The high court on Tuesday upheld a decision by the Employment Tribunal declaring that a gender ministry employee on trial over negligence in the murder of a three-year-old boy was unfairly dismissed.
Ahmed Shuzad was working at the Vaavu atoll family and child protection centre when Mohamed Ibthihaal was found dead on the island of Rakeedhoo with signs of severe physical abuse on January 28, 2015. His mother, Afiya Mohamed, has since confessed at court to killing her child.
A three-judge panel agreed with the tribunal’s finding that the state was unable to provide Shuzad’s job description or justify his dismissal over negligence.
Ibthihaal’s abuse by his mother was reported to the Vaavu atoll centre before his murder.
“As Ahmed Shuzad was not provided with the necessary training to oversee such a sensitive case, it cannot be concluded that he was intentionally negligent,” the high court ruled.
The judges also noted that the procedures of the gender ministry were not made clear and that Shuzad was assigned another high priority case after Ibthihaal’s death because the ministry did not find a reason “to immediately dismiss him” with reference to the civil service law.
Shuzad is among four gender ministry employees presently on trial along with a policeman over negligence in the child’s murder.
According to local media, at the first hearing of the trial on January 29, the state prosecutor told the court that Ibthihaal’s abuse by his mother was reported a month before the murder.
Two of the defendants, Mohamed Shakeeb and Mohamed Rasheed, failed to attend to the complaint when the gender ministry was informed of the case by the Vaavu atoll centre. The officials were responsible for overseeing child abuse cases.
Shuzad and Aminath Shaziya meanwhile visited Rakeedhoo when the case was first reported to the Vaavu atoll centre but failed to take sufficient measures for the protection of the child, the prosecution argued.
The police officer, Lishan Abubakuru, was blamed for failing to investigate the abuse when it was reported to the police. He was the northern station’s acting commander in Vaavu atoll.
Lishan, Shaziya and Shakeeb were reportedly granted time to hire lawyers. Rasheed and Shuzad pleaded not guilty to the ‘disobedience to order’ charge raised under the old penal code with reference to the Domestic Violence Act and the Child’s Right Act.
The police officer was also charged under the provision with reference to the same laws as well as the Police Act.
Under section 88(d) of the repealed penal code – which applies to offences committed before the new penal code came into force in July 2015 – the disobedience to order offence carries either a jail term, banishment, or house arrest for up to six months or a fine of MVR150 (US$10).
Appearing in court with his lawyer Abdulla Saeed, Shuzad said he was an employee on probation without a legal employment contract at the time of the incident.
He said he went to Rakeedhoo on the orders of Shaziya. His lawyer added that it was his client who reported the case to the police.
Ibthihaal’s death in January 2015 had shocked the nation whilst reports that the authorities had been aware of the repeated abuse by his mother sparked public outrage.
Testifying in Afiya’s murder trial last month, Dr Ahmed Ziyan told the court that “fresh scrape marks on [Ibthihaal’s] neck” indicated that he was strangled to death.
Ziyan had examined the body at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital. He also found wounds on the right ear, scars all over the body, and some broken ribs.
Dr Abbas Abdul Hameed, who also examined the body, told the court on Thursday that the cause of death could not be established with certainty due to the lack of a postmortem.
But based on the injuries, Hameed said the cause of death was likely to have been either strangulation or the accumulation of blood in the stomach. He also noted that the boy’s genitals were swollen, a chest bone was broken, and that injuries were also found inside his mouth.
The doctor observed that Ibthihaal was underweight and short for his age. He weighed nine kilos while the average weight for a child his age is 12kg.
In April 2015, Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh told the press that inter-generational violence and state negligence led to the boy’s death.
Both government authorities and the island community were negligent and partly responsible for the tragedy, he said.
In January 2016, Ibthihaal’s step-grandfather was charged with child abuse.
Ismail Rauf was arrested in April 2015 and accused of sexually and physically abusing both Ibthihaal and his mother. If found guilty, he could face a jail sentence of 25 years.
Rauf was previously banished after being found guilty of child abuse. Ibthihaal’s mother Afiya was reportedly the victim.
The police meanwhile suggested that Afiya’s anger towards her son stemmed from rumours surrounding his birth. Ibthihaal was born out of wedlock.
The police explained that Ibthihaal had been under the care of his maternal grandmother from the age of one and lived with her in Vaavu Keyodhoo and Meemu Madduvari.
Seven months before his death, Ibthihaal was brought back to Rakeedhoo to live with his mother, where his psychological and physical abuse continued.
Afiya had two other children at the time and is accused of mistreating Ibthihaal, neglecting to feed or wash the boy.