MALDIVES (November 6, 2012) — When Hawwa* was 17, five men raped her. The teenager knew three of the men. One had been her closest friend.
The men videotaped the rape and threatened to kill her and make the video public if she spoke about it to anyone.
Aisha, 16, was raped and beaten at a birthday party by a friend. He threatened to kill her if she reported the attack to her family or to the police.
Since 2008, there has been a steady increase in the number of rapes and other forms of violence against young girls in Maldives. According to government figures, 261 cases of child violence were reported in 2011, while 196 were reported in 2008. The number of cases of domestic violence, bullying and sexual harassment has also increased.
Hawwa is now 21 years old. Although she reported the incident to the police, because of a lack of evidence, her rapists are still free. After a suicide attempt, and through a bout of depression, she has reconciled the fact that her perpetrators may never be brought to justice. Though sometimes days pass during which she is afraid to leave her room, she has decided to move on, closing this chapter forever.
Aisha has never reported her rape, except to a couple of close friends. She also attempted suicide and struggles with depression. She has recurring nightmares and has dropped out of school because she can no longer concentrate. She smiles briefly when she discusses her aspirations—Aisha would like to be a professional singer—but the hurt and anger in her eyes remains constant.
UNICEF is working closely with the Government to address these issues. There is a child abuse prevention program under the Ministry of State for Gender, Family and Human Rights. In addition, UNICEF has contributed to the drafting of a three-year strategy that aims at mass and targeted awareness-raising about the protection of children.
UNICEF also works in training and strengthening the capacity of social workers who, in addition to raising awareness, also intervene, when required, and recommend alternative care for abused children. Police officers are trained on methods of child-friendly investigation.
Minister of State for Gender, Family and Human Rights Dr. Aishath Rameela says that, in recognition of the rise in violence against women and girl children, the Ministry has prioritized opening a safe house for women and children as a refuge for victims away from their perpetrators.
As well, she says, "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 and girl children. 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 victims and their families in a holistic manner."
UNICEF Representative in Maldives Zeba Tanvir Bukari says, "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."
*Names have been changed to protect the victims.