Establishing a Functional Child Protection System: The lack of empirical data on child protection issues makes it difficult to assess the magnitude of children’s vulnerability in the Maldives, and undoubtedly means that some children remain invisible to the watchful eyes of the protection system and services. Yet indicative evidence shows that children in the Maldives are not invisible to perpetrators of the harmful practices that affect children in other countries worldwide.
Among the main issues affecting children and women in the Maldives are gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation, including sexual and other forms. A 2006 Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences found that 12% of women aged 15-49 reported that they had been sexually abused before the age of 15. Approximately 1 in 3 women (34.6%) aged 15-49 reported experiencing at least one form of physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime.
There is overwhelming evidence that victims of sexual assault and rape are much more likely to use alcohol and other drugs to cope with the trauma of their victimization. Rape victims, for example, are 10 times more likely to have used “hard drugs” other than cocaine than non-rape victims.
Substance misuse is having a clear and rapid impact on children and families in the Maldives. Male’, especially, is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. It experiences many of the complex effects of rapid urbanization, such as overcrowded family homes – one of the key antecedents to substance misuse among young people. The high percentage of unemployment amongst youth and lack of recreational opportunities are also contributing factors to substance misuse in the Maldives. Heroin is the preferred drug for the vast majority of addicts, and injection is rapidly becoming the preferred means of intake. Average age of first use is 12 years old, with children as young as nine identified as misusing drugs.
The growing substance misuse problem in the Maldives is not only a significant threat in itself, but also makes the country vulnerable to an HIV/AIDS epidemic – particularly given the recent increase in injecting drug use.
The overarching challenge for child protection is the lack of awareness around child abuse and its detrimental impact on children’s cognitive and emotional development.