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Domestic Violence Prevention Act: FPA marks 12th anniversary through release of awareness handbook

Marking 12 years since the ratification of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, the parent body formed under this Act to combat the issue, FPA has released a book on the predominant issue of sexual abuse against minors aimed at authority figures.

Aishath Shuba Solih
23 April 2024, MVT 17:35
The cover of the Family Protection Authority's handbook on sexual violence against children, 'Dhenagannamaa". -- Photo: Family Protection Authority
Aishath Shuba Solih
23 April 2024, MVT 17:35

Abusive patterns of behavior inflicted on an intimate partner or family member in order to sustain the power in a relationship has been a prevalent problem across the country in Maldives which cuts across multiple demographics. Most often hidden and silenced, victims of domestic violence are forced to undertake various forms of violence at home, workplaces and also the general community.

Although men also suffer abuse in a domestic scene similar to women, publicized reports suggest that women are predominantly the receivers of such violence with the first study that shed empirical evidence onto the issue of domestic violence in Maldives – Women’s Health and Life Experiences, 2007 – highlighting that 1 in 3 women between the ages of 15-49 reportedly faced some form of sexual or physical violence at home. While girls experience forms of abuse predominantly from within their households before the age of fifteen, such cases of abuse are relative lower within men, suggestively due to challenges in gathering the essential information caused by stereotypical societal perceptions, as cited in the Maldives Domestic Violence Prevention National Strategy by the Family Protection Authority.

Addressing this issue that remained neglected for a long time, the Domestic Violence Prevention (DVP) Act was ratified on 23rd April 2012, incorporating a new law into the constitution that mandates justice and legal punishment enforced over perpetrators of such conduct while ensuring the protection of their victims. This Act further aimed to launch programs to ascertain their recovery, both psychologically and physically. With the enaction of this act, civil liabilities against perpetrators of abuse bound to the victim in a domestic relationship in addition to criminal liabilities imposed on them under the criminal law were introduced through a targeted separate legislation. Soon after the DVP Act was ratified, the Family Protection Authority (FPA) was established as the parent body of this Act in September that year in conformity of Article 52 of this Act.

Illustration depicting a child sinking under a barrage of negative thoughts. -- Photo: Family Protection Authority

Marking this milestone that allows perpetrators of domestic abuse to be legally brought to justice 12 years ago today, FPA compiled and released a handbook named "Dhenegannamaa", loosely translated to 'Let us learn' aimed towards parental or authority audiences to raise awareness on sexual violence inflicted upon children and protecting them from this prevailing issue. The Authority revealed that nearly 30 percent of the victims in reported cases of domestic violence received by the Authority amid the last five years are predominantly children who suffered abuses in sexual aspects from a parent or authority figure.

Remarking that children are legally unable to offer consent to any sexual acts and maintaining that any acts of sexual relations proceeded with a minor is indisputably against the law, the book asserted the importance of providing a safe space for communication in the household through attentive listening and responses as well as practicing patience instead of resorting to anger during cases of disobedience or defiant speech.

Children often share experiences, thoughts and comments that adults may find amusing. Adults tend to widely share these comments amongst their social circles, as cited in the book. Some of the anecdotes exchanged in adult settings are at times, the very subject that the child had shared in exclusive confidence. This ultimately contributes to fracturing the trust the child holds for the parent once they become aware, creating a barrier for children to share their experiences – especially humiliating and degrading event such as sexual abuse—, lowering the chances of ensuring their safety. However, the book stresses that while it is important to maintain the secrecy of their communicated narratives, any revelations of domestic abuse against them must be reported to the relevant authorities after communicating with the victim on why reporting such cases are essential to sustain trust between the two.

Illustration of a family sharing thoughts and spending time together. -- Photo: Family Protection Authority

Urging the parent to abstain from any form of lying regardless of how minor to set at example on the prevalence of truth, the FPA guides that making room for communication and sharing ruminations, hobbies as well experiences of the adults in addition to the child are important to becoming the child’s best friend and the primary figure of trust to ascertain a safety net for them. Establishing a time, perhaps an hour before bed to ponder on the interactions of the day while not limiting these exchanges to the child’s experiences but also the adult’s – tailored and altered to fit age-appropriation— will allow the child to feel their importance in their parents’ lives. This book states that this will also assist the parent in identifying the people active in their child’s daily lives as well the activities that dominates their respective shared time, facilitating advanced discernment of individuals attempting to groom the child.

FPA had additionally instructed the authority figure to thoroughly educate the child to normalize their body, its features and privacy as age-appropriate to fortify the child against indoctrinated abuse and prevent ignorance towards such attempts or irrational pain. The book further emphasized the significance of respecting the child’s boundaries and sensitivity to touch such as refusal to accept a hug from a family member, endorsing the child to resolutely express their desires and training them to confidently say no.

Stating that victims will be subject to changes in their demeanor and actions, the book had also incorporated detailed information of warning signs of ongoing or preceded sexual abuse.

Listing injuries or blood emanating from a private area and blood caked clothes, the book wrote that difficulties in performing basic actions such as sitting and walking as well as unusually frequent urination among physical indicators of an assault. The book had grouped changes in cleanliness and dressing, constant or subjective fear, hesitancy to attend school, age-inappropriate knowledge on sexual activities as well as nightmares, inability to maintain focus, fidgeting, self-abuse and self-isolation amongst psychological indicators of sexual abuse.

Illustration of a child refusing an adult surmised to be a groomer. -- Photo: Family Protection Authority

Calling for immediate action once a case of sexual abuse is revealed or presumed, the Authority implored the parent to communicate with the child despite their undeniable difficulty in obtaining information from them. Directing the authority figure to document the changes in the child’s behavior in the form of a diary in order to easily identify hidden signs of sexual abuse, the book listed sharing the changes noticed in the child’s behavior with the child’s doctor or teacher within courses of action to be implemented in cases where abuse is suspected. Further emphasizing the role of a parent in reassuring the child on who is to blame as well as encouraging their bravery and making the child feel heard, believed and protected, the Authority underscored the importance in not only offering belief but also implementing the essential steps to ensure safety.

The handbook lists a number of authority figures trusted and tasked with the role of dealing with domestic violence in accordance with Article 13 of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act which stipulates thirteen adult figures conferred with this position. It is also incorporated with the essential helplines for reporting such abuse or cases of suspected abuse such as:

- Family and Child Protection Department of Maldives Police Service: 3000600

- Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services: 3328393

The Family Protection Authority maintains the importance of instantly reporting such cases to concerned institutions and procuring the necessary physiological and psychological assistance to the victim.