Child neglect and abuse, subjects that were long hidden behind closed doors in the traditional society of the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives, are now being dealt with thanks to a United Nations-backed social services programme.
For the first time, social services are being delivered throughout the atolls by Family and Child Service Centres staffed by personnel trained by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“People are more open about these issues now, and then they tend to report these cases,” UNICEF Child Protection Officer Hawwa Zahira said. “In doing so, the young recruits to this new service have helped to bring about real societal change in their communities. They were resented initially, but now they are feeling accepted.”
Ahmed Hussain, a regular sight on his motorbike through the streets of his island home in Raa Atoll, is part of a transformation in child protection services which are helping families in even the remotest parts of the Maldives. “Before we would only hear about cases indirectly from others,” he recalled. “But now we hear from the families and even the victims themselves.”
Five years since the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami washed over some of the atolls, change can be seen everywhere in the Maldives. Not only has UNICEF been working to create a safe environment for children, it is also working towards creating a cleaner and healthier place for children to live.
A new state-of-the-art sanitation project on Ungoofaaru Island linking all homes to a centralized sewage treatment system is an example of this effort, and is making a huge difference in the level of cleanliness.
UNICEF-supported water and sanitation systems and now social services for children have all helped this tsunami-affected island to “build back better.”