Statement by the Maldives under Agenda Item 65 Protection of Children’s Rights at the Third Committee of the Sixty Fourth Session of the General Assembly
28 October 2009
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
The Maldives wishes to take this opportunity to express its appreciation for the continued work undertaken by the United Nations in the protection and promotion of the rights of children. The Maldives also would like to thank the Secretary General for the reports compiled under this Agenda Item.
There is no delegation in this room that would contest the significance and sacredness of protecting and promoting children’s rights. Children, as we have heard from the previous speakers, form the core of our societies. Their development is the key to the prosperity of our countries. It is through today’s children, that we hold the aspirations and dreams for future generations.
The Maldives ratified the Convention on the Rights of Child in 1991. The Maldives is also party to the Convention’s two Optional Protocols. Similar to the signatories of these treaties, the Maldives has experienced progressive steps that have laid a very basic foundation for the protection of the rights of children. In this regard, the extension of the age of children to 18 years, the establishment of a minimum age for employment and enacting domestic legislation on the Protection and Promotion of Children’s Rights are worthy of mention.
However, the Maldives believes that a closer examination of the situation is necessary as additional significant steps are required for the effective realization of the provisions of the international regime governing the rights of the child.
The Maldives, since its ratification of the CRC, has intensified its efforts to provide the opportunities and entitlements under the Treaty. Whilst, the Government is committed to providing a safe environment for children to grow up in and develop to their potential, the Maldives is currently grappling with emerging issues in the protection of child welfare.
The growing number of children falling victim to the use of illicit narcotics is one of the major contemporary challenges faced by the Government. With a huge youth population living in a densely populated capital, children are the most vulnerable to the negative social effects stemming from substance abuse and the act itself. A worrying new issue stemming from drug abuse is the welfare of children born to substance abusing parents. Though these children are provided temporary shelter at the Government run Home for neglected children, there is an absence of an institutional foster care system that would systematically promote and protect the welfare of children.
The Government understands the importance of social support networks that could very efficiently be provided by the civil society groups. But local NGOs lack trained professionals who are seldom attracted to the fields of counseling, rehabilitation and social service. Thus, the limited number of social workers who do practice, are overwhelmed by the enormity of the issued faced. NGOs effective operation is further challenged by the geographical set up of the country. Severe resource constraints hinder outreach awareness activities of civil society. A similar challenge is experienced by social service providers in reaching out to 196 islands which is a daunting and expensive task. The Government, nonetheless, is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the CRC and hence, it is now in the process of establishing a child care system that would institutionalize child welfare in the country.
The Maldives, Mr. Chairman, is unfortunately not immune from the dangers of violence against children. Over the last few years it has experienced an alarming and disturbing increase in the number of reported cases of abuse and violence against children including sexual violence and exploitation. For instance, for the year 2008, the Child and Family Protection Services of the Ministry of Health and Family reported continued child abuse. Though tougher sentencing guidelines were introduced early last year for child-sex offenders, existing penalties for sexual abuse of children range from as much as three years’ imprisonment to banishment.
The right to education is a fundamental right that is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Maldives, whereby, primary and secondary education is compulsory for both girls and boys without discrimination. The net enrollment ratio in primary education stands at 100 per cent while net enrollment ratio in lower secondary stands at 65 and the ratio in higher secondary stands at 7 per cent. . The Government is further concerned over the growing number of cases reported that demonstrate that young, school-aged girls are now prevented from attaining primary or secondary education in some island communities. This is solely attributed to the increasing extreme mindsets within the society that has begun to affect the rights of the girl child in particular.
Structural issues pose greater obstacles to the cause. According to UNICEF the existing very limited child protection system in the country suffers from lack of empirical data on child protection issues making it difficult to assess the magnitude of children’s vulnerability in the Maldives. This also rings alarm bells on the number and issues that fail to reach the authorities.
The Maldives is cognizant of the long road ahead in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals that have a cross cutting impact on advancing the welfare of children in all States. Faced with severe budgetary constraints due to the global financial crisis that has nullified any additional spending schemes in all sectors, the Government was forced to restrict all public expenses. The pattern of limited public spending is expected to continue at its record lowest, until the global economy picks up. These very straightforward facts, Mr. Chairman, reveal the extreme vulnerabilities faced by the Maldives to even the slightest external shocks.
The Maldives firmly believes in doing its part, as much as it can, in reinforcing the international legal regime. In this regard, new pieces of proposed legislation such as the Education Bill, Disability Bill and the Evidence Bill include several child- related policies that will facilitate the full realization of the international standards.
The Government also takes this opportunity to express its sincere appreciation to the hard work and diligence of the UNICEF in alleviating the status of children in the Maldives. UNICEF has been a staunch advocate of human rights and responsible freedom of expression for children and youth. The organisation’s long standing engagement with the Government and civil society is exemplary and, I wish to say its work, quite noble.
As such the Maldives calls upon the international society to intensify its efforts to protect the rights of the child. These efforts would need to be better focused towards alleviating capacity of States in meeting their treaty obligations. A clear and distinct focus on implementing the CRC by States would undoubtedly provide better opportunities for children. Let me also take this opportunity to renew the Maldives’ firm commitment to all efforts aimed at bringing a smile on to a child’s face.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.