Maldives has many different institutions working for the betterment of its peoples’ social wellbeing. Due to its population being divided over many islands, the State needs to ensure that these services are accessible to everyone, everywhere. This task will be made much easier with the cooperation and collaboration of the involved institutions.
This is where the importance of IBAMA is most evident. It is a multisectoral platform through which vulnerable children, individuals and families are identified and connected to relevant social services that will aid them in achieving social wellbeing.
The plan is for IBAMA to be established in every inhabited island in the Maldives so as to lessen the chances of any vulnerable child or adult falling through the cracks in the system.
The Edition has reached out to multiple stakeholders of the IBAMA platform to bring you an overview and update on its progress.
This is one of the seven flagship programs currently being conducted by UNICEF in the Maldives.
Each IBAMA team consists of representatives from island or city councils, Women’s’ Development Committees, Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services, Ministry of Education, Maldives Police Service, Ministry of Health and the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The work of these teams is two-pronged; preventive – to stop an undesirable situation from arising, and responsive – helping victims of such situations.
Speaking to The Edition, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF, Mohamed Naeem, who plays a pivotal role in the establishment and continuation of IBAMA, stated that the platform is also receiving some cooperation from the Local Government Authority (LGA).
“One of our current plans is to incorporate the data we gather from vulnerability mapping in the islands to LGA’s portal. This will promote ease of access to information and allow for timely and effective responses,” Naeem said.
Naeem shared that the platform focuses on four main areas of vulnerability: child protection, disabled persons, elderly persons and gender-based or domestic violence.
Poverty also often plays a significant role in giving rise to these vulnerabilities.
“The vast majority of cases handled by IBAMA country-wide involve family violence, violence stemming from relationship issues and other issues arising as a result of poverty,” Naeem explained.
He added that cases involving drug abuse was also significantly high.
“In comparison with some decades ago, modern neighborhoods seem to lack the prevalent sense of community we used to see. This results in weakening the support system available for vulnerable persons and families,” Naeem said.
UNICEF Training Consultant Fathimath Shehezinee, who conducts country-wide training sessions for all IBAMA members, outlined the structure of the teams’ work.
“We start off with completing twelve hours of initial training. Using what they have learned, they then proceed to do vulnerability mapping in their communities. As all the members are from among the community, they are easily able to gauge levels of risk, and notice any worrying behavior in community members. This being in island communities, members are also often aware of the changes to the general conditions of life of community members and are able to raise concerns where they feel an intervention is necessary,” Shehezinee explained.
Mapping is followed by creating and following a work plan. Once the case is satisfactorily attended to, IBAMA also conducts awareness programs for the public.
All IBAMA members’ case related work is strictly confidential. They carry an IBAMA identification card on them when making home visits or otherwise engaging with the public.
IBAMA members are not provided with any separate remuneration. Instead, the work they do on the platform is considered to be part of the mandate of the jobs they are serving in the institutions they represent. For home visits and other activities outside of work hours, the relevant institutions arrange payment according to their regulations.
Funding for interventions made in cases also often come from the concerned institution.
Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Education, Hussain Rasheed Moosa, shared one of many success stories with The Edition. Owing to the sensitivity of the cases handled by IBAMA, he did not provide any identifiable details about anyone involved.
“There was a child in an island, struggling with mental health issues. The IBAMA members on the island noticed a difference in the child, and approached them. Through engaging with them, IBAMA found out that they were harbouring self-harm thoughts and were in need of immediate psychological assistance. Representatives in IBAMA from the school and the island council immediately stepped in, notified Gender Ministry, Police and other relevant institutions. IBAMA was successful in making an intervention effectively and in time to save a child’s life.”
Highlighting the importance of access to psychosocial services, Naeem stated that there is “a crucial need to provide community based mental health support” in the islands.
It has proven hard to establish all institutions and services in every separate island, oftentimes due to the small size of populations residing there.
Member of IBAMA and former Head of Family and Child Protection Department at Maldives Police Services Mohamed Basheer, echoed this view.
“There are times when psychosocial support or other mental health services are absolutely necessary to help some vulnerable persons. But the problem is, such services are only available in a very limited number of islands,” he said.
Basheer said that in such instances, where there are no technical experts on site, they have to seek alternative ways to provide this support. This unnecessarily lengthens the process and could even lead to dire results in some cases.
“One significant challenge we face is the high turnover rate. There are instances where we have fully trained members, only for them to leave the profession within a short period of time. We are now aiming to broaden training of trainers, for continuity. If this is done, we can have trainers from the atolls train incoming new members, thereby cutting down time and cost,” Naeem said.
Moosa, meanwhile, had some concerns about the way institutions are working together.
“We don’t seem to have a culture of working together in collaboration. This needs to improve. We also need more of dedicated, passionate people to work in this field. It can’t be effectively done unless there is sincerity on the part of the social worker,” he said.
Moosa went on to add that a large part of the credit for IBAMA being so well-accepted in communities was due to the support of UNICEF. Basheer also confirmed that UNICEF provides technical and financial support, while MPS and some other institutions contribute by sharing resources and expertise.
In response to UNICEF presenting IBAMA concept to the cabinet’s Social Council, the government of Maldives has allocated funds for components of IBAMA in the 2023 budget. This facilitated the roll-out of the platform to the atolls.
The idea was conceived as far back as 1999, according to Naeem.
“At the time, the Island Child Protection Committee was established in Addu. The territory of Addu being comparatively large proved to be a difficult obstacle when it came to conducting the work of this committee. The initiative was most effective in Feydhoo, largely due to the willingness then Island Chief and Family Health Worker showed to work together. We decided that despite difficulties, this was a model that would work,” Naeem said.
“In 2005, the project was rekindled in GA and G DH atolls. One of the major differences this time around is that we decided to involve local civil society groups as well. This, however, raised issues of confidentiality.”
As we went on to introduce IBAMA to new atolls, we renamed it Community Social Groups (CSGs). The first CSG was established in Fuvahmulah.
In 2019, UNICEF identified a total of 17 laws under which a committee like CSG is called for, where under different descriptions, it mandates the provision of the social services that a project like CSG can offer.
“We have noticed that after sharing our success stories of IBAMA with foreign colleagues from the same field, some have been adopting the model and shaping it to suit their specific needs. For example there are now projects in rural areas of India focusing on pressing concerns in their community,” Naeem was happy to note.
UNICEF targets to establish IBAMA in all populated islands and cities except the capital. According to them, only six atolls remain where IBAMA training is yet to be conducted in.
“One reason why we have failed to so far establish IBAMA in some islands, especially smaller ones, is the lack of necessary institutions or their representatives in those islands. We are trying to work around that and figure out a practical solution for this problem,” Naeem said.