HRCM introduces benchmark for migrant worker rights

Coinciding with the International Migrants Day, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has launched a national benchmark for protecting migrant worker rights.

The benchmark was launched by HRCM President Mariyam Azra and Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Naaif Shawkath at a ceremony held at Nasandhura Palace Hotel today.

Officials from various stakeholder institutions such as the Maldives Police Service and the Immigration Department were present at the ceremony, later taking part in a forum to discuss the utilisation of this benchmark in their work.

According to the commission, the purpose of having such a benchmark is to encourage protection of the rights of migrant workers and to provide a guideline highlighting the basic human rights principles to be followed.

It is based on the constitution of the Maldives, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) and other human rights conventions to which the Maldives is a party.

While most of these standards are already obligations on the state, the benchmark itself is not something state institutions are obliged to follow, though the commission members noted the government’s willingness to accept it.

Speaking at the launching ceremony, commission member Jeehan Mahmood said she hoped all institutions would use it as a tool for protecting the rights of migrant workers. She noted the positive response from these institutions in meetings held within past few days to discuss the benchmark’s use in their work.

Advising the government in “formulation of laws, regulations and administrative codes concerning the promotion of a high regard for human rights and the protection and sustenance of such rights” is stated as a key function of the commission in the Human Rights Commission Act.

Speaking at the benchmark launching ceremony Deputy Minister Naaif advised all relevant institutions to accept the benchmark, and thanked HRCM for developing it. He said following it will standardise the work of all institutions.

In a press release issued today, the HRCM called on the state to facilitate implementation of  the recently ratified Anti Human Trafficking Act and reiterated their call to ratify and implement ICRMW as as soon as possible. The Maldives has agreed to ratify and implement this convention on various occasions.

The HRCM has cited the issue of healthcare as major challenge for undocumented migrant workers living in Maldives. According to a video presentation given at the ceremony, such workers hesitate to see a doctor even if they can afford to.

The video also showed that, out of all complaints submitted to the commission regarding rights of migrant workers, 68 percent of cases involved non-payment of wages, unfair expulsions, and the failure to provide food and shelter. 18 percent of cases were said to concern health issues while in detention.

Among other complaints received by the commission are the withholding of travel documents and work visas, refusing leave from work, and the termination of employment contracts without prior notice.

While there is no accurate official figures of the migrant worker population in the Maldives, the highest estimates suggest that it crossed the 100,000 mark in 2011, whilst the number of undocumented migrant workers have been placed as high as 44,000.

These numbers indicate that migrant workers might now represent more than one third of the total population.

The country was this year kept on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, with promises that demotion to the third tier would be guaranteed in 2014 without significant progress being made.


Half the population under 25, statistics reveal

Half the 330,652-strong population of the Maldives are below the age of 25, according to the 2013 yearbook published by the Department of National Planning.

However despite the huge youth demographic, the statistics suggest the education system is failing young people, with just 19 percent of students going on to higher secondary education.

Moreover while just 7 percent of the country’s 408 schools are located in Male, a third of all students in the Maldives attend these institutions. Of their teachers, 32 percent are foreigners, while 14 percent have had no training.

The civil service meanwhile remains the country’s largest employer at 17,657 staff (5.34 percent of the population), but also highlights the country’s considerable wealth disparity. 47 percent of civil servants are paid less that MVR 5000 (US$330) a month, while just one percent are paid more than MVR 10,000 (US$660).

Statistics meanwhile show that while the government received MVR 9.8 billion (US$635.5 million) in revenue and grants, total expenditure was MVR 14.2 billion (US$921 million) – 74 percent of this on recurrent expenditure, and representing a total shortfall of US$285.5 million.

Approximately MVR 970 million (US$62.9 million) was spent on social protection programs such as pensions. Of this money, 782 million (US$50.7 million) was spent on the Aasandha universal healthcare scheme.

While the country’s exports were valued at MVR 2.5 billion (US$155.6 million), imports were MVR 23.9 billion (US$1.54 billion). Meanwhile, almost all of the MVR 14.5 billion (US$940 million) worth of loans and advances issued by banks to the private sector were for tourism and resort development. Annual inflation sat at 10.9 percent,

Tourism capacity at the end of 2012 was 25,571 beds, with an average occupancy rate of 70.6 percent and average tourist stay of 6.7 nights.


Inhabited islands need to be halved: Housing Minister

Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muizzu has told local media that the number of populated islands in the Maldives needs to be reduced by half as part of a national resettlement policy.

“The inhabited islands in the Maldives need to be reduced. This cannot be attained within one or two days. It can take up to 10 years,” Muizzu was quoted as saying.

The minister reportedly revealed details to carry out this strategy with a combination of subsidies and housing for those willing to move from smaller to larger islands.

Dr Muizzu was not responding to calls at time of press. However he was reported as saying that relocation would only occur if the majority of an island’s population consented to being transferred, requiring cooperation with local councils.

Haveeru today reported that Haa Alif Molhadhoo Island Council had accused the government of informing the council that its population of 400 would be relocated to nearby Dhihdhoo island without prior consultation.

Muizzu has denied this, reiterating the intention to seek consensus on any consolidation projects whilst highlighting the efforts made to facilitate the potential move.

“We are hoping to start a new housing project in Dhihdhoo in the next two months. Those units will be set aside specially for those moving into Dhihdhoo and would be completely free. There’s no need to even pay rent,” he told Haveeru.

There were also protests against the potential transfer of the population of Rinbudhoo in Dhaalu Atoll earlier this month.

With a total population of nearly 350,000, dispersed over 196 inhabited islands spread over a distance of more than 600 miles, the Maldives is one of one of the world’s most dispersed countries.

Dispersed populations and small island communities have been long recognised as key challenges to the sustainable social and economic development of Maldives.

Both the former Minister for the (now defunct) Atolls Development Ministry and current Vice President, Mohamed Waheed Deen, and Special Advisor to the President, Dr Hassan Saeed, have spoken publicly about the economic importance of population consolidation since the new government came to power.

“Without population consolidation we cannot achieve sustainable economic development,” Deen contended, speaking to the media in April just after taking office.

“Population consolidation needs to start so we can deliver public services fairly to all people as well realising economies of scale in delivery. This cannot be just an aspiration; action has to start now,” Hassan explained in a comment piece for local newspaper Haveeru in June.

The Vice President also expressed his long term vision for economically viable population distribution in the country – going far beyond Muizzu’s aim of bringing the country’s inhabited islands to just under one hundred.

“I envision that people of Maldives will live in 25 to 30 islands. Each island will be of twice that of Hulhumale’. Around 60,000 to 70,000 will live on each island. This is a dream I see. I will try to make this dream come true.”

Muizzu yesterday stated his belief that repopulation will enable the government to better provide for people’s basic constitutional rights with regards to medical care, education, housing and travel.

Studies by the Ministry of Planning and National Development for the most recent National Development Plan (NDP) found strong links between social vulnerability and population size.

With higher rates indicating greater vulnerability based on a composite of twelve living standard dimensions, populations of less than 200 had an average of 5.3 on the Human Vulnerability Index (HVI), islands with more than 2000 inhabitants had an average of 2.4, whilst those with over 4000 had an average of 2.1.

The seventh NDP also found that the average income of islands hosting those displaced by the 2004 tsunami rose by 30 percent within 6 months.

Currently, around 130 islands have populations less than a 1000, and others between 1000-6000, while Male’ accounts for one third of the total population, where the density of the population is over 40,000 per square kilometres.

The government’s repopulation policy signifies a renewed ambition to follow through on the much awaited population strategy that has been discussed for a quarter-century, but has fallen short of making any significant outcomes.

Resettlement of nearly 17 islands were reportedly under review during former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s last term in office, but confronted by the 2004 Tsunami and the pre-2008 democratic reforms, population consolidation plans lost emphasis.

The talks ultimately disappeared from the table under the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, which lobbied for a national transportation network between the islands to boost connectivity and economic progress.


We need to focus on the development of key population centres in order to live within our means: Dr Hassan Saeed

“The public’s thirst for improved local facilities and services such as harbours for our islands or free healthcare seems to be unlimited,” writes Dr Hassan Saeed for local newspaper Haveeru.

“There is nothing wrong with this. We do need to listen to people’s hopes for the future. However we also need to recognise that we cannot do everything at once,” adds Dr Saeed, currently the leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

“Like any household or business, our country also needs to live within its means. However up until last February our government was portrayed by some as a provider of unlimited funds often provided through international donors. Irresponsible politicians were happy to make the most of this with no thought for the future.

We were and continue to be in the position of a typical Maldivian who goes from one businessman to another businessman asking for help with medical treatment. This is exactly what the Maldivian government has been doing for years with international donors and the development institutions.

This generosity has been good for us; just as at a local level a Maldivian will be very grateful for the support for that medical condition I described. However the government and that person has to be aware that the generosity may not last forever.”

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Half the world aged under 25: UN State of the World Report

With almost half the world’s seven billion people aged under 25, and 1.2 billion aged 10-19, investment and education in the young has never been more important.

That was one stand-out finding of the UN’s State of the World Population Report for 2011, unveiled in the Maldives today during a ceremony in the UN’s headquarters in Male’.

Rather than preach population reduction measures, the report acknowledges seven billion as testimony to the success of humanity, and advocates “planning and the right investments in people now – to empower them to make choices that are not only good for themselves but for our global commons.”

Space, a video promo by National Geographic for the report noted, was not the problem. Rather, it was a question of balance.

“Our world of seven billion can have thriving, sustainable cities, productive labour forces that can fuel economic growth, youth populations that contribute to the well-being of economies and societies, and a generation of older people who are healthy and actively engaged in the social and economic affairs of their communities,” noted Executive Director of the UNFPA, Babatunde Osotimehin, in the report’s introduction.

“People are living longer, healthier lives. But not everyone has benefited from his achievement or the higher quality of life that this implies. Great disparities exist between and within countries. Disparities in rights and opportunities also exist between men and women, girls and boys,” Osotimehin wrote. “Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies, information that women need to exercise their reproductive rights.”

Many of the issues to do with providing opportunities for youth outlined in the report have strong parallels in the Maldives, where a quarter of the population is aged between 15-24.

Speaking at the report’s launch in Male’, Vice President of the Maldives Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan observed the migration of young people to Male’, and the need to create more job opportunities in the atolls.

Currently, a quarter of all young men and half of all young women in the atolls are unemployed. Anecdotally, many youth in Male’ are voluntarily unemployed.

Dr Waheed acknowledged the problem: “As important as access to jobs are better wages. People make calculations on whether it is worth working. If the pay is so low [they are unable to afford rent], they will stay at home and remain dependent on their parents,” he noted.

“It is also important to look at jobs not just in terms of salaries, but work satisfaction,” Dr Waheed said, noting that teachers in the Maldives frequently claimed this as their highest concern.
It was also important to ensure growing the number of jobs – an estimated 21,000 were needed each year – also included women, he added.

Deputy Minister of Finance Haifa Naeem suggested the Maldives needed to “diversify jobs to attract the youth market, in fields such as arts and culture.”

“Social investments in youth people’s education, health and employment can enable countries to beuild a storng economic base, thereby reveersing intergenerational poverty. Enhancing young people’s capacties can yield larger returns during the course of their economically productive lives,” the report noted.

Read the report

World at a glance:

  • People under 25 make up 43 percent of the world’s population, and 60 percent of the population of developing countries
  • Seven billion people would fit shoulder-to-shoulder in Los Angeles
  • 27.3 percent of young women in South Asia are employed, compared to 47.7 percent in developed countries. In the Middle east, the figure is 21.5 percent.
  • Half the population of the world live in cities
  • Asia currently accounts for 60 percent of the world’s population, while Africa is expected to triple to 3.6 billion by 2100
  • The average fertility rate is 2.5 children
  • The population growth rate for developed regions is 0.4 percent. For least developed regions, 2.2 percent
  • The population grew by one billion in just 12 years

Maldives at a glance:

  • The Maldives’ population in 2011 is 325,125, not including 70,259 foreign workers
  • Male’s population in 2011 was 110,000. In 1911 it was 5236, and in 1970, it was 14,037
  • 40 percent of the population are aged 15-24, and half of the country’s young people live in Male’
  • 1 in 4 people in the country are expatriate workers
  • Life expectancy has increased by 20 years since the 1980s
  • Every day, 20 people are born and three people die
  • The average annual income in Male’ is US$7217. In the atolls, it is US$647 – eight percent
  • One in three Maldivian women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes
  • 42 percent of working-age women are unemployed
  • In the atolls, 50 percent of young women and 25 percent of young men are unemployed
  • The average woman is married at 19, and has her first child at 20
  • The Maldives spends 15 percent of its GDP importing fossil fuels, over US$200 million a year