Maldives Police Service on Saturday disclosed that only two of the three men, who were arrested in connection with the sexual abuse of a two-year-old, face sexual abuse charges while the third is accused of negligence.
Police made the statement in response to a reporter's question, during a joint press conference with Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services.
According to the police and gender ministry, the girl was abused by her paternal grandfather, while her great-grandfather has a record of sexually abusing children in the past. Her father was accused of negligence, after he refused to hand over the child to the care of her maternal family at a time when her mother was not on the island. According to sources from the island, her mother is a substance abuser.
At the press conference, the authorities gave a breakdown of the chronological events that took place after the two institutions received reports of the child sexual abuse, in the island of Kandulhudhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.
They stated that the police and case workers from the ministry immediately went to the island upon receiving the reports on January 15, and that the child was taken to the regional hospital late that night where doctors confirmed she had been sexually abused. Gender Minister Shidhatha Shareef declared that the child was immediately removed from her family into state care.
According to the gender minister, the child was handed over to a maternal family member, after the authorities ensured that both the relative and their home environment would ensure safety and protection for the girl.
Per the police, they sent a team to the island on January 16 again to investigate and collect evidence, following which they compiled requests for warrants to arrest the child's father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Police stated that the requests were submitted early January 17, and that the court issued the warrants that afternoon.
The victim's grandfather and great-grandfather were arrested between 1500 - 1525 hours in Kanduhulhudhoo, while the father was arrested around 1930 hours from Hulhumale', the reclaimed suburb of the capital Male' City. The Criminal Court added 15 days to their remand on Saturday night.
The police also touched on the heated protest that took place in Hulhumale' on Friday evening, prior to the father's arrest. Angry crowds had gathered in front of the flat where the victim's father was residing, breaking the windows of the flat and demanding his arrest . The protest led to clashes between the public and Police, including the use of pepper spray, and resulted in injuries on both sides including 17 police officers. Total 27 people were arrested and 19 remain detained.
Speaking at the press conference, the police stated that the angry protest led to unfortunate results and urged the public to refrain from such actions. They noted that the gathered crowds had damaged vehicles in the area, posing danger to other civilians and children who resided in the neighbourhood, and stated that such acts did not lie in the best interests of protecting the rights of the sexual abuse victim.
The police further elaborated that arresting the father was delayed as they had feared that the heated protest and clashes outside the flat would expose the suspect to harm at the time.
The police and gender ministry both admitted that there were areas that need to be reformed and improved within the system, during the question-and-answer session they held with the press following the briefing.
Police made the remark while responding to a reporter's question as to why the victim's great-grandfather, who has a record of sexually abusing children and had been investigated before, was still on the loose. Reporters also noted that several repeat offenders remain free till date.
In their reply, the police noted that they received reports of the great-grandfather back in 2018, and had investigated and sent the case to the Prosecutor General's Office for indictment. Stating that the police decided not to remand him until conviction due to the elderly man's age, they revealed that the latest information they received of the case was a hearing held in June 2019.
Following this, they admitted that there are lacking areas in the system which need improvement, which otherwise hinder and impede investigations. However, as to why the suspects were arrested only two days after they received reports of the abuse, the police explained that arrests could only be made with sufficient evidence that would hold up in court.
The police also responded to a question regarding a recent video circulating on social media, which depict reportedly the great-grandfather propositioning a child. They stated that the identity of the man in the video has not been confirmed yet, but assured that they were looking into it as well.
Gender Minister Shidhatha also replied to questions as to why the child was left with her family until now, despite her great-grandfather's history of child sexual abuse and her parents' criminal records. The minister responded that, until January 15, the ministry had not received any reports of the child and her unsafe environment.
The gender minister also faced questions concerning the protest held in Male' on Friday afternoon, during which the people had called for her resignation and criticised the ministry of failing in their work. In her answer, Shidhatha declared that unlike the previous administration where political turmoil overshadowed the real issues faced by the people, the current government's steps towards systematic improvement has finally allowed these issues, such as the child sexual abuse case, to come forward.
Shidhatha, too, admitted that they system still needs improvement, but she assured that the current administration was working towards betterment, highlighting the new child protection bill that comes into effect this year. With that, she declared that she would not back down over calls for resignation, and expressed confidence that she could tackle and solve such issues. Stating that much has been accomplished to improve the system since she assumed office, Shidhatha added that should any failure of hers be proven, she would not hesitate to resign.
The police and gender ministry reiterated that they were investigating the child sexual abuse case with utmost seriousness, and asserted that they would take every necessary step to ensure justice and the protection of children.