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Authorities say child molestation remains rampant

Aminath Shifleen and Aishath Nishdha Jinan
08 June 2019, MVT 11:10
According to research, every single month, approximately 126 children are molested in Maldives. PHOTO: THE STAR ONLINE
Aminath Shifleen and Aishath Nishdha Jinan
08 June 2019, MVT 11:10

He was described as trendy, part of a modern-day ‘Boduberu’ group and driver of the popular ‘GN’ motorcycle. Not even twenty years old, the man referred to is the now-infamous character recently arrested while being paraded around for allegedly molesting two minors.

At a glance, one may not surmise he was a person capable of committing such heinous crimes. Albeit under apparent duress, a video circulating around local social media channels depicts him clearly confessing to his paedophilic actions, admitting he sexually abused two young boys over the course of four days.

Once the details were revealed, perhaps as expected, locals flew into a vigilante rage, stripping him of his outer clothing and forcing him to walk around in an attempt to shame him on the streets of reclaimed suburb Hulhumale’.

However, the incident marks only one instance that captured public attention in recent times.

For years now, figures from the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services have painted an appalling picture for young Maldivians. The nation’s children face threats of abuse and molestation in shocking numbers.

It is well documented the world over, that crimes such as these often go unreported for an unreasonable amount of time.

And yet, Maldives Police Services report recieving more than 400 reports of child abuse every year.

A horrifying median

Research conducted over the past five years by the gender ministry indicate that most cases of abuse involving minors were that of a sexual nature.

Out of the 1,372 cases regarding minors that were reported in 2017, victims of sexual abuse were found in 418 cases. In addition to adult-driven sexual exploitation of minors for profit, four offenders found to have participated in such abuse were minors themselves.

According to the research, every single month, approximately 126 children are molested in Maldives.

With 358 reports, there was a fall in the number of such cases in 2017, although police report that other cases filed included connections to allegations of abuse or had involved incidents of abuse.

Studies further suggest that an average of four children are molested in Maldives, every 24 hours.

This would include children being repeatedly abused, but the majority of figures refer to first-time victims.

Investigation establishes that those under the most severe threat, or most commonly molested, are girls falling between the ages of six and ten. However, the number of boys between the same ages that have fallen victim to such abuse remains significant as well.

Predators of all ages

Gender ministry registered all convicted paedophiles on offenders.mv and most are aged between 45 and 60. Nevertheless, there are a significant amount of people in the 75 to 90 age group, proving that there is no specific age category for perpetrators of these crimes.

While a 19-year-old was arrested for molesting two minors, police are currently investigating a matter involving 13 and 16-year-old brothers accused of molesting their nine-year-old sibling.

Head of Family and Protection Department, Police Superintendent Hassan Haneef declared that children are at risk of these dangers from people of all ages. Described abusers as possessing a ‘behavioural disorder’, he stated that many of the offenders, at some point, had been victims themselves.

“People we would trust and believe to have good intentions have been found to have this disorder. There is no specific age for it”.

Haneef said that those sexually abused are mostly from dysfunctional families as they are seen to be easy prey. Children in dire situations can be lured into a false sense of security with gifts and affection. The predators seek to gain their trust over the course of time and before inflicting abuse, seek to convince the children that their actions are not wrong.

“Living in close quarters increases the chance for children to be molested”.

Insisting that the law offers adequate punishment for offenders as, if found guilty, sentencing begins at 10-years of imprisonment, he stated that typically, such cases are thoroughly investigated with a high rate of conviction.

Yet, the fact that several suspects are released prior to their trials is also a cause for concern. The accused offender who was paraded around Hulhumale' was released Thursday by the Criminal Court, which stated that the Investigation Officer's report did not provide grounds to remand him further. The decision understandably sparked public outcry, with many on social media highlighting the dangers children are exposed to.

Attention, guardians!

With already-prevalent molestation of minors increasing at alarming rates, child-care experts state that the best and most reliable way to deter and prevent such a situation from arising, lies in strengthening the bonds that exist between children and their guardians.

Director at the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services Fazza Fuadh affirms that as children grow, they need to be educated on their bodies, and where they can or cannot be touched. Children should be taught to distinguishbetween afection and molestation, and when in an uncomfortable setting, should be encouraged to inform a trusted adult.

“If you are genuinely interested in a child’s day and question them, it will be easier for them to confide such matters to you. It is vital that parents have a good relationship with their children,” she said.

Gender ministry revealed that in most cases, offenders are members of the family or people the child likely knows or is familiar with. It is more common for a minor to be molested by someone he or she knows, as opposed to a stranger encountered on the streets, but this also causes some parents to struggle with believing the child when informed of the abuse.

In reference to the above, Fazza advises taking children seriously when they express any feelings of discomfort and to take their word first. In any situation, blaming the child should be avoided completely, parents must provide support and talk the issue through with them, navigating the events together.

“Next, parents must get the authorities involved. Either Police or the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services”.

The hotline for all matters relating to child abuse is Calls can be made anonymously to the Child Helpline 1412 or concerned citizens may dial the Police Helpline at 3000600. Hesitating to report abuse may prevent the possible protection of a child.

If it is difficult for a child to discuss such an issue with their guardian, he or she should know that it is acceptable for them to call the hotline and inform the authorities themselves.

As the purpose is to eradicate all forms of child abuse, teaching them preventive measures is certainly key to achieving a safer environment for all future generations.

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