the country, submitting amendments to the Majlis to enable the transfer of legal guardianship from neglectful and abusive parents.

Elsewhere, a 27-year-old woman was arrested yesterday evening in Baa Atoll Eydhafushi on suspicion of beating her child reports Haveeru.

Suspected child abuse can be reported anonymously to the police on 3000 600.


Special needs patient still missing from Guraidhoo

The Ministry of Law and Gender says that a patient remains missing from the Specials Needs Home in Kaafu Guraidhoo.

After a 28-year-old patient went missing on Friday evening, search efforts now include security services, the island council and the coast guard, Deputy Minister Mohamed Zahid told media.

Guraidhoo Island Council member Ali Shameem said it was unlikely the man had gone through the main entrance, which is normally closed and watched. He speculated that the patient may have climbed one of the trees within the compound to get over the high fence.

The ministry announced earlier this year that the government had plans to turn the home into a mental health institute, with centre’s elderly and mentally ill residents provided with separate facilities.

Employees at the facility – which currently homes around 167 patients – have described the facility as under-resourced, with too few staff to provide proper care, and psychiatric patients not allowed the opportunity for rehabilitation.

“The people are suffering here,” one staff member told Minivan News last month, “the management is not good”.

Source: Haveeru


Vice president says children must not be harmed in the name of Islam and culture

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has stated that truly loving a child is to refrain from inflicting physical harm on the child in the name religion and culture, and from committing sexual harassment against children on the pretext of providing an Islamic upbringing.

Speaking at an event held in the National Art Gallery on Monday (October 15) to inaugurate the Minstry of Law and Gender’s new programmes, Jameel emphasised the importance of protecting the rights of children.

The new programmes focus on providing services for women, children, the elderly and people with special needs.

Jameel described the ministry’s programme as an effort to establish Maldives as the country in the region in which most fundamental rights are protected.

He went on to say that it is imperative that children are not discriminated based on their gender, and that they are not deprived of any educational opportunities or health benefits, local media reports.

Jameel opined that those who need social protection should not be perceived as a burden on the state, before using examples from Islamic history to demonstrate how society benefits from these people.

The gender ministry’s programme includes the release of two books regarding internet safety, the introduction of a domestic violence database, formulation of regulations for the establishment of day care centres, and home care services for the elderly.

Additionally, employment letters were also handed over to two persons with special needs. The two job placements are at Fenaka Corporation and Island Aviation Services.


HRCM repeats calls for clean water at special needs centre

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has asked the government to address problems in the water and sewerage system Guraidhoo’s Centre for People with Special Needs.

The directive calls upon the ministry to immediately introduce temporary facilities which will provide clean water for basic needs, and requests detailed plans for dealing with the facility’s water and sewerage problems by October 19.

The centre, in Kaafu atoll, is the only facility for Maldivians suffering from mental disabilities and currently falls under the remit of the Ministry of Law and Gender.

The commission states that the government has failed to take action despite repeated appeals from the HRCM over the past 5 years.

Today’s directive was released based on observations made by a team from the commission which visited the centre on September 16.

The HRCM revealed in a statement that tests conducted on the water used for sanitation purposes in the centre showed a high presence of e-coli bacteria, in contravention of World Health Organisation (WHO) approved standards.

Doctors who joined the observation team suggested that using the water could lead to diarrhoea, skin diseases, and urine infections among other ailments.

The statement further noted that medical records from the centre showed a large number of patients were already suffering from skin diseases.

The HRCM stated that it had been repeatedly calling on the government to solve the issues regarding the water supply of since 2009. A report released that year stated that approximately MVR9,000 (US$583) was spent each week on purchasing bottled water for drinking purposes alone.

While Tuesday’s statement calls on the government to provide clean drinking water, it does not specify whether the centre was continuing to supply mineral water to residents.

The commission also conducted tests on the water in 2011, after complaints it had a foul smell. Three of four samples taken from the centre proved to be below WHO approval standards.

Minister of State for Law and Gender Dr Hala Hameed was not responding to calls at the time of press, while an official of the Ministry of Law and Gender who requested to be unnamed declined from commenting on the matter.

The Ministry of Law and Gender has the mandate to oversee all government functions related to families, children, women, people with special needs, and human rights.

The Malé Water and Sewerage Company last year signed an agreement with Kandooma resort to provide a 30 tonne water plant to nearby Guraidhoo as part of a MVR1.5 million (US$97,600) investment.


Law and gender ministry threatens legal action against extremist practices

No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

The Ministry of Law and Gender has warned it would take legal action against extremist practices such as unregistered marriages and refusal to vaccinate or send children to school.

The ministry revealed in a press statement on Thursday (October 2) that the number of such cases brought to its attention by various state institutions was on the rise.

Legally unrecognised marriages and refusal to vaccinate or send children to school were criminal offences under child protection, family, public health, and religious unity laws as well as the penal code, the statement noted.

“As upholding the society’s interests is a responsibility of the state, we inform and announce that henceforth the relevant state authorities will be taking legal action against those who commit the aforementioned crimes,” the ministry warned.

Healthcare and education for children were also fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the ministry noted, and were not left to the discretion of parents.

Moreover, assuring the rights was a legal obligation of both the state and legal guardians, it added.

Children born of unregistered marriages pose several problems such as establishing legal guardianship and determining child care payments in the case of divorce, the ministry said.

Unregistered marriages

In its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submission to the UN Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) referred to an estimate from the education ministry in a 2011 assessment by the HRCM on child participation concerning the number of children whose parents refuse to send them to school.

“There are roughly 400 children being withheld from attending school by their parents due to religious beliefs,” reads the section titled ‘religious extremist ideologies.’

The report also observed that children born out of wedlock faced discrimination.

“Paternity testing is not admissible evidence in court and such a child would be denied father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance,” it stated.

The UPR report also referred to reports of unregistered marriages encouraged by some religious scholars claiming that registering marriages with the courts are un‐Islamic and unnecessary.”

“State institutions acknowledge this information and raised concerns that children born to such marriages could face serious legal issues. Similarly women in such marriages are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the report stated.

In April, the Family Court announced it would not be registering marriages performed by individuals without the court’s involvement.

The court noted that it could not accept cases related to divorce or other disputes if marriages were not registered officially.

Marriages performed outside the Maldives are registered by the Family Court upon submission of legal documentation.

The penalty for violating the Family Act is meanwhile a fine of up to MVR1,000 or banishment to another inhabited island for a period less than six months.

The court had raised the issue of unregistered marriages in 2010 as well.

Religious extremists in the Maldives have both endorsed and performed such marriages, claiming that even private, out-of-court marriages should be treated as legal as long as the minimum Shariah requirements for marriage are met.

Some cases of out-of-court marriages include child marriages, which are to a large extent illegal in the Maldives.

Family Court Chief Judge Hassan Saeed said in April that there was no basis in Islamic Sharia to argue that officially registering marriages was not a legal requirement.

“You cannot say it is okay to perform a marriage hiding inside a room with two random witnesses [to whom] you give some treat,” he told local media.


Juvenile Court orders gender ministry to assume custody of a minor

The Juvenile Court has released an unprecedented order for the Ministry of Law and Gender to assume custody of a minor whose parents were seen to be unfit to take guardianship of him.

The 15-year-old was tried at the court on charges of drug abuse. The court stated that the minor’s detention has been extended by the court several times with regard to charges of drug abuse and possession. However, in accordance with a decision from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the court has dropped charges against him.

The court then sought his parents so as to release him to their custody. However, they were unable to find any persons willing to take responsibility of the child.

The Juvenile Court stated that it released the order as the child’s father is unfit to take custody of the child as he himself has previous charges on multiple counts of drug abuse and has served time in prison.

Meanwhile, the child’s mother has responded to the court’s request to take custody of him by stating that she is unable to take guardianship of the child due to her current situation. Any further details of the reasons she presented to court have not been made public.

According to the court order, the recently formed Ministry of Law and Gender has to take responsibility for the child until he is eighteen years of age, or until the state is able to identify legal guardians from among his relatives.

In the order they released on Thursday, the court stated that in accordance with Article 35(a) of the Maldives Constitution, Child Rights Protection Act and international treaties, the state is mandated to take responsibility for children in such situations.

The order further states that the Ministry of Law and Gender and the Juvenile Justice Unit under the Ministry of Home Affairs had stated argued that they are unable to assume custody of the child as there is currently no system set in place where such minors can be housed and taken care of.

The court, however, ordered the Gender Ministry to take custody of the child until he is 18-years-old or other legal guardians are arranged.

While the Ministry of Gender and Law confirmed that Deputy Minister Shidhatha Shareef is in charge of the matter, Minivan News was unable to contact her at the time of press.

Juvenile Court Media Spokesperson Fathimath Sajidha was unable to provide further information on the matter at the time of press.


President creates Ministry of Law and Gender

President Abdulla Yameen has today created the Ministry of Law and Gender, which is set to oversee all government functions related to families, children, women, people with special needs, and human rights.

These functions, previously under the remit of the Ministry of Health, have resulted in the change of this ministry’s title to the Ministry of Health. Dr Mariyam Shakeela was today sworn in as head of this department.

Among the new ministry’s areas of oversight are the Attorney General’s Office, the special needs facility in Kaafu Guraidhoo, and the Villingili orphanage.

“The Ministry of Law and Gender will further be mandated with tackling the issue of domestic violence, apart from those responsibilities of the Courts and the Maldives Police Service,” explained a President’s Office press release.

The President’s Office revealed that the renamed Ministry of Health will be responsible for all regional hospitals and health centres, the Food and Drug Authority, and blood services.

The minister of health will also oversee the Social Protection Agency, the ‎National Drug Agency, and the Health Protection Agency.‎