The Child Rights Act, ratified by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on November 20, 2019, has begun taking effect following a three-month transitional period.
The legislature was passed by the Parliament with the vote of 66 lawmakers on November 14, 2019, and establishes major reforms towards ascertaining the rights of children.
Drafted with the purpose of protecting and ascertaining the rights of the children of Maldives with reference to the country’s Constitution and the international conventions it is party to; the law establishes the individual responsibilities of parents, guardians, family members, the State, the community, and other parties towards protection of the rights of children, and the special care and consideration they are due.
The most notable of the reforms made towards that purpose are:
VACCINATION: NO LONGER OPTIONAL, BUT COMPULSORY
Child Rights Act establishes administration of mandatory vaccination to protect children against diseases as a responsibility of a parent. Parents do not have the right to refuse to vaccinate their children.
Children now have expansive healthcare rights. Parents are now required to take preconceptional care and prenatal care, any healthcare required by their children after they are born, and all and any healthcare or treatment required to ensure the general wellbeing of the mother and child.
GROOMING CHILDREN FOR SEX RECOGNIZED AS A CRIME
The new law establishes the grooming of children for sex as a crime, punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison.
Defined as when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person by offering money or other enticements so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them; the law now holds anyone who grooms a child for sex criminally liable – whether it’s the mother, father, guardian, or anyone else who holds a position of authority over a child.
A CHILD CANNOT BE SUBJECTED TO MARRIAGE
Existing laws, while it establishes the marriage of any child under the age of 18 years as a crime, allows an exemption where a child who is above the age of 16 years may be allowed to marry if the child in question and the child’s family offer no objection, and if the child passes assessments by Gender Ministry and receives a special permit by the Supreme Court.
However, the Child Rights Act serves to override the exemption by establishing that a child under the age of 18 years may not be allowed to marry, even if it says so otherwise in another law, reasoning that a child does not have the physical and mental capacity of an adult, and the Constitution declares children to be due special care and protection by their family, the community and the State.
A CHILD CANNOT BE SENTENCED TO DEATH
The new law refers to the same reasoning, that a child does not have the physical and mental capacity of an adult, and have a constitutional right to special care and protection by their family, the community and the State, to prohibit the application of the death sentence against children.
It further establishes that a child who is found guilty of a crime punishable by death may not be issued a death sentence even after the said child turns 18 years of age.
A child who is found guilty of a crime punishable by death must be served with no more than three-fourth of the next largest penalty set for the crime.
AUTHORITIES DO NOT NEED A WARRANT TO ENTER PRIVATE PROPERTY IF A CHILD IS IN DANGER
The new law establishes that Maldives Police Service has the authority to investigate, and the Child and Family Protection Service has the authority to conduct social inquiries and assessments if the two institutions have credible grounds to believe a child requires care and protection.
And if the Maldives Police Service has substantial evidence to believe waiting for a court warrant to enter private property may endanger a child, officers do not need to obtain a court warrant, but only require permission from an officer ranked a sub-inspector of police or above to enter private property.
It also establishes that witness protection must be provided to any child who testifies to authorities in connection to any case.
A CHILD MAY NOT BE TAKEN INTO STATE CUSTODY UNLESS AS A LAST RESORT
The new law establishes that in situations which require temporary transfer of a child’s custody, priority will be given to transferring the child to the custody of his or her closest living relatives.
It establishes that after a child is removed from their living situation into State custody, the State must make its decision regarding the custody of the child and submit it to the court as soon as possible, in no more than five days.
Before a child is removed to alternative care, the State must look into options where the child would not need to be removed from their family. If there is no one in the child’s own family to take on the responsibility, the State must look into other parties willing to foster the child in order to allow the child to live in a family environment. A child must not be removed to alternative care unless as a last resort.
FAILURE TO REPORT THE ABUSE OF A CHILD IS A CRIME
The new law establishes the exploitation and grooming of children for sexual abuse as a crime.
It further establishes child endangerment, negligence to protect children from abuse, and negligence to report the abuse of a child as crimes punishable by three years in prison.
CHILDREN OFFERED EXPANSIVE RIGHTS
The rights offered to children under the new law includes the right not to be discriminated against, the right to education, the right to live and physical development, the right to care and protection, the right to protection against sexual exploitation and abuse, and the right to protection against neglect and other forms of abuse.
They also have the right to protection against undue social and cultural influences, the right for their birth to be registered, the right to be named, the right to Maldivian nationality, the right to protect their individuality, the right to physical and mental health and wellbeing, and the right to the care and guidance of their parents.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A PARENT, THE STATE
The new law establishes registration of their children’s birth, the education, upbringing and financial support of their children, and the damage sustained by another in the hands of their children as the legal responsibilities of a parent.
The State, meanwhile, has the legal responsibility to offer support to parents and make them responsible, to consult children when making decisions pertaining to them, and to disclose information.
The State is required to establish an institution, the Child and Family Protection Service, which will specialize the protection of the rights of children, and protect the interests of children who require care and protection, within 30 days of the law takes effect.
A child rights council must be established within 60 days the law takes effect, and an ombudsman must be appointed within 90 days the law takes effect.
The Gender Ministry has expressed commitment towards fulfilling its obligations under the new law before the deadlines.