Local non-governmental organisation Uthema Maldives, on Tuesday, criticised the shortage of social protection officers employed at Family and Children's Service Centres across the country.
The NGO raised the issue in a statement expressing concern over the prevalence of abuse perpetrated against women and children despite existing legislation concerning such matters.
Uthema noted that the shortage of workers, tasked with overseeing cases on child sexual abuse and domestic violence as well as issues faced by elderly citizens, remained a problem even though the establishment of 19 Family and Children's Service Centres across the country was completed in 2007.
In particular, Uthema noted that a social protection officer was not employed at the Gaafu Alif Atoll centre for over an year, a fact that came to light in the wake of a child sexual abuse case concerning a 2-year-old girl in Kanduhulhudhoo.
The handling of the case, which garnered widespread attention and criticism from the public, was described as state neglect and a factor that left other children in the island vulnerable to abuse.
According to local media outlet Mihaaru, there are only 80 social protection officers, with 30 working in the greater Male' region and 50 stationed in other atolls.
Due to the shortage of staff, Uthema revealed that social protection workers are often overburdened as the mandate of each Family and Children's Service Centre covers an entire atoll. The NGO stated that each worker could be handling approximately 60 cases at any given time.
Despite heavy workloads, the basic salary of these workers is between MVR 5000 to MVR 6000 with the range increasing to MVR 8,000 to 12,000 after additional allowances are included.
Therefore Uthema surmised that the ministry's failure to hire case workers was likely due to the combination of heavy work loads and low pay.
Furthermore, Uthema stated that sufficient resources and funds are not allocated to the Family and Children's Service Centres which, among other costs, also require a travel budget so that workers can visit other islands in its jurisdiction and extend efficient services.
In the 2019 State Budget, a total of MVR 21,497,202 was allocated to manage Family and Children's Service Centres. The allocation reaches approximately MVR 1 million per centre when divided among the 19 facilities across the country, a figure which Uthema described as insufficient.
Overall, Uthema asserted that the aforementioned problems created systemic failures that prevented due protection and justice being accorded to victims of abuse.
The NGO called on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the parliament, the cabinet, courts and leading members of relevant institutions to guarantee that laws are implemented and ensure that sexual abuse victims received protection through the legal system.
Additionally, Uthema strongly urged for the establishment of a conducive and adequate system for social protection officers to fulfill their duties. Particularly, the NGO expressed the need to swiftly increase the salaries of such workers.
Uthema is a Maldivian NGO registered in 2016 with the Ministry of Home Affairs to advocate for gender equality and women's empowerment in Maldives.