Because every child deserves to grow up in an equal society
Context and challenges
In the early 1980s, the Maldives was one of the poorest countries in the world. In just a few decades, the country propelled itself forward – and as of 2011, the Maldives graduated to middle-income status. Today, the Maldives has one of the lowest poverty rates in South Asia and is seen by many as a development success story.
The recent improvements in health, education, infrastructure and well-being have been substantial. However, not all people in the Maldives have benefitted equally. As of 2019, over 10,000 children were still living in poverty. And with over 40 percent of people aged 18-34 not working, Maldivian adolescents sometimes face high barriers to achieving economic success. According to a recent study, some youth feel left out of decision-making processes that affect them, hindering opportunities even further.
75 percent of unemployed people in the Maldives are between the ages of 18 and 34.
Huge wealth gaps also exist between Malé, the Maldivian capital, and the atolls. In 2016, the poverty ratio for the atolls was 12.8 percent, as compared to 1.7 percent in Malé. With some islands as far as 540 kilometers from the capital, many children and youth lack access to some of the country’s most essential services – along with the ability to speak up about accessing them. According to a recent study, some youth feel left out of decision-making processes that affect them, hindering opportunities even further. This perception is largely held by young people in the atolls, rather than in Malé, illustrating a geographical gap in support structures and services.
This situation is amplified for children living with disabilities. In 2013, an inclusive education policy was implemented to support children with special needs, increasing the number of schools that provide special education programs. Regardless, widespread social norms continue to create high barriers for disabled children, as many parents assume those with a disability do not belong in the classroom.
The Maldives’ social protection systems place emphasis on children, yet, more must be done to reach every child. Families are not fully aware of the social protection benefits available to them, and many young people are struggling to secure opportunities for education and employment. Strengthening the social protection system, along with the monitoring mechanisms in place to analyze them, are helping decision-makers address such shortfalls.
Advocating for the most vulnerable
In the Maldives, UNICEF works at the highest levels to ensure children are brought to the forefront of political conversation, especially those who are hardest to reach. We work with policymakers throughout the government to ensure programs are both child-focused and gender-sensitive, and are designed and implemented to address those who need them most. Our advocacy work has also contributed to the strengthening of national monitoring systems, which improves coordination between government bodies that deal with children.
Strengthening data and identifying gaps
UNICEF is supporting the development of a national-level data system and multiple data management systems. By generating information on children’s well-being, we are helping the Government of the Maldives strengthen systems for social inclusion. For example, we are:
Expanding the Maldives Child Protection Database to increase coverage on all atolls, allowing for better management of reported abuse cases in pockets of the country where abuse is hardest to identify. We also worked with the National Bureau of Statistics and Oxford University to develop the first Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for the country, which helps the government identify vulnerable children and facilitate target interventions. In addition, we developed a child-focused MPI to identify gaps in education, health and standards of living for children across the country.
Supporting the creation of the Maldives Education Information System (MEMIS) to help monitor education interventions and track school and student progress. MEMIS a real-time, student-based information system for tracking educational achievement. This system, which was launched in 2017 in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is helping ensure every student obtains a high quality of education. The system includes a way to track vulnerable youth who are at-risk of dropping out of school, and triggers action in real-time to help students when their grades, attendance or behavior falls short.
With the launch of MEMIS, teachers can better manage their students’ performance and classroom activities. In addition, by storing school records, issuing report cards, and tracking attendance of both teachers and school staff, the system is boosting accountability in schools across the country.
Supporting children with disabilities
To expand children’s access to education, UNICEF works with partners to educate local island councils, parents, school staff and members of other institutions to promote disabled children’s right to education. These conversations have spurred dialogue around children’s capacity to learn and have built the confidence of families with a disabled child. MEMIS is also helping every school aged child – disabled or otherwise – to be identified, tracked and monitored for school attendance. We also supported the National Social Protection Agency on their evaluation of the national disability scheme, revealing that coverage of the program was much lower than had originally thought; less than 30 percent of the scheme’s target group was covered at the time of the study. UNICEF is now working with partners to identify the sources of this gap, and is tackling the barriers to this program for those who need it.
Through it all, we support the government to research other challenges facing children in Maldives. We have investigated child marriage, health and HIV prevention among adolescents and young people, drug use and rehabilitation, and other key topics, assessing these hardships through analysis and providing evidence-based solutions to mitigating them.
Youth in Maldives | UNFPA and National Bureau of Statistics, 2018
Youth, Opportunities and Corruption in the Maldives: a Situational Analysis | Transparency Maldives, 2013
Household Income & Expenditure Survey 2016 | National Bureau of Statistics, 2016