The Maldives Police Service has backed claims by the country’s Housing Minister that congested living conditions in Male’ are proving to be a major contributor to ongoing youth crime, though the organisation adds that addressing the issue of rehabilitation for young offenders is just as big a concern.
Police spokesperson Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam accepted that high levels of congestion resulting from large numbers of people travelling and settling in the capital has led to little living space for many youngsters, who are being left to aimlessly roam the capital’s streets.
The comments follow claims last week by Home Minister Mohamed Shihab suggesting that escalating crime rates in the capital were a result of insufficient housing conditions that have made young people more susceptible to criminal activity out whilst in Male’.
“When we were young, we could play indoors. We did not have to go out. Now we are forced to go out and meet up with a gang and are caught up in a hassle,” Shihab was reported as saying in Haveeru. “Crime-free places do not exist now. But our living conditions are forcing us to walk into gangs.”
In response to these comments, Shiyam said that the capital is becoming increasingly cramped as more and more people travel to Male’ from outlying islands for work, often leaving young people little alternative than to head out aimlessly onto the streets. It is this aimlessness that the police spokesperson claims young people are increasingly telling officers was the main reason for them running into trouble with the law.
While not every person out on the streets is prone to taking part in criminal acts, in cases where an individual is convicted of involvement in civil disturbances, Shiyam noted that accruing a criminal record for drugs or other civil offences can make it extremely difficult to secure jobs or rehabilitation in the future.
He added that the country’s police force alone is not able to combat these issues, it has launched some programmes in an attempt to rehabilitate young men of between 12 to 14 years of age that have been involved in criminal or possible gang activity.
Some of the schemes being adopted by the police included literally taking young offenders off the streets of Male’ to more secluded island environments in attempts to try and engage different types of learning and cultural experiences.
“Sometimes when we take [young people] to separated and secluded islands, we find these boys do not even know how to pray,” he added.
The police spokesperson explained that additional skills such as computing, photography and art are also being taught to try and encourage a more productive or practical interest in society.
Shiyam claimed the police were having “great success” in running these rehabilitation and activity programmes with young people, although similar programmes with older offenders were not yet being undertaken.
He added that government institutions such as the Ministry of Human Resources Youth and Sports also have similar mandates for providing rehabilitation and activity programmes to try and ensure that young people have options available to them. For those that do get in trouble with the law, the police spokesperson says he remains hopeful that more projects to try to train and rehabilitate young people will be put into practice in the next few years.
It is not just local authorities that are concerned about the impact of Male’s congested housing on young people.
Executive Producer for the Maldives Nation Broadcast Corporation (MNBC)’s Youth TV service, Ibrahim Muaz, said he agreed that congested housing conditions in the capital were certainly exacerbating unrest and discontent among young people.
However, Muaz added that “it was unfair to marginalise young people as the sole perpetrators of crime in the Maldives.”