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Concerns over police actions in child custody enforcement

Police went to Narudhoo yesterday to enforce a child custody order, which resulted in physical altercations and leaving the child involved traumatised. The incident garnered criticism and has become the subject of debate on best practices for child welfare.

Ameera Osmanagic
26 May 2024, MVT 20:56
[File] Still shot from the altercation between police and locals on Narudhoo island while attempting to execute a child custody order --
Ameera Osmanagic
26 May 2024, MVT 20:56

A police squad landed in the small, quiet and sparsely populated island of Narudhoo in Shaviyani atoll yesterday to enforce a child custody court order. The ruling mandated two children, who were living with their father at the time, to be returned back to their mother.

In order to enforce this verdict, officers surrounded the children, and attempted to leave the island as they were met with angry islanders who opposed the enforcement.

Amidst the shouting, physical altercations, and all the chaos, were the two little children, traumatized by everything they were witnessing.

"Please, I beg the mother and father of the children, four and eight years is still very young! These scenes are likely to cause psychological damage to the children that could last [their] entire life!" a commenter posted on local media outlet Mihaaru's News coverage of the incident.

The commenter went on to make a few more claims:

- Court employees are often only educated in the law and not areas such as human psychology.

- Some Police attending the scene only attended secondary school (O' level), and are more brawn than brains.

Lastly, the commenter called on to the parents once again to privately discuss the matter with relevant parties and resolve the issue away from the children.

This comment has become a thought provoking one amidst the online debate of what is in the best interest of the two children involved.

With changing times, it is becoming far too common for courts to get involved in child custody cases following a dissolution of marriage. Studies have shown how this negatively impacts children, which is why court proceedings also prioritize the well-being of children above all in such cases. Custody is granted to whichever parent would hold the best interest of the children.

This is what the law mandates as well. Even in cases where children are asked which parent they prefer to live with, the questioning is required to take place in a very safe environment for the child. In cases where judges are to meet with children in an official capacity as part of the proceedings, the law also mandates that such meetings must be outside of the court in unofficial settings, so that children are protected from the legal debates.

"Parents and authorities should consider the interest of children. Accepting court verdicts and handing over children is the best thing [to do]. However, authorities should be aware that other situations may arise. In such cases, authorities should know what to do. Taking children off an island amidst a big unrest is not the best way," a lawyer commented on the matter.

He added that agencies should prioritise discussions in order to protect the rights of children, and that even if the situation were to be otherwise, a police squad forcefully removing children from one parent is difficult to accept.

"Those children will remember yesterday's incident for the rest of their lives. It is a big psychological distress. Maldives' laws are such that children's protection is highly prioritized. Both the Police and Gender Ministry should know how to execute the laws by maintaining this [children's] protection," the lawyer further said.

A council member from Narudhoo island also expressed concern over the incident and highlighted the importance of minimising negative impacts on children while enforcing the law.

"Even in the video, you can hear children crying and such sounds. We know this will greatly affect those children. Even if the Police work to implement the law, or the Ministry of Social and Family Development does, they should do it in a way that will not affect the children. That is a deep concern of ours," they said.

Both the Ministry of Social and Family Development and Police are yet to comment following the incident.

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