The Edition brings readers a dose of positive news over a cup of tea shared with inspirational folk doing all sorts of positive work in the Maldives.
2019 marks the tenth year since Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) added its name to the registry as the first child-focused NGO in Maldives. Murthala Moosa, the managing director of ARC, mused on the humble beginnings of the non-partisan, non-profit organization.
“In truth, we didn't initially start with the intention to form an NGO”.
Rather, the story of ARC begins with a group of five to 10 volunteers, who simply wished to make a contribution to Kudakudhinge Hiyaa, the orphanage located in Vilimale’.
Revealing an undeniably personal connection to their cause, Murthala stated that the NGO was formed out of the collective desire felt by all volunteers to carry out their collaborative activities with the orphanage in a more organized manner, thereby increasing the welfare received by the children housed within.
Immediately following registration, ARC diversified its activities, initiating a campaign under the name ‘HOPE’ to combat child abuse. They also began to promote healthy eating and active lifestyles, in addition to the ongoing voluntary work at Kudakudhinge Hiyaa.
Today, as ARC prepares to mark December 31 as the first decade of advocating for the rights of Maldivian children, the organization boasts over 2,000 members and an extensive range of campaigns to promote children’s rights.
Drawing on seven years of personal experience working with ARC, Murthala provided valuable insights on the most pressing problems plaguing the young souls of today.
Once asked, Murthala zeroed in on abhorrent forms of violence targeted at some of society’s most vulnerable - child abuse.
He particularly highlighted low reporting rates as a major roadblock in delivering effective solutions. Murthala reasoned that systemic issues likely barred people from reporting cases, which in turn provided abusers with a window of opportunity to harm the child again, or worse, victimize others.
“ARC estimates that the incidence of child abuse is significantly higher than the number of reported cases”.
Murthala opined that another urgent cause for concern was the increase in not just rates of child participation in crimes, but the severity of the offences involved.
According to the MD, a certain group in society encouraged juvenile participation in crimes such as drug trafficking and acts of gang violence. “Year by year, the average age of first criminal offence is decreasing,'' said Murthala.
As part of the drive to tackle the issue, ARC provided recommendations to the parliament on the Juvenile Justice Bill and the Child Protection Bill, drawing on observations made during consultations with relevant authorities and civil society organizations. Notably, these consultations, hosted in collaboration with UNICEF, included collecting opinions from groups of children as ARC firmly believes that children’s voices need to be heard and taken into account while laws, which directly impact them, are formulated.
Murthala described the submission of the Juvenile Justice Bill, which has been in the works for 17 years, as a major step forward. With regard to legislature, he stated that ARC would like to ensure that the bill would close all avenues exposing children to criminal activity and pave the way for underage offenders to be rehabilitated as valuable members of society.
Additionally, the MD stated that he would like to guarantee that detention or arrest would be the last resort of punishment in crimes involving underage children. In his experience, Murthala asserted that incarcerating children increased the likelihood of repeated offences as a result of children being exposed to more criminal activity.
As the third major setback to children’s rights in the country, the ARC MD highlighted obstacles faced by children with disabilities, noting that the number of children born with disorders, primarily autism and down syndrome, are increasing in tow with global trends.
According to state statistics collected in 2014, only one out of 10 children with disabilities were enrolled in school. Murthala stated that this not only alienated children from education, but also limited future employment opportunities severely. On top of this, these children were also being deprived of the chance to develop in a school environment whilst learning life skills and social skills.
He optimistically noted that the rights of children with disabilities were becoming part of everyday conversation as a result of increased awareness. Therefore, in the past five years, enrollment rates have increased.
In order to ensure that no child is left behind as a result of their disability, ARC is collaborating with prominent NGOs specializing in the field, to run the Child Advocacy Network of Disability Organizations or CAN DO. The campaign raises awareness and conducts capacity building programmes for teachers in order to support children with disabilities.
Murthala stated that ARC’s goal was to partner up with existing organizations and increase their capacity, instead of simply conducting repetitive programmes with minimal impact. The Speech Therapy Camp held in collaboration with Beautiful Eyes Down Syndrome Association at Addu on March 4-6 is the latest example of this co-operative approach.
In addition to the aforementioned efforts, ARC currently manages four other campaigns in a well-rounded effort to protect the nation’s children. Surf Smart promotes responsible and safe internet use, GRACE empowers little girls, and RESPECT teaches children the importance of social values. Safety Steps, the most recently launched campaign, shows kids how to protect themselves in a variety of situations.
ARC’s program specialist Jala Zuhury revealed that the organisation has special plans for its 10th anniversary. Chief among these is the effort to maximize outreach on all of its outreach programs. She revealed that the geographical dispersion of islands made it logistically challenging to visit each one individually.
“Previously, we selected two or three atolls and visited some islands within them”, stated Jala.
However, ARC’s new focus would involve a more extensive approach that aims to reach children, teachers and parents in every island of the chosen atoll.
A brand new campaign, Children and Culture, was also launched as part of ARC’s anniversary activities. As the name suggests, the campaign will familiarise young participants with age-old traditions and cultural practices.
Evidently, the accomplished NGO does not intend to stop at the ten-year mark. Expressing concern over the current lack of capacity to satisfy the demand for psychosocial services, Jala confided that guaranteeing such services to children in need was one of ARC’s long-term goals along with ensuring that their advocacy had far-reaching impacts.
Taking an overall look at all of ARC’s successes and all that it stands to achieve in the future, Jala and Murthala extended sincere gratitude to partners, donors, members and volunteers for their continued endeavours to improve little lives.
They both emphasized that working towards children’s rights was not limited to providing financial help and that any individual could make a contribution to promoting children’s rights in Maldives.