Youth leaders critical as government assures youth issues are being addressed

With additional reporting by Mariyath Mohamed

Youth wing leaders from across the political spectrum have criticised the government’s youth policy as cabinet members argue that the government has “hit the ground running” in its attempts to tackle youth issues.

Youth wing leaders from both government-aligned and opposition party have suggested policy has been formulated without youth participation.

“The government’s youth policy is not very clear, in fact it comes across as being rather shady,” said Jumhooree Party Youth Wing leader Moosa Anwar.

The comments come in response to the Youth Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal’s assurances that the government – elected on a platform of youth and economic policies – would soon fulfill all its prior pledges.

“With an influx of five times of the budget of previous years, the government of his excellency President [Abdulla] Yameen came with a promise to address the youth-related concerns that have been sadly been neglected in the recent past,” said the minister.

Speaking at this week’s ‘Regional Consultative Meeting to Finalise the SAARC Youth Charter and Action Plan’, Maleeh said that the government had already drafted a youth bill to ensure that rights of young Maldivians are protected.

The charter aims to promote the potential of young people with “their full participation” explains the charter, with the aim of influencing regional youth policies in the areas of environment, gender equality, education, employment, and health.

The SAARC nations are expected to sign the charter during the eighteenth SAARC summit scheduled to be held in November 2014 at Nepal.

A national health strategy for the youth has been drafted with assistance of UNFPA, he explained, assuring the strategy to address issues such as prevalent drug abuse would be endorsed very soon.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon said the youth’s meaningful participation in the development process should be ensured.

“We must eradicate violence and abuse of young people, especially girls and other marginalised groups. We must not let youth be deprived from an education or access to decent work. We must invest in the health and well-being of the youth,” said Dunya.

Youth response

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s recently elected Youth Wing President Mohamed Azmeel responded by saying that the government has neglected to include opposition-aligned youth in developing policies.

“We have not been consulted over this youth charter or even on national youth related policies or programmes,” Azmeel said, noting that with over 26,000 registered members the MDP Youth Wing is the biggest youth organisation the country.

A recent democracy survey by Transparency Maldives revealed the MDP to have the largest number of under-35 year-olds of any political party. The most recent census (2006) data revealed under-25s to represent over 50 percent of the country’s population, with a new survey to be taken later this year.

Azmeel also expressed a lack of faith over the government’s capability to fulfill it’s pledges to youth.

“So far they have failed in providing any positive sign of fulfilling those pledges. For instance we still don’t know how they are planning to create the promised 94,000 new jobs. So from what we are seeing now, I don’t have any hope they would do any of that,” said Azmeel.

Pro-government Adhaalath Party’s Youth Wing leader Ali Rasheed also said his party had been left out of the government’s youth-related programmes, while Jumhooree Party Youth Wing leader Moosa Anwar argued that the government’s policy has been created without youth participation.

“The government does not appear to be doing much to increase actual youth participation,” he continued.

Anwar revealed that he was currently attending a youth-related conference in Sri Lanka, to which the government had sent Youth Ministry employees as ‘youth delegates’.

He suggested that said, instead of being empowered, the youth were being used as a “street force” by all political parties.

“They keep the youth quiet by naming us ‘leaders of tomorrow’ and holding obscure workshops in the guise of empowering us. However, there has so far been no practical application of youth empowerment.”

“It will not do just to talk about a youth city and to promote that idea on social media. If the government is sincere about working to empower youth, they must allow us to have a say at the decision making or policy levels,” he said, suggesting a youth parliament as a possible way of achieving this.

President Yameen’s own Progressive Party of Maldives have no youth leadership after its last Youth Wing President Ibrahim Nazim resigned during the 2013 presidential elections saying he was unable to reach Yameen to discuss youth involvement in the presidential campaign.

The youth minister was not responding to calls at the time of publication.


Maldives Olympic Committee to increase women’s participation in sports

The Maldives Olympic Committee (MOC) has decided to step up women’s participation in international sports by introducing guidelines to encourage sports associations to support female athletes and officials.

The MOC has informed all national sports associations that, while funds will be released based on their performance and training, the committee will now give priority to women.

The committee will set a target of 33 percent of games contingents to be women,  alongside a requirement that half of sports officials be female.

“We have noticed that when when women officials participate in international games, they are very involved in it afterwards. But there are very few officials currently, we want to encourage them,” said Secretary General of the committee Ahmed Marzooq.

At least one official for women’s individual sports and either the Chef De Mission or the Deputy Chef De Mission must also be a woman.

“Very few women’s sports have the opportunity to represent Maldives at international level. We want to give them equal opportunities,” said Marzook.

For the upcoming Asia Games – to be held in Incheon, South Korea from September 19 til October 4, 2014 – the committee will spend MVR1.89million on teams, based on this new policy.

With nearly two hundred members, the Asia Games contingent will be the biggest that has ever represented the Maldives at an international sports event.

The Commonwealth Games 2014 – to be held in Glasgow from July 23 to August 3 – will also be funded under these policies. While there, the Maldives committee is also planning for its athletes to join the Glasgow Muslim community in marking a women’s sports.

“In awarding a training scholarship we ensure there are at least two women for each sport, we want equal opportunities in the area as well,” Marzook added.

“We want people to know that even after retiring as an athlete, there are opportunities for women in coaching, as managers, referees, doctors.”

International women’s sports in Maldives

As a traditionally moderate Muslim nation, women’s participation in sports haven’t been restricted by law, or widely discouraged in the Maldives.

The 2012 Olympics marked the first time that countries like Brunei, Qatar and, Saudi Arabia sent female athletes, while other Muslim majority countries have tended to keep women’s participation to a minimal level.

Starting with just 2.2 percent in 1900, nearly 45 percent of athletes at the 2012 Olympic games were women. Since then, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also set goals such as a 20 percent female representation criteria for the executive boards of National Olympic Committees.

By 1992 there was a demand for the IOC to take more strict action against countries that banned female athletes from their teams after 34 of 169 competing countries had no female participants.

Barcelona was the Maldives’ second Olympic Games, marking the beginning of Maldivian women’s participation in the games. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Maldives’ flag bearer was a teenage girl, Aminath Rouya Hussain.

According to the MOC, between 2010 and 2012 the Maldives participated in eleven international games, with a 42 percent female participation rate.

The current Minister of Youth & Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the government considers providing equal opportunities for women in sports to be a priority.

“We will focus on women’s sports in establishing a number of sports arenas around the country. We will include Bashi (a local sport played mainly by women) courts in these places and we will include aerobics centers too. Jogging tracks will also be created for women,” he said.

Opportunities for women athletes

In 2010 a women’s basketball team represented the Maldives for the first time internationally, the very next year bringing home a silver medal from the 3-on-3 basketball event at the South Asian Beach Games.

Shizna Rasheed – a member of that historic team – feels that there is a great future for women’s basketball in Maldives.

“It was a great achievement for Maldives, especially considering we didn’t get to practice much.”

Still in her twenties, Shizna started playing basket ball thirteen years ago is now volunteering as a member of the recently established women’s committee within the MOC. She was also the women’s basketball team’s assistant coach at the 2010 Asia Games.

Shizna said that, with the right opportunities, there is a future for women’s basketball in the Maldives and that there are also plans to introduce women’s handball at a national level.

“With increasing funds more opportunities are opening now. There should be equal opportunities for women, and I think these new measures [introduced by the committee] are very encouraging. It will provide more opportunities for women athletes,” she said.

Aishath Nazima, a volleyball player with twenty years of experience, expressed similar sentiments about the measures:

“As it is, only a few women’s sports have that opportunity [to participate in international sports], it is worse for team sports. So most teams don’t practice through out the year. But this can change things. If there are games to look forward to, associations and players too will get more serious. A lot of players even quit due to lack of opportunities.”


Anti-trafficking measures praised by US, whilst doubts persist within government

The US State Department has commended the Government of Maldives on the recent ratification of the Anti-trafficking Act, whilst a source within the government has questioned the administration’s initial moves in managing anti-trafficking policy.

Principal Deputy in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Nan Kennelly, visited the country to consult with numerous stakeholders within both the government and civil society.

“Without a doubt passing a human trafficking act is a significant accomplishment and we have commended the government for that. It’s notable that it was done so early  in the new administration,” said Kennelly.

A source within the government, however, has today questioned the decision to move the human trafficking issue under the mandate of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“The Ministry of Youth does not play a significant part in dealing with foreigners and workers in this country. Ninety-five percent of the relevant work takes place within the immigration department,” explained the source.

“When trafficking happens, what are the functions of immigration in border control? Just making referrals to the Ministry of Youth? I wonder how that will work.”

The source explained that the transfer of responsibilities had occurred after the act came into force.

Recently confirmed Minister for Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Principal Deputy Kennelly met with the attorney general, the acting prosecutor general, the immigration controller, the commissioner of police, and representatives from the Youth Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Human Rights Commission.

From civil society, consultations were held with Transparency Maldives, and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) – which is being funded by the US for its work in the Maldives.

The IOM has conducted training following the passage of the bill last month which included officials from both the Youth Ministry and the Immigration Department.

“The IOM has tremendous expertise,” explained Kennelly. “With IOM you know you are going to get quality training that’s reflecting the norms of the international community.”


The Office to Monitor and combat Trafficking is responsible for producing the US Government’s yearly trafficking report. The Maldives has appeared on the report’s Tier 2 watchlist for four consecutive years.

“The law that governs the trafficking and persons report which we produce every year requires that it a country is on the tier two watchlist  for four years  in a row they must either go up one grade, or they will be downgraded to tier three,” explained Kennelly.

Relegation to Tier 3 – reserved for those deemed not to have conformed to the department’s minimum standards or to not be making enough effort to do so – carries with it the potential for the withdrawal of non-humanitarian and non-trade related foreign assistance.

“That’s the situation in which is in for the 2014 report – I can’t really speculate on what the ranking will be in 2014 because there are many factors that we take into consideration.”

Asked if the passage of the trafficking bill constituted enough effort to save the Maldives from Tier 3, Kennelly state that she had yet to see an English copy of the act, but that the next report would consider many factors.

She did, however, describe the new legislation as a “very good basis for future action”.

Shortly after the act’s ratification, both the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Immigration expressed concern over its failure to adequately identify smuggling – a topic Kennelly discussed with the media yesterday.

“Human smuggling is a crime against the state because immigration laws are being broken, whereas human trafficking is a crime which takes place against the individual…their human rights to be free from forced labour are violated.”

All government stakeholders consulted during the visit, however, were very clear on the difference, she explained.

“Generally speaking I was impressed with the level of sophistication of understanding of the concept of human trafficking amongst government interlocutors.”


Maamendhoo Island Council calls for football funding to combat violence, drug abuse

A lack of support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports for youth activities, particularly football, on Maamendhoo Island in Laamu Atoll has resulted in violence and drug use according to the island council’s president.

“The government has not provided funds for youth sports or activities here, it’s very sad,” Maamendhoo Island Council President Ali Shifaz told Minivan News, during a visit to the island.

“Football, and other sports, are very important because we need our youth to be away from bad habits,” Shifaz explained.

“Youth getting involved in drugs and fighting is a big issue, but normally football players don’t get involved in those things,” he continued. “They have no other time for drugs and fights.”

“For the last two or three months there have been no fights because of football. It’s a good way to compete and Maamendhoo is very peaceful as a result,” Shifaz noted.

Ultimately, problems ebb and flow depending on the support for youth activities the island receives, explained Shifaz.

“Eighty percent of the island’s youth play football, therefore we need to have a big effort to support them,” he added.

Unfortunately, fighting between youth from Maamendhoo with young people of nearby islands has become a problem because positive activities are not being funded and supported on those islands either, according to Shifaz.

In early 2012 Nasheed pledged to flatten football ground, put up fences, build a basketball court behind the stadium, and a bashee court for the women, explained Shifaz.

The football ground was recently built on Maamendhoo, however the island has also requested a youth centre – with ‘garlando’ (foosball) and billiards – be built so other youth who do not play football will have activities that prevent them from engaging in ‘bad habits’.

“I’m involved with an NGO here and I hate to say it but now our NGOs are not working properly, because they are not getting what they need to function in a proper way,” Shifaz lamented.

Lack of footballs

“They have very good players, I was very impressed,” former Victory Sports Club coach Abul ‘Abjee’ Jaleel told Minivan News.

“If youth team wants anything we discuss with the Island Council and they call the Ministry of Youth and Sports,” said Maamendhoo football player Mohamed ‘Kalho’ Nasheed.

“Before during [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s time the ministry provided funding, but now we don’t get anything,” he explained.

“To buy balls the players contributed their own money. The sports team really collaborates,” he continued.

Previously the Maamendhoo football players only had one ball, but have managed to buy eight. They have also arranged a coach to come about three times a week, but there are no funds for his equipment either.

“There also used to be an atoll football competition, but this year there has been nothing,” Kalho lamented.

Youth and Sports Ministry response

“Maamendhoo happens to be the first island we helped after we assumed office early last year,” Youth and Sports Minister Mohamed Hussein ‘Mundu’ Shareef told Minivan News.

“The ministry contributed MVR 80,000 (US$5200) for the construction of the Maamendhoo football ground which was completed last year,” said Shareef. “So the allegations [that Maamendhoo is not receiving support from the Ministry] are rubbish.”

“Rather than complaining they should be pleased,” he added. “It was a long-pending pledge by Nasheed to develop the football ground which was not delivered.”

“It is a petty political problem or they have a short term memory,” said Shareef. “There are no pending requests from Maamendhoo, if there were it would be a different story.”

Shareef explained that he made it a point to review and implement all the pending pledges and corresponding paperwork for the sake of continuity.

“It’s not the fault of the youth that the government changed,” said Shareef. “We don’t differentiate between big and small islands or look at the political leanings of the island councils.”

In the past 15 to 16 months the Youth and Sports Ministry has helped 87 islands, which account for half the population, according to Shareef.

“There is not a single island we have not touched,” he declared.

The entire Youth and Sports Ministry’s budget for the past year was MVR 60 million (US$3,911,340), with MVR 20 million (US$ 1,303,780) allocated to associations – of which 19 are sports associations, according to Shareef.

Previously, MVR 2 million (US$ 130,378) was the total infrastructure budget, which the government quadrupled to MVR 8 million (US$ 521,512) this year, Shareef claimed.

Island football grounds are legally properties of the respective island councils and the Ministry funds the island councils, which are ultimately responsible for the development and maintenance of the grounds, Shareef explained.