The manager of a guest house in Male’ has discovered a six month old baby left alone in one of the property’s rooms on Monday (August 20), prompting a police investigation that today revealed the child’s mother to be a 13 year-old minor.
According to local media reports, the child was discovered by the manager of the M. Hudhufas guest house in the capital after he heard the baby crying for several hours. Upon entering the room, he discovered the child alone and unharmed.
The Maldives Police Service was alerted to the scene immediately, with the baby being taken into state care temporarily while a search was conducted for the child’s parents.
A girl claiming to be the child’s mother later came to the police station by herself after officers called the mobile number she had provided while checking into the guest house.
“We called the number to confirm if she was the baby’s mother and asked her to report to the station. When she came, we found out that she was just a 13 year-old girl,” Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said.
When asked about the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, Haneef noted that no further information could be revealed about the case at this stage, as the mother was a minor herself.
A police investigation is currently ongoing in collaboration with the Gender Ministry.
Haneef also declined to confirm if the police were investigating the details of how the minor became pregnant or if there was suspicion she may have been the victim of abuse.
“We have now returned the girl and her baby to her family,” he added.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem also pointed out that in cases involving minors, “no conclusions” should be drawn until an investigation into the matter was completed.
When asked if a minor who gives birth to a child out of marriage could face criminal charges, Shameem said that it was “very unlikely”. He contended that, under the law, a child below 18 cannot give their consent for sex – therefore any resulting pregnancy is deemed to be the result of sexual abuse.
“For example, in this case, we need to determine first if she is in fact the mother of the baby or not. Then we need to find out how she got pregnant and where her parents were when this happened, because they are responsible for looking after their underage children,” Shameem added. “She is a minor so she cannot give consent [for sex], so police need to investigate the case. It it is very unlikely in such cases for minors to be charged and prosecuted,” he explained.
The “Stringent Punishments for Perpetrators of Sexual Violence Against Children Act’ explicitly states that a child below 13 years of age cannot give consent to any form of sexual relationship, which will be deemed as abuse – a punishable criminal offence. If the child is aged between 13 to 17 years of age, the court must similarly deem that she or he cannot give consent to any form of sexual relationship unless proven otherwise in court.
However, given the history of cases of unmarried pregnancies in the country – often resulting from sexual abuse or unsafe sex – women or girls have traditionally faced the brunt of legal repercussions and widespread stigma. Subsequently, there have been a number of recent incidents reported in media where pregnant women have been forced to take desperate measures, such as self-induced abortions, infanticide or leaving babies abandoned.
In June, police recovered the body of a newborn infant buried in the outdoor shower of a house on Shaviyani Feydhoo island. The baby’s mother was identified as a 15 year-old school student.
Meanwhile, over the last two years, three newborns have been found dead in the country, with another two incidents where newborn children were discovered abandoned but alive. Two foetuses were reported discovered during this two year period, one hidden in a milk tin and the other at the bottom of Male’s municipal swimming pool. Another fully-developed baby was thrown into a park having apparently been strangled with underwear tied around its neck.
The two babies found abandoned and alive have now been placed under state care.
The Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) has described these incidents, as well as the figures detailing an increase in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, as evidence of a sexual health crisis in the Maldives.
Nazeera Najeeb, who leads the reproductive health unit of the CCHDC, told Minivan News in an interview earlier this year that the centre was witnessing an “alarming” increase in cases of underage and unplanned pregnancies, where some girls are getting pregnant “without even knowing it”.
“These unwanted pregnancies are subsequently resulting in more unsafe abortions, baby dumping or infanticide,” she noted.
Najeeb added: “Not just that, sexual violence committed against girls such as sexual abuse and rape, remains at alarmingly high levels. In most cases, abused girls did not even know what happened to them, because no one talks to them about it.”
To curb these perceived problems, she stressed the need for implementing a comprehensive sex education curriculum in and outside educational institutions to create greater awareness on sexual and reproductive health subjects.
Though the concept of sex education is widely supported by health authorities, including Health Minister Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, efforts to implement such practices nationally have been limited.