Four runaway girls from orphanage handed to Gender Ministry

Four girls who ran away from Villingili orphanage – ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’ – have been found and were handed over to the Ministry of Health and Gender on Tuesday, police have confirmed.

According to local newspaper Haveeru, the ministry had previously revealed that the biggest problem at the orphanage was that the elderly children were not allowed to spend time outdoors.

In March last year police returned seven children who were found on a small vessel in the lagoon near Villimalé.

A further two girls were detained by the police in January 2013 after reportedly running away from the orphanage. The girls were held in Maafushi prison, prompting the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives to call for their immediate release.


Police return seven underage girls to Villi-Male’ orphanage after escape

Police have returned seven underage girls who escaped from the Villi-Male’ orphanage ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’.

Police told local media they were called to the orphanage at 8:00pm on Sunday and informed that seven girls had fled the building.

According to local media, police  refused to disclose where and when the girls were found, but confirmed they had been returned.

Local newspaper ‘Haveeru’ reported that another two girls who escaped from the orphanage were found on a ‘bokkura’ – a small local vessel – in the lagoon nearVilli-Male’ with two boys.

Staff at the orphanage are not allowed to speak to the media.

State Minister for Gender Ministry Dr Aishath Rameela has told newspaper Haveeru that the ministry has not been able to clarify the reason why the girls tried to escape.

Rameela told the paper the girls were found in different areas of Villi-Male’ at around 8:30pm – half an hour after their escape – after police, staff at the orphanage and residents of Villi-Male’ searched for them.

In January police detained two girls who escaped the orphanage, prompting the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to call for their immediate release.

At the time local media alleged that the two girls, aged 15 and 16, had escaped the orphanage in the middle of the night to fraternise with some boys.

The case was then tabled at the parliament’s National Security Committee which summoned the head of the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS), the Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), and representatives from the Villingili orphanage.

Sources familiar with Maafushi prison at the time confirmed to Minivan News that the two underage females were being kept with two other underage female inmates completing their sentences.


Committee to visit Maafushi Prison and Villingili orphanage to investigate arrest of minors

Parliament’s National Security Committee will visit Maafushi prison and the Villingili to complete their investigation into the arrest of two minors from the Villingili orphanage.

Speaking at a press conference held last night at the committee meeting room, chair of the committee, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, said the committee’s decision followed questioning of the Ministry of Gender Family and Human Rights, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) and the Villingili Orphanage.

Heads of the ministries and institutions were summoned last night for questioning over the arrest of two underage females from the orphanage. The meeting started as an open meeting but was later turned into a closed meeting.

Moosa told the media the committee had learned that all concerning authorities had neglected their duties and responsibilities to protect the rights of children.

According to Moosa, DPRS officials told the committee members the two minors were being imprisoned alongside criminals undergoing their sentences.

The case was initially submitted to the National Security Committee by MDP MP for Madaveli, Mohamed Nazim.

Nazim contended that there was public concern regarding the arrest of the two minors and asked the committee to publish the details of its investigation on completion.

On January 17, HRCM called for the immediate release of the two underage females living in the Villingili orphanage, who were arrested and sent to Maafushi prison.

Local media alleged the two girls, aged 15 and 16, were arrested on December 28, 2012, after escaping the orphanage in the middle of the night to fraternise with boys.

HRCM asked the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights to return the girls to the Villingili orphanage immediately, noting that their incarceration in Maafushi prison violated chapter 2, article 35[a] of the constitution.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with Maafushi prison confirmed to Minivan News that the two underage females had been moved to a separate area of the prison, but were being kept with two other underage female inmates completing their sentences.

According to the sources, at least one man was arrested in connection with the same case.


Gender Ministry threatens legal action against HRCM over handing of Maafushi minors case

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights has rejected accusations by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) that two minors were locked up in Maafushi prison, and has threatened legal action against the institution.

On January 17, HRCM issued a statement calling for the immediate release of two teenage girls living in Villingili orphanage, who were being held in Maafushi prison after being arrested by police.

Responding to the HRCM’s allegations, the Gender Ministry denied the two minors were kept in cells with other prisoners. The ministry also claimed that a HRCM team that went to meet the minors had forced one of the girls to speak about her past.

The statement added the Ministry was “very seriously” considering taking legal action against the HRCM for forcing one of the two minors to speak to the commission about her past.  The Gender Ministry said it strongly condemned the HRCM’s conduct in the matter, which it claimed could undo its efforts to help the girls recover from their past issues.

‘’The HRCM officials asked one of the minors about her past and she first refused to talk about the matter in the absence of her case worker.  The HRCM officials forced the minors to talk about it,’’ read the ministry statement.

The HRCM has responded to the Gender Ministry’s criticisms with its own statement, claiming that members of staff who met the minors were all highly qualified to do so.

The commission also denied allegations made by the ministry that it had forced the minors to speak about their past. It noted that no representatives from the Gender Ministry had met with the two minors since they were arrested.

The HRCM claimed that the commission was very concerned over the issue over the minors’ alleged detention, adding that two state institutions should not be disputing such a matter.

The commission also continued its calls for the two girls to be transferred to a safe place rather than keeping them in Maafushi prison.

Local media has alleged that the two girls, aged 15 and 16, were arrested on December 28, 2012, after escaping the orphanage in the middle of the night to fraternise with some boys.

A source familiar with Maafushi prison confirmed to Minivan News that the two minors were kept inside a cell in Unit 1 of the prison. According to the source, Unit 1 is the area designated for female inmates and contains women sentenced for all sorts of crimes.


Exhibition gives voice to abused, neglected and abandoned children

Among the black and white images on display was a picture of a hoisted national flag, captured by a six year old boy who dreams to become a policeman. This was one picture among the 41 images showed at the photo exhibition “Me through my lens”  – which provides the first glimpse into the life of abused, neglected and abandoned children living at the state orphanage “Kudakudhinge Hiyaa” in Villigili Island.

The two-day photo exhibition open from 10:00am to 10:00pm is organised by two friends; photographer Hussain Sinan and Dr Aishath Saistha Rasheed, a paediatrician at IGMH- who have started a voluntary movement called “Voices” to help the children at the orphanage.

Speaking to Minivan News Dr Shaistha said that the photo exhibition is the “beginning of a series of events to help the children build their skills”.

According to Shaisthaa, all the basic needs of the children like food, shelter and clothing are fulfilled, but the children lacked the opportunity to harness their talents and skills.

“When we were young, our parents worked really hard to build our skills. But the children at the orphanage don’t have this opportunity. So we decided to help by starting to teach them photography,” Dr Shaisthaa said.

Under the initiative, a team of professional photographers taught the children the basics of photography. The children were then gifted disposable cameras and encouraged to take photos, out of which the best were displayed at the photo exhibition launched by President Mohamed Nasheed on Sunday night.

She noted that people often identified the children at Hiyaa as abused or victims. “But we wanted to show that is not what defines them,” she said.

“Even these children have skills. Just like any children at their age, they wish for small things that bring them joy.”

She noted that the money raised through the exhibition will be invested to run more skill-building programs involving sports, creative writing and art.

According to the other organiser Sinan, 35 out of 41 photos exhibited at the gallery had now been sold for Rf 500 each. He also added that for every donation above Rf 199, a calendar with photos of children will also be gifted.

“We didn’t get the details on the past of these children. But these pictures tell their story. They have brought up what they feel through these pictures,” Sinan said.

Dr Shaistha and Sinan urged the public to help the children at the orphanage. “There are just 55 kids at Kudakudhinge Hiyaa. I am sure we can find 55 people who are willing to help these children, to make a difference in their lives”.

The exhibition provides enough incentive for those seeking the motivation to lend a hand to the abused, neglected and abandoned children.

The exhibition will be shown at the National Art Gallery until 10pm, December 20.


Abandoned child legally assigned foster parents for first time in Maldivian history

The Family Court has assigned foster parents to a 10-month-old baby for the first time in Maldivian history. The child, who had been abandoned, was transferred from state care to a married couple on Sunday, September 18.

“This is the first time that non-biological parents have been given legal guardianship of a child in the Maldives,” said Ilham Mohamed, a local NGO worker familiar with the matter.

Mohamed said that foster parents previously risked the biological parents turning up to demand money and/or the child. “This example will make the process more secure,” she said.

The new foster parents will have the same legal rights given in adoption, except for the rights to consent to marriage and leave an inheritance.

Mohamed pointed out that in many cases where a father will not consent to his daughter’s marriage, the young couple requests and often receives court permission. She said the process usually takes between two and three months.

The couple’s lawyer, former Attorney General (AG) Aishath Azima Shakoor, told local media that the couple wanted to opt for their new daughter to inherit an equal share of their property. According to Mohamed, Maldivian law allows foster parents this option.

Shakoor recently told local media that the court had transferred the state’s legal guardianship of the child under Shari’a law to the couple, who have agreed in writing to protect and provide for the girl.

The Maldives did not provide services for abandoned children before the 1990s. Sources say that the number of abandoned children rose during that decade, possibly due to the allegedly higher rate of drug use among young adults at that time.

In 1992, the Ministry of Gender and Family established the Unit for the Rights of the Child (URC), now known as the Child and Family Protection Services (CFPS). Since then, the ministry maintains that the number of care-giving staff and institutions are unable to meet demand.

An Auditor General’s report dated 2009 reported 43 children at the state’s orphanage on Villingili, near Male. The report noted that the orphanage was understaffed and staff members were unable to provide sufficient care for children below the age of five. Most employees were not trained in child psychology, and there were no provisions for medical emergencies.

The orphanage on Male is currently over capacity and children are not segregated by age, said Mohamed.

Minivan News previously reported that Maldivian Family Law requires various next-of-kin be asked to care for abandoned children before the state assumes responsibility. But the process of identifying proper care-givers was reported long and difficult, and the Ministry of Family and Gender was regularly backed up with applications at the time.

The report also noted that adoption, as it is handled in the West, is illegal in Islam.

“Adoption in the Western style is not part of Islam,” explained Mohamed. “But fostering, or taking people into your care, is part of Islamic culture. It doesn’t really matter what name you use, foster or adopt, just so long as children have a safe place to live.”

Mohamed said she believes most orphanages have wait lists, and expects foster parenting to increase significantly.

“The couple that has been approved struggled to convince local authorities of their case. But now that this has been done once, it won’t be difficult for people to do it again.”

Mohamed noted that the struggle to legalize foster parenting began in the late 1990s, and calls the recent case a “very significant event.”


Nine year-old raises Rf5200 for Villingilli orphanage at birthday party

As the setting sun cast a warm glow over Villingili, dozens of passengers got down from the ferry and made their way to their destination. For one little girl who was accompanied by her aunt, the ferry ride was part of an extraordinary journey she was making.

Mariyam Nishfa Faid, 9, had come to Villingili to visit the Children’s Shelter, the beneficiary of the Mf 5200 (US$404) fund that she had raised at her birthday party.

“I have books and toys, all I need really,” says a beaming Nishfa. “I have enough for now.”

Her tone, if matter of fact, seems oblivious to how astonishing her words are, in a world where the norm is for children to want more toys and more books.

Birth of an idea

Nishfa is an avid reader; her room has two shelves full of books. Her friends and family supports her interest by gifting her books.

“Mum gave me a book ‘Chicken soup for the soul for kids’ last December,” she says. A compilation of mostly true stories, a month later she would go on to read a story that would have a profound effect on her.

“It’s called ‘helping hungry kids’, a story about helping kids in need in Africa. I wanted to help so I asked my mum how I could do it.”

Her mother suggested she talk with her aunt Aiminath Naaz who had done volunteer work in Africa, “and she suggested that I could help the kids closer to home.”

Nishfa also states sweetly that since the money she raised is in Maldivian rufiyaa “it won’t go far in Africa.”

A party with a difference

Nishfa discussed with her family on how to raise funds, eventually deciding to take the opportunity of her birthday party to do so.

“I used to play football in the boys team in my school Jamaaludeen,” says Nishfa, explaining that she had to stop the sport since she broke her arm a while back. The initial idea was to have a party with a sports theme.

“We decided to do it simpler, so that nobody had to buy any jerseys. Invitees didn’t have to wear their best dress; they just had to wear a nice dress and come.”

Instead of bringing her gifts of toys and books, she asked them to bring money for the Children’s Shelter. She is immensely proud of the amount she raised and added the contents of her piggy bank to the donation. As for her party, “it was very good.”

Inspiring others

A warm welcome awaited Nishfa at the shelter, with the staff mentioning how they had heard of her on TV also. The shelter houses 54 kids up to the age of 19. The children are looked after around the clock by 25 caregivers working in shifts.

Nishfa seems a bit overwhelmed after the visit, simply stating “I loved the babies.” Her plans include visiting the orphanage with her aunt once a week if possible, to read stories to the kids. Asked if her friends shared her concerns she seems almost perplexed when she says only a few do. However she is already inspiring others who share her concerns.

Fellow Jamaaludeen student Dhiraya Hassan, 8, donated to the fund at Nishfa’s party. Her mother, Mirufath Faiz, says she was very happy with the idea of donating instead of taking toys.

“Dhiraya also has the same mind-set as Nishfa, she donated the collection of coins in her piggy bank for the Pakistan relief fund.”

Dhiraya has announced to her parents that she wants to help other kids as well, and as a first step, has borrowed the Chicken Soup book from Nishfa.


Police investigate “serious issue” at ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’ orphanage

The Maldives Police Service and the Health Ministry have commenced a joint investigation into “serious issues” concerning the mistreatment of children at ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’, the only orphanage in the Maldives.

Yesterday, police and the gender department of the health ministry held a joint press conference and declared that serious issues concerning the orphanage had been logged with the police as well as with the gender ministry.

Chief Inspector of the Child Protection Unit Ali Shujau and Deputy Minister for Health Mariya Ali would disclose no information regarding the case, other than saying that an allegation was lodged at the Ministry on October 2, and that it “definitely does not concern child sexual abuse.”

Speaking to a person familiar with the matter, Minivan News understands that police summoned staff working at the orphanage to clarify whether any mistreatment or abusing was ongoing in the orphanage.

Staff working at the orphanage were asked whether children who misbehaved were punished, and if so what the punishments consisted of. The police also asked how the staff dealt with children who misbehaved.

Minivan’s source denied rumours currently circulating around Villingili that orphans were being abused, however the source did say that a number of children over the age of 10 were living at the orphanage, including a 19 year-old man.