CCHDC backs sex education in schools to combat rising sexual health problems

Age appropriate sexual and reproductive health education needs to taught in schools to combat the increasing “sexual health illnesses” in the Maldives, according to the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC).

CCHDC’s Public Health Programme Coordinator Nazeera Nazeeb revealed that studies have found high risk behaviors young people – including “unprotected sex, drug and alcohol abuse, homosexuality and prostitution” – are putting them at high risk of  sexually transmitted diseases and HIV risk.

During a rapid situation assessment of drug abuse in Maldives in 2003 conducted by the Narcotics Control Board it was found that as many as 75 percent of youth surveyed have had reported having at least one sexual experience by age 21. In 2005, a similar outcome was derived in a Youth Ministry survey, which showed  that 14 percent of males and five percent of females under the legal age of 18, admitted to being sexually active.

In both of the unpublished surveys many adolescents and youth reported their sexual encounters were “without condom use”, the basic defense against  sexually transmitted diseases (STI), HIV and unwanted pregnancies.

Meanwhile, in 2008 Biological and Behavioral Survey (BBS) conducted among the five most-at-risk groups – including seafarers, men having sex with men, adolescent youths commercial sex workers, and injecting drug users  – further highlighted the magnitude of vulnerability these group face.

The report noted that unprotected sex with multiple partners is prevalent among these high risk groups and that the sharing of unsteriled needle and syringes is common among drug users. This study also found risky behaviors among the 15-17 year olds and the older youth, including buying and selling of sex for money often to finance drug use habits, sex with non-regular partners, pre-marital sex, group sex and injecting drugs.

The first anticipated outcome of these high risk behaviors were recorded in a report releases by CCHDC in 2011, which states 18 HIV positive cases were detected and over 400 cases of STIs in 2010, of which 97 percent cases involved women.

Detected STIs included chlamydia and gonorrhea – both conditions that can cause infertility if left untreated.

In addition to the heightening figures on sexually transmitted diseases, Najeeb leading the reproductive health unit of CCHDC said that the centre is 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.

In last two years, three newborns have been found dead and two alive. The dead infants included two fetuses, one hidden in a milk tin and the other at the bottom of Male’s municipal swimming pool, while another fully-developed baby was thrown into a park having apparently been strangled by the underwear tied around its neck. Two babies were found abandoned and alive, and have now been placed under state care.

During the five year anniversary of IGMH’sFamily Protection Unit (FPU) in 2010, the hospital officials revealed that a total of 121 unmarried pregnancies were reported to the unit involving several women and girls as young as 14.

Unless it is proved that the conception is the result of rape or that the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s health, these mothers do not have the legal right to abortion and are forced to take extreme measures due to the  stigma of having a child out of marriage.

Speaking about the figures at the time, leading gynecologist at IGMH Dr Aseel Jaleel acknowledged that in such cases pregnant mothers often attempt self-induced abortions, which pose great  risks to the mother’s life and pose potential fertility problems later in life.

He reported that two women had died that year from unsafe abortions.

Meanwhile, Najeeb adds: “Not just that, sexual violence committed against girls such as sexual abuse and rapes, remain at alarmingly high levels. “In most cases, abused girls did not even know what happened them, because no one talks to them about it.”

FPU reported that the centre received 42 cases of rape over the five years, of which over half involved minors. Authorities observe that several more cases are likely to be under reported from the Male and especially from  the islands which accommodate two thirds of the Maldives’ 350,000 population.

In 2008 the Global School Based Student Health Survey (GSHS) conducted among 1516 students from secondary school signaled an astonishing amount of sexual violence: 17 percent students reported being “physically forced” to have sex.

Furthermore it found high rates of alcohol consumption (6.7 percent) and life time drug use (5.7 percent) while, almost 20 percent of students surveyed reported having suicidal tendencies.

FPU had reported that in cases of rape and abuse, victims often attempt suicide or suffer grave emotional trauma and found an evident connection between substance abuse and gender based violence.

Despite these eye-opening findings and anecdotal evidence on sexual health problems, Najeeb said that many parents feel reluctant to talk to their children about sex and drugs, while the current school curriculum provides little to no information about reproductive health, leaving adolescents and youth unguarded and vulnerable.

In an effort to provide such information, she said that Life Skill Education (LSE) program and the Youth Health Cafe’ program was initiated by the authorities, but over the years both remained active only on a small scale and had not been successful in expanding systemic outreach to vulnerable groups.

When asked whether incorporating compulsory sex education into Maldivian education system could be a solution, Najeeb responded that “adolescents must receive age appropriate reproductive health education in schools.”

She explained: “Students, except for those studying biology, have little to no information about their reproductive system. In school Islam lessons they teach students about marriage, divorce, cleansing, fornication. They are telling kids what is Haram [forbidden] and Halal [allowed]. But they are not teaching kids about the ramifications of those acts [sex] and reasons for it being forbidden.”

“Teenage years are a very explorative and experimental age. At that age, if the adolescents are not taught about the sexual and reproductive health and ramifications of high risk behaviors such as unprotected sex and drug abuse, they are likely to be more vulnerable and go astray,” Najeeb further noted.

She admitted that the suggested sex education programs in schools was a controversial subject, considering the religious and cultural background of Maldives, a 100 percent Muslim nation.

Therefore, she said authorities must together consult and come to a consensus on the subject of supporting adolescents and youth to protect their bodies and lives.

“We need to take action together. This is not a problem we can solve alone,” Najeeb concluded.

Meanwhile, in an interview to Minivan News, Former Minister for Gender and Family Aneesa Ahmed also echoed Najeeb’s suggestions: “If we can teach children about nose and ears, why can’t we teach them about their sex organs in an age appropriate manner? There is absolutely no shame in it. After all, it is also part of the human body.”

“Today the scale of of sexual abuse, unwanted and underage pregnancies, abortions and infanticide in the community has  gone to extreme levels. Everyone needs to take responsibility for this. Parents, schools and the society as a whole,” said Aneesa, recipient of this years’ US State Secretary’s Women of Courage Award.

Young girls and boys need to be educated about their responsibilities, and given means to guard their bodies and dignity, she added.

Before assuming office as Health Minister, Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, the former Director General of the CCHDC, also publicly stated his support for sex education in schools.

In a blog entry in 2010, he wrote that broader reproductive health should be taught in the schools, either incorporated to the curriculum or as a separate programme.

He wrote: “I believe that we should introduce a comprehensive sex education programme in an appropriate manner in the school. I understand that this is a sensitive terminology with a lot of misunderstanding and misconceptions associated with it. But such a programme would address vital reproductive health issues including abstinence, medically accurate and age/developmentally appropriate information about sexuality.”

Such a programme, he said, should include information on relationship, emotional relations, reproductive rights and responsibilities, decision-making, assertiveness, and skill building; empowering and enabling the youth to resist social or peer pressure and become responsible citizens with safer and healthier behaviors.

“Children should also be taught building their skills on avoiding experimentation on risky and harmful habits like smoking, using drugs, etc. I believe there is no better time to start interventions than in primary education and gradually go along the academic ladder in an age and culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.” he explained.

In the same post,Dr Jamsheed also called for all barriers to access contraceptives be removed: “I understand that some people would condemn this opinion, arguing that this will promote unlawful and out of wedlock sex. However, I don’t believe that the availability or non-availability of condom or contraceptives would ever be a factor determining whether two people who want to have sex will have it or not.”

However, since taking office Dr Jamsheed has not introduced any explicit policies on addressing the sexual health epidemic. “I will talk on the issue later”, he recently told Minivan News.

Minivan News meanwhile wrote  two months ago to the Education Ministry requesting it clarify the ministry’s stand on expanding sex education in schools under the ongoing curriculum review, but it had not responded at time of press.

However an official from the curriculum development unit anonymously confirmed that “every time sex education topic is raised in review meetings, some conservative individuals are blocking it, saying such a measure would increase promiscuity.”

UNFPA Assistant Representative Shadiya Ibrahim however argued that “sex education does not increase promiscuity”. Of 68 studies on family life and sex education in a scientific review, she observed, 65 studies found no associated increases in sexual behavior.

“Young people taking part in such programs had higher levels of abstinence, later start of sexual activity, higher use of contraceptives, fewer sexual partners and/or reduced rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancy,”  Ibrahim noted.

Police arrest five suspects in Addu City gang rape

Police have arrested five suspects for allegedly gang-raping a 17 year-old girl in Addu City after midnight last night.

A police spokesperson told Minivan News that the incident occurred at about 1.00am.

“Police received information about the incident at about 1.50am,” he said. ”Police are now investigating the case.”

In addition to two minors aged 17, the other three suspects were aged 19, 20 and 23, police said.

According to local media reports, the victim was abducted and taken to an abandoned house while she was on her way to work.

Newspaper Haveeru reported that a man who drove her to work was involved in the rape and took her to the abandoned house.

In a similar case reported in Addu City during November’s SAARC summit, a police officer was arrested on charges of raping a married woman with two other men.


Police arrest four men for abducting, drugging and gang-raping 16 year-old girl

Police have arrested four suspects for the abduction and gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in a guest house in Male last weekend.

The girl was grabbed by the men while she was walking down the road around midday on December 11, forced into a car and taken to a guest house, Head of the Police Child Protection Unit, Superintendent Ali Shujau told the press on Thursday.

She was drugged by the men and gang raped, he said, adding that the men filmed the crime.

The four suspects were identified by the Police as 20 year-old Azmeel Ahmed of Hithadhooge, Seenu atoll Hithadhoo, 25 year-old Mohamed Azum of White Sea, Seenu atoll Maradhoo-Feydhoo, 19 year- old Ismail Muneez of Maafannu Hiyama and 21 year-old Ahmed Nabeeh Moosa of Maafannu Fennairu.

They all were arrested withing 34 hours after the police were alerted to the crime. All the suspects have previous criminal records for drug abuse and assaults, Shujau added.

According to the police the family reported the crime after the girl went home and told about it. Police did not reveal how the victim reached home.

Shujau noted that the girl could not give a clear statement of the attack, although she identified two of them by their “gang names”. He also added that it is too soon to say whether the attack was directed to her.

A similar case was also reported in March 2010, when group of 15 men abducted, drugged and gang raped a 20 year old girl on the island of Hithadhu in Addu City.

Shujau had earlier told the press that police investigations have revealed that school children aged 14 to 18 were being lured to guest houses by adults.

Police found that minors were sexually abused at guest houses after being lured through the internet, he said.

The reported sexual assaults on young girls, women and even female expatriate workers, has been on the rise at an alarming rate this year.

Police confirmed on Wednesday, that they had arrested four men on accusations of attempting to sexually assault a 15 year-old girl on Nolhivaramfaru in Haa Dhaalu Atoll. The girl fortunately escaped with no injuries, police said.

In October, police arrested two men and a minor on suspicion of raping an Indian nurse working in the island of Gulhi in Kaafu Atoll.

In another attack in September, group of five men including the chairman of an anti-drug NGO allegedly drugged and raped a 15 year old girl on the island of Guraidhoo in Kaafu Atoll.

In August police also arrested five men on the island of Innamaadhoo in Raa Atoll for allegedly raping a 16 year-old girl. While in the same month, an Indian gynecologist working at Hoarafushi Health Centre in Haa Alifu Atoll, was also attacked by a group of masked men at her house in August. She fought with the men and was able to escape.

A group of five were also arrested in May, on suspicion of gang raping an 18 year-old girl on Maabaidhoo in Laamu Atoll.

A 74-year-old woman was brutally raped by an alleged 19 year old on Hithadhoo in Addu City. She had to undergo surgery after the incident.

A 2006 study by the then Ministry of Gender and Family found that one in three Maldivian women aged 15-49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, while one in five women in the same age group reported experiencing this from an intimate partner.

Moreover, one in six women in the capital Male’ and one in eight countrywide reported experiencing childhood sexual abuse under the age of 15 years.


Expat nurse working in Gulhi raped

Police have arrested two men and a minor on suspicion of raping an Indian nurse working in the island of Gulhi in Kaafu Atoll.

Deputy Chair of the Gulhi Island Council, Abdulla Shiham, told Minivan News that the incident occurred last Friday night.

“That night a council member was phoned and informed about the incident at 12:30am in the morning,” he explained. “I myself went to the house where the nurse was staying and we reported it to the police right away. Police arrived the next morning because the weather was bad and no speedboat was available at the time.”

Police started their investigation the following morning, said Shiham, and arrested a 19 year-old, a 24 year-old and a minor.

“The nurse has worked for the island for almost five years and she has helped the islanders in many ways,” he continued. “We condemn this action with the strongest possible terms and we call on police and judiciary to give them the harshest penalty possible, even to the minor.”

Islanders were all frustrated and sad about the incident, the council chair said.

“When the doctor in the island health centre goes for vacation the nurse will not let us feel the absence of the doctor, she cares for the islanders very well, even if we asked she would open the health centre at midnight,” he added.

While the nurse wanted to come back to work for the island, Shiham said her husband did not want her to stay there any longer and she left the next day.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed the arrests were made and said the investigation was underway.


Five men arrested on Innamadhoo for alleged rape of 16 year-old girl

Police have arrested five men on the island of Innamaadhoo in Raa Atoll for allegedly raping a 16 year-old girl.

Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that five men were arrested but declined to provide further information as the investigation was ongoing.

Minivan News contacted the island office and spoke to an Innamaadhoo councillor, who insisted that the five men “would have had sex with her consent.”

“I cannot believe that one would have to rape her, because she is a very wanton girl,” the councillor told Minivan News. “I think her brother somehow found out about it and reported it to police.”

The councillor further added that the 16 year-old girl was not from Innamaadhoo and was a “very bad girl.”

“It’s all allegations, according to Maldivian law the police arrest anyone that the girl points her finger at without even having any evidence that the accused has been really involved in it and will keep them a several days in custody to determine the truth of the allegations,” he complained.

“In the statement given to police, the girl said she did not know who the men were apart from her boyfriend,” the councillor said.

“If she was raped by five men then there will be some external injuries that would be easy to identify, but I have seen the girl after that and she was in good condition and there was nothing unusual about her.”

An islander meanwhile told Minivan News that “some people” had followed the girl and her boyfriend as they saw the couple acting unusual.

“They saw them enter an abandoned house and saw everything that happened,” he said, going on to blame the island council’s deputy chair for attempting to “hide the truth of the story”.

”The council has been very irresponsible and doing no good for the people,” he said. ”Even in this incident the council has tried to hide the truth from the media.”

Minivan News contacted the head of the gender department, Lubna Mohamed, regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse and prevailing societal attitudes in the Maldives, but she did not respond at time of press.

A 2006 study by the then Ministry of Gender and Family found that one in three Maldivian women aged 15-49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, while one in five women in the same age group reported experiencing this from an intimate partner.

Moreover, one in six women in the capital Male’ and one in eight countrywide reported experiencing childhood sexual abuse under the age of 15 years.


Policeman arrested for blackmailing woman with nude photograph

A policeman has been arrested for allegedly blackmailing a woman on Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll by putting her photograph on a pornographic image.

Haveeru reported that the man was in custody.

“We’re investigating the matter now. The man is from the island and the woman also lives in the island. It is of extreme disappointment that such an act was carried out by a policeman and we’re taking the matter very seriously,” a police spokesperson told Haveeru.

Haveeru spoke to the victim’s husband, who said the police officer had been blackmailing her for several days and that it “a lot of hard work” for her to escape by reporting the matter to police.


Cemetery used for sex and drugs, says Council, demolishing walls

The walls of the cemetery in Maafaanu have been demolished by Male’ City Council, reports Haveeru, after the Council received complaints that the area was being used for sex and drug dealing.

“Public complaints were received about widespread abuse and trade of illegal drugs and inappropriate sexual activities carried out inside Maafannu Cemetery,” Deputy Mayor Ahmed Shamah told Haveeru. We will expose those places.”

Shamah said the Council would observe the impact of opening the area on the local drug trade and then determine whether to demolish the walls of other cemeteries in the city.


MMC pulls magazine, forwards Sun brothel expose to Prosecutor General

An undercover account of Male’s illegal brothel scene, dubbed ‘Operation Sunset’, has landed Sun in hot water with the Maldives Media Council (MMC) for its lurid details of the experience.

The stories, which initially appeared in Sun’s magazine, reportedly involved three Sun journalists visiting massage parlours in Male’ and soliciting sex from the women in an attempt to expose illegal brothels operating in the capital.

The stories have sparked a public debate on morality and journalism, and prompted the Maldives Media Council (MMC) to call an urgent meeting and demand that the offending edition be pulled from circulation.

Versions of the stories were also published on Sun Online’s website, and are now the site’s most viewed. A source within Sun Online told Minivan News that the content was edited and toned down prior to appearing on site.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said claims made in the article that the operation was conducted with the assistance of police were untrue.

“They called the police media section and said they were checking these places to see if anything illegal was taking place, but they didn’t say how. They have provided no information on these places to police,” Shiyam said, adding that police had also received complaints from the public over the story.

Shiyam confirmed that the case had been sent to the Prosecutor General’s office by the MMC, but did not say whether the subject of the investigation would be the journalists involved, the publication or the alleged brothels.

“We are waiting for the PG to request us to start an investigation,” he said.

President of the MMC Mohamed Nazeef said the council had never before received such a significant volume of complaints following the publication of a story.

“[The complaints] were mainly about the style of presentation, so we decided to ask them to pull the magazine,” Nazeef said, adding that the matter had been forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s office “because of the police issues involved.”

The MMC’s policy was to step back when other authorities became involved, he said.

“We have been very cautious because we do not want to kill investigative journalism in the Maldives or undermine the reporting of serious issues,” he said. “But the problem was the style of writing – it was not professional, and the editor has to take responsibility. These are young journalists with little training, and the editors are senior people who have put them in a bad position by saying they have paid [for sexual services].”

Nazeef said he had spoken to the executive editor of both publications, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, and ascertained that the original article was published in the magazine due to some internal misunderstanding.

“I got the feeling that they asked these boys to do this and write about the experience,” Nazreef said. “I think this is an issue of training. We need to run a course in investigative journalism, perhaps bring in a CNN journalist to talk to them, and offer training on how to cover protests, possibly with someone from the Western Australian police [who trained police in the Maldives].”

Zahir told Minivan News he had no official comment on the matter, and referred Minivan News to the editor of Sun Magazine, Shinan Ali. Ali was not responding at time of press.

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), of which Zahir is President, has meanwhile issued a statement stating that while some of words and phrases used in the article were “inappropriate for Maldivian society”, the MMC’s decision would “narrow the opportunity for investigative journalism in the Maldives.”

The MMC could have resolved the issue without forwarding the case to the Prosecutor General, the MJA suggested, as illegal prostitution in the Maldives was “something the public needs to be made aware of.”

Lawyer and former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad suggested to Minivan News that while the media was free to pursue the truth in the Maldives, it was still bound by the need for “ethical” conduct in doing so.

“I believe investigative journalism is about unraveling the truth and truth is protected by law. Our constitution and the democratic system we are working to establish is designed to protect journalists who reveal the truth,” he said.

“Responsible investigative journalism implies not being accountable to the consequences of the revealed truth, but to the ethical propriety [standards] of the revealing of the truth,” he said.


JSC denies arbitrary dismissal of magistrate, blames affair

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has told the Civil Court it removed the former Chief Magistrate of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, Ahmed Shareef, from the bench because of a previous conviction for having an affair.

In court for the third time this year facing allegations of unconstitutional behaviour, the JSC defended its decision to remove Shareef from the bench in August 2010 by providing the court with a detailed account of Shareef’s previous conviction dating back over a decade.

According to the records, Shareef was sentenced to two months under house arrest on July 30 2001, for having an affair. Shareef and the other person had been engaged in a “connection of love” prior to the case being brought to court in 1998, the records state.

The Criminal Court, which handled the case, was in possession of a photograph taken in Shareef’s house where the pair were alone on a bed. The sentencing judge said the court had determined the image depicted a sexual offence. Initial documents submitted to the court by the JSC to the labelled the other party in the affair as male, however the JSC has since claimed the party was female and that this was a typo.

As Shareef was a first time offender the judge suspended Shareef’s sentence for a period of three years. Which means, Shareef has argued, he did not fail the moral standards required of a judge by the Constitution as was wrongfully determined by the JSC.

Shareef is also alleging that there were a total of 37 judges, including himself, with previous convictions. The JSC removed only six of them from the bench, meaning that there are still 31 individuals with criminal convictions on the judiciary’s benches across the country.

In the Civil Court yesterday Shareef’s lawyer Ahmed Zaheen Adam said he is seeking from the JSC a list of all the judges currently on the bench who have criminal convictions to their name.

He also wants the JSC to furnish to the court details of the said convictions as well as the manner in which the JSC considered details of the offences prior to making the decision to allow them to remain on the bench.

According to papers filed by Shareef, the convicted offenders on the bench were – or are – involved in offences relating to misconduct, fraud, bribery and other crimes.

Shareef wants the JSC to explain the criteria it used to determine who should go and who should stay on the bench in what was intended to be the biggest clean-up in the history of the judiciary last August, required by the 2008 Constitution.

Shareef is alleging that the JSC did not, in fact, have a standardised and pre-determined methodology for deciding which judges were qualified to stay on the bench.

Similar to the allegations made recently against the JSC by two failed applicants to the High Court bench, Shareef has accused the JSC of allowing personal opinion and interest to influence its decisions regarding the fate of members of the judiciary.

Shareef alleges that the JSC paid scant regard to the Constitution or statutory law in dismissing him.

The Judges Act, he has argued, states that a member of the judiciary will be seen as failing to meet the required ethical and moral standards if they had served a sentence for a criminal offence in the seven years previous to his appointment.

Shareef’s conviction was 11 years old when he was removed from the bench on August 5, 2010, and his sentence had been suspended.

The Judges Act was being debated in the Majlis at the time of Shareef’s removal, and was passed five days later, on 10 August 2010.

The 2008 Constitution created and mandated the JSC with bringing the judiciary in line with its new standards designed to meet the values ascribed to by a functioning democracy within two years of the Constitution coming into affect. The deadline expired on 7 August 2010.

Had the passage of the Act taken less time in the Majlis, the JSC would have been in possession of detailed guidelines on if, how and when a member of the judiciary can be removed from the bench, the court heard.

Shareef alleges the JSC deliberately decided not to wait for the legislation to be passed by the Majlis and, in fact, expedited the dismissals to suit members’ own personal opinions and interests.

“Speaker of the Parliament Abdulla Shahid is a member of the JSC, and so is Dr Afraasheem Ali, another MP. How can the JSC in all honesty tell this court that it was unaware of the contents of the impending legislation?” Shareef’s lawyer Zaheen asked.

“It is a shame if lawmakers do not know the contents of their own laws,” Zaneen said.

The JSC pointed out that the Judges Act post-dates its decision to remove Shareef from the bench and argued that it cannot be expected to rely on legislation that did not exist. Nor can it be expected, it said, to pay heed to impending legislation.

Shareef is asking the court to reinstate him on the bench and to order the JSC to reimburse his “full salary and privileges” from August 2010 till now. He is also claiming to have suffered great emotional and financial distress as a result of the dismissal and is also seeking compensation for psychological damages.

The case will resume at the Civil Court within the next 10 days, on a date yet to be confirmed.

Correction: Documents provided by the JSC to the court mistakenly labelled the other party in the affair for which Magistrate Shareef was convicted as another male. The  party was female and the JSC has since claimed this was a typo. Minivan has corrected the error for this story.