“Alarming” level of child abuse, neglect prompt Gender Ministry to push for guardianship amendment

Children’s neglect and abuse have increased to an “alarming level”, compelling the the Maldives’ Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights to submit an amendment that would transfer parental guardianship of children in cases of negligence.

The Ministry submitted the amendment to the president’s office Sunday (April 7), which would allow for strict legal action to be taken against neglectful parents, and guardianship to be transferred within the principles of Islamic Shari’a, according to local media.

Acting Gender Minister, Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor, said 59 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to the Gender Ministry in March and 37 of the abused children were transferred into state care.

She urged politicians and journalists to give more attention to the problem since “cases of neglect and abuse of children have increased to an alarming level”.

The number of babies abandoned after birth is also increasing, according to Minister of State for Gender and Family Dr Aminath Rameela. She noted “with dismay” that this “is being done by people with good jobs”.

Shakoor emphasised that “strict legal action” will be taken against parents who neglect their children.

“This is a situation the whole [Maldivian] society needs to take care of. Things need to be done to rehabilitate these children back into society,” said Shakoor.

“Non-profit organisations and private individuals should assume the responsibility of taking care of children who are abandoned by their parents until the children can be taken under the care of the state,” Shakoor added.

She said that close to 80 children were currently in the Villingili island orphanage ‘Kudakudhunge Hiya’ and that parents visit with gifts, but their children are “sad” the visits are brief.

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, as well as the President’s Office were not responding to calls at time of press.

Problems with state care

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal previously stressed to Minivan News that the number of incidents occurring at state institutions caring for children were greatly concerning.

“Incidents are occurring repeatedly. Children under the care of the state need a safe environment; it’s a concerning issue.

“The fact is there is no special shelter or place for girls in trouble with the law. HRCM has raised the issue several times – both the need for education as well as psycho-social support and counselling,” Tholal added.

He said the Maldivian government has a responsibility to protect children from being “systemically” victimised, and once the state has been notified, children should not be put back in a situation of neglect or abuse.

“Vulnerable children are often from difficult families or are abandoned and are victimised over and over again. Currently [government] support is haphazard, and we are not properly equipped. A safety net needs to be established,” stated Tholal.

In March 2013, the Maldives’ Gender Ministry admitted transferring two children from the Villlingili island orphanage ‘Kudakudhunge Hiya’ to the Centre for People with Mental Disability on the island of Guraidhoo, without determining if they were in fact special needs children.

Earlier in March, police returned seven underage girls who escaped from the ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’ orphanage on Villingili, otherwise known as Villi-Male’. Local newspaper ‘Haveeru’ reported another two girls who escaped from the orphanage were found on a ‘bokkura’ – a small local vessel – in the lagoon near Villingili with two boys.

In January 2013, an incident occurred where two underage females living in the Villingili orphanage were arrested and sent to Maafushi prison.

The parliamentary committee investigating their arrest learned that all concerning authorities had neglected their duties and responsibilities to protect the rights of children.

In 2011, police arrested a female staff member working at the Villingili children’s home, after she allegedly physically abused a boy living in the centre.

In October 2010, the Maldives Police Service and the Health Ministry commenced a joint investigation into “serious issues” concerning the mistreatment of children at Kudakudhinge Hiya, the only orphanage in the Maldives

Children’s rights

Tholal explained that the only other institutions for children are for boys, the Maafushi island Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) and Feydhoo Finolhu, a Correctional Training Centre for Children run by the Juvenile Justice Unit (JJU) of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Maldives Police Service’s Child Protection Unit.

Acute staffing and budget shortfalls combined with the lack of children’s rights education and the exclusion of children’s feedback have “deprived [residents] of their liberty”. Staff caring for the children are often excluded from important decisions impacting children’s quality of life at the facilities, a recent HRCM report stated.

The report, ‘Child Participation in the Maldives: An assessment of knowledge’, highlights numerous participation and protection policy deficiencies putting Maldivian children at serious risk of harm.


Police locate under-age girl from orphanage who escaped hospital

Police have located a 15 year-old girl from the Villingili orphanage ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’, who escaped while she was admitted to Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

Police identified the girl as Shaba Ali Rasheed, 15, of Madharusaadhoshuge in Hulhudhoo, Addu City.

According to police, the girl was located near ADK hospital this afternoon around 3:23 pm after she escaped on Saturday night.

Police issued a statement this morning informing the public that they had commenced a search to find the 15 year-old, who fled after she was admitted to IGHM.

IGMH Spokesperson Zeenath Ali Habeeb told Minivan News the girl was admitted to the hospital a week ago and she was under the charge of the Gender Ministry.

She declined to provide further information regarding why the girl was admitted tohospital.

‘’When she was brought here she was under the charge of Gender Ministry and without the consent of the ministry the hospital cannot provide information about her,’’ Zeenath said.

Spokesperson for the Gender Ministry Aishath Rameela did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

A growing number of under-age girls in the Villingili orphanage have recently escaped the institution, either to be returned or sent to other state care facilities.

On March 13, the Gender Ministry admitted to transferring two children from the Villlingili island orphanage ‘Kudakudhunge Hiya’ to the Centre for People with Mental Disability on the island of Guraidhoo, without determining if they were in fact special needs children.

On March 5, police returned seven under-aged females who had escaped the  orphanage.

In January 2013, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) called for the immediate release of two underage females living in the Villingili orphanage, who had been arrested and sent to Maafushi prison. Local media alleged the girls had been discovered “fraternising with boys”.


Children’s home volunteers raise funding fears ahead of Villingili site expansion

A children’s home on the island of Villingili, one of three institutions presently housing vulnerable children in the Maldives, is set to expand its operations to a second neighbouring building to provide separate accommodation for girls and boys.

However despite the proposed expansion, some volunteers at the shelter have raised concerns over the available finance for a service that houses, clothes and feeds almost 60 vulnerable children and babies who are without family to support them.

Speaking to Minivan News during a visit to the home, Mohamed Latheef, a volunteer who has been visiting and working with staff at Villinigili for the last nine months, said that while the government over the last few years had provided a budget to cover most operating expense, funds were being increasingly stretched by the rising cost of fuel and other basic essentials.

The children’s home, one of three properties assigned by authorities to shelter adolescents, is currently funded and operated through the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights. Authorities added that the home is also supported with donations from a number of private groups and charities in the country.

According to staff working at the home, 56 children are currently kept at the site on Villingili. Of these children, 25 are aged between 10 months to six years of age, while another 25 are aged up to 12.

Latheef claimed that although the annual state financing was vital in covering fuel charges along with the site’s water and electricity bills, very little financing was left to improve amenities and services for the children.

Among several challenges faced at the home, some children who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia cannot be supported within the country’s the public school system, one member of staff employed full time at the shelter explained. This has required the need for specialist tuition to assist with the children’s learning at the home to help them catch up with pupils of their age.

Site expansion

According to Latheef, Vilingili’s MP had this year been able to secure a neighbouring building that could be used to house girls and boys once they reached a certain age. At present, boys and girls living at the shelter are kept in dormitories on separate floors.

“The local MP here has been able to secure the building next door. The boys and girls will still able to play and see each other, but when they reach a certain age it can be quite difficult to keep them under one roof,” said the volunteer. “The building is all ready to go and can start this year, however, right now there are not enough teachers and staff to assist in running [the second building].”

With limited funds available to operate the home, Latheef told Minivan News that while the government was already providing a large part of the funds to run the shelter, most of this funding was paid immediately back to state-run enterprises.

“Right now, staff are going to shops and having to pay GST on the goods being used for the children. This is understandable as shopkeepers may not know they work for the orphanage, but the electricity, water and public transport [to Male’] are all supplied by government companies,” he said. “Surely it is possible to produce passes for the staff and the 50 or so children we have here and assist with our utilities? They can give us that much.”

Latheef added that during the last year, the home had been getting assistance from local MPs and organisations.

He stressed that following concerns about a female drug rehabilitation clinic right next to the shelter, authorities had also helped to move the site.

“There was a recovery centre for female drug addicts right by us. The girls who were there, aged about 16 to 18 would be standing outside with cigarettes, sometimes just in their bras and underwear. The boys we have here would gather to watch at times,” he said, adding that requests were made to authorities such as the anti-drug abuse NGO Journey for assistance.

“The recovery centre has been moved now, we don’t know where it has gone.”

Latheef claimed that it remained difficult for staff at the centre to directly get assistance from senior politicians in the country – a constant feature under successive governments over the last few years.

“While it can be possible to speak to indivudal MPs here, we can’t go to the government directly and making appointments can be difficult,” he said.

Latheef added that difficulties in addressing problems faced at the home with senior government figures were exacerbated by what he claimed was a lack of standard inspections or visits from key officials.

When contacted today, the Gender Ministry said that the deputy director of the Children’s home was unavailable for comment at the time of press. However, the ministry added that the he would be arranging a date to meet with Minivan News in the next few weeks to discuss potential funding issues and challenges in housing the country’s vulnerable children.

Aside from the home on Villingili, two other children’s shelters are currently operated in the Maldives. These are the Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) on Maafushi and Feydhoo Finolhu’s Correctional Training Centre for Children.


Child care worker at Villingili orphanage arrested for mistreatment

Police have arrested a female staff member working at the Villingili children’s home, after she allegedly physically abused a boy living in the centre.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that police had received reports of the incident.

“It’s very difficult to provide further details of the incident at this time,” he said. “I can only confirm that police have received a report that this incident occurred.”

Deputy Minister for Health Lubna Mohamed told Minivan News that media reports of the arrest made in the children’s home were correct.

“A child care worker working at the Villingili children’s home was arrested by police after we learnt that she had physically abused a child living there,” Lubna said.

Lubna said the issue came to light after the director of the children’s home noticed that the child had visible external bruises.

“The director informed us of the incident and we immediately reported it to police,” she said. “We have zero tolerance for such actions. All staff working in the children’s home have to respect the rights of the child.”

Lubna said the staff member was summoned to the Criminal Court which granted a five-day extension of her detention.

In October last year, the Maldives Police Service and the Health Ministry commenced a joint investigation into “erious issues” concerning the mistreatment of children at the children’s home.

However, no information on the matter was divulged.