Statement by H E Ms. Zenysha Shaheed Zaki, Minister of Gender and Family of the Maldives
at the High Level Event on "Ending Violence Against Children" (co-hosted by the Maldives, Estonia and Nigeria in partnership with the Office of the Secretary General's Representative of Ending Violence Against Women)
19 September 2017, Conference Room 6
Excellencies, ladies and Gentleman,
Children are our inspiration; and they embody our hopes for a better future. All children deserve to be loved, cared for, and every child has the right to feel safe and be protected from violence.
And yet, millions of children across the world continue to suffer and witness violence, abuse, exploitation and maltreatment. Violence against children manifests itself in different forms and all forms of violence harm a child's physical and mental development and deprives them of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity.
In the Maldives, the Ministry of Gender and Family, is mandated to protect and promote the rights of all vulnerable groups, including children.
Violence against children is a very real, and an overwhelming challenge that we face. We take cases involving violence against children very seriously, and use multiple strategies in responding and facilitating protection.
The Maldives, especially under the leadership of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, has undertaken a number of legislative measures as well as policy initiatives to strengthen the child protection system. We are also in the process of updating our child rights legislation to ensure its readiness to tackle modern challenges and emerging issues.
We are continuously working to strengthen inter-agency collaboration among stakeholders in providing protection and support to children affected by violence. With these initiatives, we have made significant progress in recent years.
Among our achievements has been the establishment of the Maldives Child Protection Database, which has strengthened referral mechanisms between my Ministry and the Maldives Police Service, for easy exchange of information, and more importantly, to generate real time disaggregated data. We also publish this data monthly as an approach to raise awareness. In addition to that, the Ministry of Education has launched an Information System, to closely monitor school attendance. Concerns over children's behavior are also immediately brought to the attention of relevant stakeholders.
I am also pleased to note that the Government recently concluded the country's first ever National Conference on Violence against Children, in which a two-year National Action Plan was endorsed by stakeholders. A Child Participation Forum was also convened, to seek the voice of children, on the initiatives in the National Action Plan.
The Maldives has a small population; a population of just over 400,000 dispersed into 189 islands. This unique geographical characteristic poses a significant challenge in delivering services, such as child protection. We are therefore constantly required to seek innovative approaches to reach vulnerable groups, and to ensure that no child is marginalized or indeed, left behind.
Decentralization of services has been key in reaching the widely dispersed population of the Maldives. The Ministry has established Family and Children Service Centers in each of the 19 Atolls of the Maldives, so that timely interventions can be made.
The Ministry is also currently establishing a multi-sectoral Community Social Group in each inhabited island, to further strengthen our response mechanisms. These Community Groups comprise of representatives from Atoll centers; island councils; health centers; education sector; law enforcement agencies and NGOs active at the island level. They play a key role in early identification, reporting and attending to child victims of violence. Indeed, it takes a community to raise a child!
To further encourage reporting incidents of violence, the Government established a Child HelpLine which has now been upgraded to a 24-hour toll-free Call Centre. Recently, we have also launched a mobile reporting application through which, reports can be made anonymously. Innovative technologies has made reporting easier and facilitated an increase in the number of reports made by children themselves.
To empower children against abuse, we believe that raising awareness is instrumental. Since 2015, the Maldives has continued a nation-wide awareness campaign on child abuse prevention targeted at children and parents both through media and interactive sessions. We acknowledge the crucial role that the community and civil society play and therefore partner with local NGOs in our work.
I wish to reaffirm the commitment of the Government of Maldives to promote and protect the rights of children. We are extremely pleased to be part of this event, and having had the opportunity to share our experiences.
I look forward to the discussion and hope that this platform will lead the way to expand our existing knowledge, and create opportunities to further strengthen both our national and international agendas on this very important issue.