A 45-year-old man has been arrested on a southern island on suspicion of sexually abusing a six-year-old girl who was previously victimised by a different perpetrator.
A police media official said the Maldivian suspect was taken into custody Monday night from the island in Gaaf Alif atoll. A 35-year-old Bangladeshi migrant worker was arrested in July in the previous case involving the same victim, the official confirmed.
A source close to the victim’s family told the Maldives Independent that the second suspect was a family friend, whom the girl’s relatives noticed was spending too much time at her house.
“The child was abused in her own home. He would come over to visit while she was watching TV,” the source said, adding that he “got into her head” after secret conversations.
“The family took the child to the local health centre to see a doctor. The doctor noticed signs of abuse and referred the family to a gynaecologist in [Gaaf Alif] Villigilli.”
According to the source, doctors confirmed that she was digitally penetrated.
On Tuesday, Sun Online reported a secretly-recorded phone conversation between the father of the victim and the suspect, who confessed to abusing the child.
The suspects are likely to face charges under the 2009 law on child sex offenders, which introduced special provisions such as withholding the right to remain silent and denying reprieve from detention during the investigation period.
The law prescribes jail terms up to 25 years.
The source familiar with the situation said the gender ministry has not been involved in the case, expressing concern that the victim is yet to receive psychological counselling or support.
Akram Hussain, a family protection consultant at the gender ministry, said there was no previous record of cases involving the six-year-old girl.
“As per our response criteria, a high priority case – such as sexual abuse – will be attended to within 24 hours,” he assured.
“We will ensure the child is in a safe environment where the perpetrator is not present. We will provide counselling to the child from trained social centres. We will be conducting a social inquiry assessment, which will help us come up with a three-month action plan.”
According to the gender ministry, officials attend to cases immediately when abuse is reported to the police and caseworkers from the Family and Children Service Center in each atoll are tasked with attending to the psycho-social needs of child victims.
In extreme cases or in the absence of guardians, the gender ministry removes the victims from the home environment and places them in temporary safe homes. Some victims are also brought to the children’s home in Vilimalé and placed under state care.
According to a 2009 study by UNICEF, almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some point in their lives.
In June 2013, multiple sources told the Maldives Independent that child prostitution was prevalent in the country, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with “gifts” to parents actively exploiting their children.