Adolescents – Issues that need urgent attention in the Maldives
By Shadiya Adam
MALDIVES, 25 Sept 2013 – Saima* was introduced to drugs and alcohol at the age of 15 by her boyfriend and his friends. She comes from a family of seven children where she is the third eldest child. Her family hails from a Southern Atoll in the Maldives. “My mother died when I was nine years old; ever since then, our father has been distant and we get harsh punishments for every little thing”, says Saima. To support her siblings and help with household chores, she dropped out of school at the age of 13 years without even completing grade seven.
This is the story of many young people in the tiny island nation of the Maldives, where the adolescent population is around 17%. Poverty and inequality rates negatively affect many dimensions of child development. In addition, several child protection challenges exist such as neglect, abuse including substance abuse and sexual abuse, street violence and criminal activities that involve and affect adolescents of the country.
Today Saima is under state care, living with 19 other adolescents from different families. The state care institution, Kudakudhinge Hiya in the capital city Male’, currently has 66 children between the ages of 6 months to 16 years. Saima’s younger brother is also under a state care institution in the island of Maafushi, a short distance away from Male’.
“I feel safe here, but I am not happy”, says Saima. “I wish I had a family who loves and cares for me. I have aspirations and dreams too; to get love and attention I ended up with the wrong people who do wrong things”, added Saima. She was referring to the number of times she ran away from home with various boyfriends and ended up getting beaten and even gang raped by a group of young boys.
At the institution, Saima gets regular counselling. According to Saima’s counsellor, all adolescents including Saima attend sessions that include confidence building and life skills and vocational training, that will help them to re-integrate into the society when they become of legal age. “Saima has severe anger management issues”, says her counsellor. “She is working hard to put her past life behind her and is slowly learning to deal with her anger”, the counsellor further adds.
Saima’s case was brought to the attention of the Family and Children Service Centre in her Atoll, by a well-wisher, from where the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights took action and brought her under state care.
Need for further research and analysis
According to the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, more work needs to be done to address the growing issues affecting adolescents. Expansion of knowledge base on research methods and ethics is required, as well as conducting further research on adolescents, particularly the 10-14 year old age group. The Ministry further notes that currently there are no opportunities available for adolescents both academically and vocationally; which creates a further vacuum especially for marginalized and vulnerable adolescents.
According to UNICEF Maldives’ Representative, Ms. Zeba Tanvir Bukhari, the complex set of issues of adolescents is a shared responsibility of several stakeholders requiring partnerships, coordination, information exchange, joint planning and a team approach. “We must together carve the way forward for a better future for this important segment of the population. The future of a country lies in their hands”, says Ms. Bukhari.
While the government needs to build capacity of duty bearers and strengthen the legislative framework including the juvenile justice system, it is also important to continue policy advocacy and dialogue and reinforce the voices of civil society to support children and adolescent rights in the country.