Addressing Rising Violence Against Girls and Women in Maldives
By Rajat Madhok
Maldives, 11 Oct 2012 - Hawwa was gang raped by five men when she was 17 years old because she refused to date one of them. The teenager knew three of the men who committed the crime, one of whom was her closest friend. They videotaped the act and threatened to kill her and make the video public if she spoke about the incident to anyone. Hawwa reported the matter to the police but because of lack of evidence, her perpetrators still roam free. Unable to cope with the trauma, Hawwa dropped out of school, attempted suicide by drinking a bottle of bleach and subsequently went into depression. Today, four years later, the 21 year old still shivers at the thought of the incident. So scared is the young woman that she doesn't step out of her room for days at end, fearing another assault.
In another island, when 16 year old Aisha went for a birthday party with her friends, she had no idea that her life would change forever. While her friends enjoyed the celebrations, Aisha was repeatedly raped and beaten by a friend who threatened to kill her if she reported the matter to her family or the police. Now a year later, Aisha has not spoken about the incident to anyone except this reporter and two of her close friends. The teenager suffers from self-guilt and blames herself for the action, “I brought it upon myself because of my friendly nature, I misled him, it’s all my fault." Like Hawwa, the 17 year old spends many sleepless nights and when she does sleep, she has nightmares. "I was completely shattered by the incident and dropped out of school because I couldn't concentrate on my studies and started failing in my exams, I have no faith in men anymore," says Aisha as she trembles while reliving the account. Aisha too attempted suicide and till date suffers from depression, her nervousness is reflected in her demeanor.
Hawwa and Aisha have one thing in common, both do not have a father and that makes them vulnerable. Since 2008, there has been a steady increase in numbers of rape and other forms of violence against young girls in Maldives. According to government figures, 261 cases of child violence were reported in 2011 as against 196 in 2008. Cases of domestic violence, bullying and sexual harassment have also increased.
UNICEF is working closely with the government in addressing these issues. Besides an existing child abuse prevention programme with the Ministry of Gender, UNICEF has contributed to the drafting of a three year strategy which aims at mass and targeted awareness raising around protection of children. UNICEF also works in training and strengthening the capacity of social workers who besides talking about the issue also intervene when required and recommend abused children to alternate care. Training of police officers on child friendly investigation is also done on a regular basis.
“The Ministry of Gender Family and Human Rights having recognized the growing number of reported cases of rape and violence against women in Maldives especially of the girl child has fast tracked it’s work to open the ‘safe house’ for women and girl child at ViliMale’ to pave way for the much needed separation of victims from their perpetrators when necessary. Similarly more collaborative work has been initiated with the police and other related authorities within the community to enhance timely, effective and appropriate reporting and management of abuse and violence towards women & girl child. In-service training for the social service staff working at the atoll level is ongoing, providing them with knowledge and skills to properly cater to the victim and their families in a holistic manner”. says Dr. Aishath Rameela, Minister of State for Gender Family and Human Rights.
The sentiment is echoed by Zeba Tanvir Bukari, UNICEF representative in Maldives, “The issues of children cannot wait. Vulnerable amongst children are girls who do not have a voice in many remote and deprived areas. The issues of girl children need to be addressed through a rights perspective by a large set of duty bearers."
Hawwa has reconciled to her fate and realizes that her perpetrators may never be brought to justice. She has decided to move on in life closing this chapter forever. She met a young man last year and together they want to settle down soon. For Aisha, the trauma and hurt is still very fresh, when asked what she wants to do in life, the petite teenager smiles and says that she wants to pursue her dream of being a professional singer. While her smile is short lived, the hurt and anger in her eyes remains constant.