Two sentenced to death over crimes committed as minors

The juvenile court has today sentenced two young men to death over a murder committed when the pair were minors, but the two are unlikely to face the death penalty.

The two unnamed 19-year-olds denied charges over the stabbing and death of Hussain Waheed in Malé in December 2013. They were 16 at the time.

Waheed had died of heart failure due to the stab wounds to his chest.

Speaking at the UN human rights council last week, legal affairs secretary at the president’s office, Aishath Bisham, said “it would be legally impossible to issue the death sentence” if the accused denies murder charges at any stage of prosecution.

One of the suspects was charged with murder while the other was charged with being an accomplice to the murder. Another 14-year-old was arrested at the time and charged with assaulting an individual on the scene.

The juvenile court sentenced the pair based on testimony by four eyewitnesses. All nine heirs of the victim have asked the court to implement the death penalty.

In 2014, the Maldives repealed a six-decade-old de facto moratorium on the death penalty, ostensibly to tackle a surge in fatal stabbings. Over 30 people have been killed in violent crimes in the past seven years.

Under the new regulations, individuals as young as seven years of age can be sentenced to death if convicted of wilful murder.

The juvenile court has now sentenced a total of four young men to death for murders committed when they were minors. Two young men convicted of wilful murder in the death of Abdul ‘Bobby’ Muheeth were also sentenced to death in May 2013.

The government says capital punishment can only be enforced if all three tiers of the judiciary find the accused to be guilty and if all heirs of the victim request the death penalty. Bisham also said the president is required to review if due process was followed before he enforces the death sentence.

The last person executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was found guilty of practicing black magic in 1953.

The common practice has since been for the president to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment through powers vested in him by the Clemency Act. The new regulations has revoked president’s authority.

Several countries at the Universal Periodic Review, including France, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Namibia, Spain, Australia and Montenegro expressed concern over Maldives’ decision to end the unofficial moratorium on the death penalty.

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Police uncover four child abuse rings

Police have uncovered four child abuse rings across the country involving at least 33 male minors between the ages of 14 and 18.

Chief Superintendent Mohamed Riyaz said the cases involved homosexual adult men preying on minors, and that it was likely that more children could be involved.

Only one arrest has been made so far.

The boys were lured through interactions on social media and the internet, said the head of the north wing of the divisional operations command.

“In some of these cases, we have noted that the children were used to bring their friends into this,” he said.

Appealing for parents to be more vigilant of their children’s online activities, Riyaz said “special measures” are needed from parents, schools and the community at large to combat child sexual abuse.

In most cases, Riyaz said individuals with a history of sexual offences befriends children on the internet.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rates of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.

Police could not reveal further details including which islands the cases were reported from as the investigation was ongoing, Riyaz said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Zenysha Shaheed Zaki, executive director of Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC), said the child protection NGO has launched a ‘Surf [email protected]’ campaign in February targeting internet safety for children.

“Our hope is that children can be taught to safely use the internet in an age appropriate manner,” she said.

In some cases, Zenysha said parents stop their children from using the internet, which she says is not a “realistic” solution.

Children should instead be taught to use the internet safely and be warned of the dangers, she suggested.

ARC is in the process of developing content for awareness material for social media, television and radio clips, and workshops for parents and teachers, she added. The sessions are expected to begin in June.

Telecommunications service provider Dhiraagu and cable TV service provider Medianet have sponsored the campaign for a one-year period.

Meanwhile, in a high-profile case in November 2009, a 38-year-old pedophile was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for 39 counts of child sexual abuse.

Hussain Fazeel was initially arrested for smuggling alcohol, but police discovered a hard drive containing a large quantity of images and videos of Fazeel having sex with underaged boys, some as young as 10. In other videos, the boys were made to had sex with each other.

Fazeel was charged before ratification of the Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act, which carries penalties of up to 25 years.

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Only six convicted minors completed reintegration programmes in 2013

The Juvenile Court has released the statistics from last year showing the number of convicted minors that applied to participate in the Correctional Center for Children, revealing that 21 had applied to take part in the programs and only six completed it successfully.

According to a statement issued by the court gave the opportunity to participate for 16 minors out of 21 that applied to the rehabilitation programmes, aimed to facilitate reintegration into society.

Of the 16 charged, the Juvenile Court stated that five minors were charged with drug and alcohol related offenses, two charged with fornication and sexual misconduct, four charged with theft, two with robbery, two charged with objection to order and one charged with assault and battery.

The court said that the purpose of the programmes was to give a second chance for minors charged with criminal offenses to reintegrate in to the society and also to determine minors charged with criminal offenses that are working and studying and to help them continue their studies and work if they were sentenced.

In addition, the Juvenile Court said the program included teaching different types of work to minors charged with criminal offenses.

The court noted that those participating in the program had varied reasons for not completing, and also that there were minors that repeated criminal offences during the programme.

The Juvenile Court said that these programs were conducted in accordance with the court’s child correctional programs conducted under the regulation on juvenile justice procedure articles 19 and 20.

The programmes are conducted in cooperation with all the concerned authorities, and juveniles taking part in the programmes will have to participate in different programmes conducted by the correctional centre for children, the Juvenile Justice Unit, the National Drug Agency programmes and programmes conducted by the Ministry of Gender and Human Rights as well as different social programs conducted by NGOs, the Juvenile Court said.

A report made by Dr Aishath Ali Naaz for the Asia Foundation titled ‘Rapid situation assessment of gangs in Male’ 2012’’ suggested that minors are the most vulnerable within gangs and that they were used by gang leaders to carry out the gang’s dirty work, such as selling drugs and alcohol, inflicting harm on others and vandalizing property.

Dr Naaz’s reports said that judges have the discretion to deliver a more lenient sentence with regard to most criminal offences committed by offenders who are 16 years old or younger and gang leaders exploit this fact by using minors to carry out crimes.

Last year the Juvenile Court concluded 125 cases, with 54 of the cases concluded being drug related offenses committed by minors.

According to the Juvenile Court statistics the Prosecutor General filed 103 cases last year while 83 cases were filed in the Juvenile Court the year before.

The statistics also showed that 584 cases were brought before the judges to decide upon the extension of pretrial detention period for arrested minors.

Speaking this week at the inauguration of a youth camp aimed at preparing adolescents for integration into the workplace, Home Minister Umar Naseer pledged to introduce mandatory government service for school leavers.

Speaking at the same event, Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed spoke of the need to create a responsible young generation.

“There is no pleasure any one can reap from frequenting scenes of crimes. It is by strongly staying away from crime and being responsible that real happiness can be achieved,” Waheed said.

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Court hears witnesses in February 8 arson attack on Thinadhoo police station

The Juvenile Court has taken the statements of seven witnesses produced in defence of the minors charged with an arson attack on Thinadhoo Police Station in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll during the anti-government protest on February 8, 2012.

The incident followed the controversial transfer of presidential power and was accompanied by widespread unrest across the country.

The juvenile court’s media official told local media that there would be one more hearing scheduled before delivering the verdict where the state and respondents will be allowed to submit their final statement and last words.

According to the media official one of the four minors produced one witness in his defence, while a second minor produced six witnesses.

The court refused to give details of what the defence witnesses said due to the nature of the case.

However, the court confirmed that the next hearing was scheduled to next Monday (19 November).

Journalists and the public are not allowed to enter the hearings of cases conducted at the Juvenile Court.

Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaeema Nasheed did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

February 8 was a day which saw protests erupt across the country after a brutal police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest against the party’s controversial ousting from power the previous day.

Protestors on Gaaf Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo set fire to the police station, magistrate court, atoll council office, and all police vehicles. Nine policemen were attacked and subsequently treated at the Thinadhoo Regional Hospital. Police officials at the time declared the area unsafe for local policemen as “MDP supporters have threatened to attack the residences of policemen.”

Initially the police requested the Prosecutor General (PG) to charge 108 persons in connection with the unrest.

The PG pressed terrorism charges against the minors under article 6 (b), with reference to article 2 (f,g) of the Terrorism Prevention Act.

Article 6 (b) states that any person found guilty of the act of terrorism shall be sentenced between 10 and 15 years imprisonment or banishment.

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Four minors arrested with stolen items in Gemanafushi Island

Four minors have been arrested on the island of Gemanafushi in Gaafu Alifu Atoll with stolen items.

Police said that the stolen items were found inside one of the minor’s house.

According to police, they allegedly stole a sound system, CD player, one diving torch, as well as the batteries, charger and bulbs for the torch.

Police said the four minors were aged  between 15 and 16.

Gemanafushi police station is investigating the case.

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Juvenile Court sentences 17 year-old boy to four months in prison for kissing girl

Additional reporting by JJ Robinson

The Juvenile Court has sentenced a 17 year-old boy to four months in prison after he kissed a 16 year-old girl in a court waiting room.

The girl was sentenced to four months house arrest.

The sentences were given after the boy was brought to court for a remand hearing in an ongoing drugs case, and kissed the girl who was in the waiting room. The pair were convicted for indecent behaviour and contempt of court for kissing on court premises.

“The boy was taken out of where those in custody are kept to the general waiting area, and walked right up to a girl standing there and kissed her in public. We found the girl to be 16 years of age,” a Juvenile Court official told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

The official said although the girl involved in the matter had been sentenced to four months under house arrest, the court had ruled to delay implementation of the sentence for three years as this was her first offence. If the girl did not commit repeat offences of a similar nature in the next three years, the sentence against her would be annulled, the official said.

The four months would be added to the boy’ s drug sentence, the official added.

Harsh sentencing

Belying the country’s reputation as a luxury honeymoon destination, Maldivian courts issue harsh sentences for sexual offences.

In February 2013 a 15-year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest, for a separate offence of fornication.

The girl had given birth to a baby in June 2012, which 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.

Following global outrage and a two-million strong petition threatening a tourism boycott by online activist group Avaaz.org, the girl’s sentence was overturned in the High Court on appeal.

Meanwhile in July 2013 the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – the judiciary’s watchdog body – rejected the recommendation of its own subcommittee calling for the suspension of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed.

Multiple leaked videos circulating on social media showed the judge fornicating with unidentified foreign women in a Colombo hotel room.

The JSC declined to suspend the judge, citing “lack of evidence”.

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Maldives facing widespread child prostitution, sexual abuse: clinical psychologist

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

Child prostitution in Laamu Atoll has become so “common” the underage victims of such crimes consider it “normal”, a private clinical psychologist has revealed to Minivan News.

The practice, believed by multiple sources interviewed by Minivan News to be prevalent across the Maldives, ranges from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively selling the sexual services of their children – some as young as 12.

Acknowledgement of “systemic” child sexual abuse in the Maldives, particularly prostitution, remains highly taboo, with few government institutions willing to confront the problem.

Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights Azima Shukoor made the first official acknowledgement of the practice in a statement to mark Children’s Day on May 10.

“The abuse of children is on the rise. Children being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade. This is being practiced in the Maldives today. Both boys and girls are being used in this trade,” she stated.

Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, conducts psychological profiling of sexual abuse victims, as well as preventative awareness workshops, and recently completed a study focusing on Laamu Atoll.

She explained that child prostitution has become so common among minors that it is considered a normal activity, with victims even boasting about their sexual exploits at school.

“When many people do something it’s not [considered] wrong anymore. In some atolls I’ve seen this, especially in Laamu Atoll. It’s not accepted by the whole population but [it is] among the young people,” she told Minivan News.

“The children say in class ‘So you do it, you do it too, and so on, so what’s the big deal?’” Dr Naaz explained. “Some children have accepted this as something normal and as a way of life.”

Child prostitution is considered a type of sexual abuse because victims are minors under 18 years-old.

“It’s not just incest, which is happening, because in my practice I have come across cases of close relatives [who] have pushed children into prostitution,” Dr Naaz said. “Children as young as 12 or 13 years-old have been forced to partake in sexual activities,” explained Dr Naaz.

“This is sexual abuse, but people are not aware that there is sometimes monetary gain for somebody,” she added.

“Child prostitution is happening in a very subtle way. Most of the time there is an adult who is pushing the child; it may be a parent or a relative who is pimping the child,” said Dr Naaz.

Hidden in plain sight

Two cases of child prostitution in Laamu Atoll have been reported to police so far in 2012, a police source familiar with the incidents told Minivan News, on condition of anonymity.

The cases were “isolated, very difficult to [investigate]”, and there did not appear to be gang involvement or organised child prostitution ‘rings’, the source explained. The victims of child prostitution in the atoll were “typically 16 or 17 years-old”.

An island council official in Laamu Atoll told Minivan News child prostitution was resorted to by the “poorest of the poor” as a means to earn money to “fulfill basic needs of living.”

Child sexual abuse and incest occurring within some families has led to the practice being passed down through multiple generations, a civil society source researching the matter explained to Minivan News.

This history of sexual abuse has been exacerbated by overcrowding in homes following relocations after the 2004 tsunami, which in combination with severe economic hardship has led to the exploitation of children via prostitution.

During a visit to Laamu Atoll, Minivan News spoke to 51 year-old former atoll chief Abdul Wahhab Abdulla about the practice in the atoll.

Wahhab served as island chief of Gan for 25 years, atoll chief from 2008 to 2010, and was director general at the national administrative office of the South Central Province from 2011 to March 2012. He was subsequently demoted to island council director after March 2012.

Reported cases of child prostitution in the atoll were “very rare”, Wahhab said, “perhaps one case a year.”

There have been cases of middle aged or elderly men providing financial support to young girls for basic necessities “and then taking advantage of the position [of benefactor],” he explained.

“It is less child prostitution than sexual abuse,” he  continued. “I think it started after the tsunami after affected people from Mundhoo and Kalaidhoo [islands] migrated here.”

There were about four such cases of sexual abuse reported a year, he said.

In the past, Wahhab explained, island communities were smaller and people knew each other very well, making it difficult to hide crimes such as prostitution.

Reported cases typically involved low income families “with four or five children”, he said, with adolescent girls aged 16-17 often targeted.

“The children have basic needs that are not being fulfilled, so the elderly man will first gain the child’s trust with small gifts,” he explained.

“At that point he becomes her benefactor. Then he gets closer and tries to take advantage of the girl. And the girl does not have the capacity or courage to resist,” he said.

The gender department and police child and family protection services had attended to reported cases promptly, he added.

Atoll sex behaviour survey suppressed

In 2010, the gender department conducted a biological behaviour survey in Laamu Atoll focusing on child sexual abuse, homosexuality and drug use, explained the former atoll chief.

The results of the survey – which were never made public – suggested that the incidence of child abuse and homosexuality were much higher than previously expected, according to Wahhab.

The survey did not distinguish that child prostitution was occurring in Laamu Atoll at the time, he added.

Systemic exploitation nationwide

While children prostitution is more pronounced in some atolls than others, it is “a systemic problem” across the country and remains “a very, very hidden activity,” Dr Naaz explained.

The almost 10,000 participants of her sexual abuse and violence prevention workshops over the past two years had expressed particular concern that child sexual abuse, including child prostitution – is “a common problem”.

Communities from the far north to the south of the Maldives – including Male’, Haa Dhaal, Raa, Lhaviyani, and Addu Atolls – have also been affected, she said.

“People quite frequently talk about child sexual abuse, but we are not comfortable facing the finer details of this reality,” said Dr Naaz.

It was a misconception to think that Maldivians were not involved in the child sex trade, as it was “hidden and difficult to capture,” she said.

“There are people who are using young Maldivian girls in this trade, but it may not be happening at a guest house,” she explained.

Instead, this sexual exploitation occurs “more on [the victim’s] own familiar ground, in rooms and houses”, making it difficult for the authorities to identify cases, collect evidence and intervene.

The involvement of young boys in child prostitution “cannot be ruled out”, however the practice “may be even more hidden”, she added.

Children are being forced to cater to both Maldivians and expatriate workers, she said, however the rates varied with Maldivians paying upwards of MVR 700 (US$45.60) while foreigners such as Bangladeshi labourers paid MVR 150 (US$9.77) “for sexual everything”, explained Dr Naaz.

“These girls have described that the people who pay for sex with them are often very young – 21 to 25 years-old – but sometimes include elderly people,” she continued, noting that the practice had increased in the past decade.

Sophisticated industry in Male’

In the capital Male’, child prostitution has reached a “sophisticated level” and encompasses different types of sexual abuse, explained Dr Naaz, with an even split between families pimping out their children for economic gain versus gangs facilitating the trade for girls suffering from substance abuse problems.

Rather than being gang-led phenomenon, families struggling to make ends meet and economic hardship had led to the rise of a generally ad hoc child sex industry.

“There are instances where family members may hire a room for rent, keep the children in there, and then use them to generate money through sexual activity so they can support their stay in Male’,” explained Dr Naaz.

“Many times the parent, uncle or sibling may be involved in drug abuse and in order to get money they introduce the children to the trade,” said Dr Naaz. “On the other hand, you have people deliberately using and recruiting young girls into this and involving them in sex.”

“Sometimes – and I don’t want to put the on blame them, because it’s not every gang – there are youth groups who may keep a few girls whom they pimp.”

She also highlighted instances of mentally disabled children being abused for sexual activities by adults.

“They’re vulnerable so they’re not able to protect themselves,” she said.

Other cases were said to involve groups of women renting rooms in Male’ and “recruiting vulnerable young people who may not have their parents [in the city],” she explained. In some cases,  young girls with intellectual impairments “are taken in by these groups of women.”

She identified a “gradual process” of minors being “groomed” by adults via the internet and/or social media, with children taken to known “spots” and introduced to those involved in the sex trade.

In other instances, the minors are pushed to provide nude photos, and then emotionally blackmailed with threats that the pictures will be posted on the web, and ultimately recruited into prostitution.

“In Male’, there have [also] been instances where a parent gets angry and tells the child to get out on the street, with the child picked up by somebody [because they are] in a helpless state,” said Dr Naaz. “Then they are taken to a guest house and used for prostitution, group sex and things like that.”

A school health counselor in Male’, who claimed to have encountered numerous cases of child prostitution, said poverty was one of the root causes of the abuse in Male.

“Mostly cases involve single parents – mums and dads – who come from the islands and try to survive in Male’,” said the counselor. “Cases where the mom lives in a guest house and facilitates prostitution for the whole family are common in Male’.”

In one specific instance, a student in Grade 7 (aged 12-13) and her sister were earning money from prostitution and giving the earnings to the family, with the parent’s knowledge, the source said.

“Children are [also] trafficked to the islands from Male’. The gender ministry cannot do anything regarding the kids because this happens at the family level and at the school level. They have no authority to say anything and are neglecting the issue,” the source alleged.

A civil society source currently investigating the practice told Minivan News that underage girls were being “groomed” by “benefactors” in Male’ and then sexually abused by the same men, which included both Maldivians and foreign nationals. The source said it is common to see teenage or adolescent girls with older men who were trying to buy sexual favors at particular shops in Male’ at the beginning of the month, around payday.

After being lured into prostitution, the children were then taken by some men to neighboring countries to engage in sexual acts, added the source.

Generations of damage

Some of the children exploited by the sex trade seek help, but the condition they are in is “very very sad”, lamented Dr Naaz. “It’s unbelievable for the Maldives.”

“Sometimes they are psychotic, mentally retarded, and they are the victims of rape, gang rape, group sex… and the child feels ‘I have no choice but to be there’ because their intellectual capacity is not [developed enough] to address that. They don’t have the skills [to get out of the situation],” she explained.

Some children also showed symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases and were being advised to seek testing and treatment, she added.

A comprehensive study is needed to determine exactly how many children are affected by this type of sexual abuse, emphasised Dr Naaz.

“I don’t think we would be different from most other societies, but the exact percentage we should determine from good research that determines the root causes,” she said.

While the exact root causes behind child prostitution – and other forms of sexual abuse – in the Maldives still need to be determined, there are some factors in addition to economic hardship that may be contributing to the practice.

“Many times Maldivians are living in very crowded environments in households where they are exposed to adult sexual activities and children learn, children get to know,” Dr Naaz speculated. “So the environment in which we are living could be one factor.”

Furthermore, “in the Maldives girls start having boyfriends at a very young age, grade 5 or 6, which is quite early. It seems more like people are indulging in sexual activities at a very young age,” she explained. “Sometimes these boyfriends may be on drugs and these boys may also be recruiting the girls into sexual activities. Young girls need to be very careful so they don’t get pushed into this.”

Children’s rights violated

Children are not aware of their rights and are not being taught or given opportunities to develop the proper social skills to protect themselves from attempted sexual abuse, including child prostitution, multiple sources emphasised to Minivan News.

“Young people should know their body is theirs and that nobody has a right to violate it. No one – no one – can violate it and there are other ways to earn money,” said Dr Naaz.

“We have to tell young people it’s not alright if your aunt [or anyone] says ‘go to that room with this boy’. Children need to be taught that this is wrong, that these are their rights that are being violated,” she emphasised. “Sometimes children don’t know this, or that they have the right to report [abuse].”

“Parents have a huge role to play, we have to monitor where our children are going. If they’re missing for long hours, we need to know where they are, and whether someone is abusing the freedom their parents have given them,” she continued.

“The child is a minor, so they may not be able to say no if they get pushed into this,” she added.

A ‘Happy Star’ program, created by Dr Naaz, details how parents can communicate to their children – in a language appropriate to children – to improve awareness about the dangers of being lured or forced into child prostitution.

She emphasised that relevant programs must be developed to protect children and teach them about their rights.

“There is a general erosion of values. People don’t seem to know where to set their limits or draw the line. We need to get back to our old values,” she said.

“When a young boy is going to school saying ‘I can’t even say my mum is not doing it, my mum is sleeping with my friend’, that reflects an erosion of values,” she said.

The civil society source investigating the practice of prostitution among young people emphasised that parents and children are “not prepared to deal with these things”.

In addition to no effective sexual education taking place, “There is also no social education occurring and when children get older they rebel because they are not given the chance to be children – instead they are forced to take tuition from age four instead of having play time,” said the source.

“There are parents trying to bring up good kids, but the victims drag other children into their bad behavior,” the source continued.

“We are neglecting the issue, making it worse because no one is dealing with these things. Hiding the issue encourages the practice to continue,” the source declared.

“This has to come out and we have to think ‘out of the box’ to stop the root causes – not just do the same things over and over,” the source added.

Authorities, government uncooperative

The Maldives Police Service had not responded to an emailed series of questions at time of press.

Meanwhile, despite stating earlier this year that the abuse and neglect of children had reached “alarming levels“, the Gender Ministry failed to respond to multiple enquiries from Minivan News regarding child prostitution over the course of this investigation.

Further interviews arranged with relevant authorities in Laamu Atoll were curtailed by the Ministry in Male, with Minivan News ordered to submit a formal letter of enquiry to the office in Male’ requesting authorisation for its staff to speak.

Minivan News submitted such a letter to the Ministry on June 16 seeking “all relevant information regarding the occurrence of child prostitution” in Laamu Atoll and nationwide, as well as a copy of the Laamu Atoll survey conducted in 2010. At time of press, the Ministry had made no response.

Minivan News also contacted Minister of Gender, Family, and Human Rights Azima Shukoor, who did not respond to calls or text messages.

State Minister Dr Aishath Rameela was also not responding to calls at time of press. Minivan News attended her office to set up an appointment directly on Wednesday (June 19), but was informed by Dr Rameela’s secretary that she was unavailable for interview because she was “very busy”.

Victims or suspected victims of sexual abuse, including child prostitution, in Laamu Atoll, can reach the Hadhdhunmathi Family and Children Service Centre on Fonadhoo Island via 771-1721 ,or by calling the Maldives Police Services at 119.

Additionally, a 24 hour toll-free Maldives Child Helpline is available on 1412.

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Sentencing children to death is alarming: Amnesty International

Amnesty International has condemned the sentencing of two 18 year-olds to death for a murder committed while they were minors, and called on Maldivian government authorities to commute the sentence.

The Juvenile Court issued the death sentence to two 18 year-olds found guilty of the February 18, 2012 murder of Abdul Muheeth. Muheeth was stabbed at 1:45am near the Finance Ministry building in the capital Male’ and later died during treatment.

Following the sentencing Amnesty International issued a statement urging Maldivian authorities to commute the death sentence and stop the potential execution of the pair, who were sentenced to death after being found guilty of a murder committed when they were under 18.

“The Maldives is entering new and dangerous territory – imposing death sentences for crimes allegedly committed by children is alarming,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

“The Maldives authorities are flouting international law – anyone convicted of a crime committed when they were under 18 is exempt from the death penalty.

“The authorities must immediately reverse these death sentences, and the prosecution must not try to uphold the death sentences in any appeals,” Truscott added.

Amnesty International also called for the sentences of other prisoners on death row to be commuted, the establishment of an official moratorium on executions, as well as the abolition of the death penalty.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty works as a special deterrent against crime,” said Truscott.

On December 30, 2012 the Juvenile Court finished taking statements from the heirs of Abdul Muheeth, where all approved passing the death sentence against the trial’s defendants should they be found guilty.

In March, Police Inspector Abdulla Satheeh said Muheeth was mistakenly killed by a gang and that he was not the intended target.

Police previously announced that Muheeth was not a member of any gangs, adding that he had also held a responsible job at the time of his death.

Death penalty controversy

Article 88[d] of the Maldives Penal Code states that murders should be dealt with according to Islamic Sharia and that persons found guilty of murder “shall be executed” if no heir of the victim objects, according to Islamic Sharia.

Although the Maldives Penal Code allows for the death sentence, it has traditionally been commuted to 25 years in prison.

In October 2012, the government announced its intention to introduce a bill to the People’s Majlis in order to guide and govern the implementation of the death penalty in the country.

In December 2012, the Attorney General’s Office completed drafting a bill outlining how the death sentence should be executed in the Maldives, with lethal injection being identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment.

However, earlier this year religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has called on Shukoor to amend the government’s draft bill on the implementation of death penalty, urging that convicts be beheaded or shot instead of given lethal injection.

The bill is currently pending approval by parliament, and has given rise to dissenting opinions on the matter.

This April, the Maldivian state sought a High Court ruling on the President’s discretion to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.

During a hearing on April 22, in a case filed by five citizens seeking to annul laws granting the President discretionary powers of clemency, the state attorney said the government would prefer the court itself provided a decision on the matter in accordance with Islamic Sharia.

The state attorney insisted that the decision be made by the court, despite the High Court Judges Bench emphasising that the state must provide an answer since the case concerned a constitutional matter.

The last person to be judicially executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was executed by firing squad in 1953 after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder using black magic.

Statistics show that from January 2001 to December 2010, a total of 14 people were sentenced to death by Maldivian courts.

However in all cases the sitting president has commuted such verdicts to life sentences.

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Islamic Ministry calls for lowering age of prosecution for minors to 10 years-old

The Islamic Ministry’s Fiqh Academy has requested parliament lower the age of prosecution for minors stipulated in the the Penal Code bill from 14 to 10 years-old, reports local media.

MP Ahmed Hamza, chairperson of the parliamentary committee reviewing the Penal Code Bill,
has said that international conventions state the age of prosecution for minors is 15 years-old.

“The age for a minor to be advised to mend his ways for forgoing compulsory deeds is 10 years-old,” according to the Fiqh Academy. Their commentary submitted to the parliamentary committee also claims that minors who commit offenses in the Maldives are 11 years-old or above.

Hamza claims that the Prosecutor General (PG) supports keeping the age of prosecution at 14 years-old, as stipulated in the current penal code bill draft.

“We will decide on setting an age after reflecting on the [international] conventions Maldives is party to, amongst other things. They are saying that the age given in the current penal code already poses some constraints,” said Hamza.

“The PG in favour of it being kept as it is, as in the current penal code, at 14 years. The Foreign Ministry has no objection to this either. But the Islamic Ministry is asking that it be lowered to 10,” he added.

The age for prosecuting minors is one of two penal code issues currently under debate. The second issue surrounds a recently added clause regarding someone convicted of a crime being sentenced according to the penal code stipulations, according to Hamza.

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