A 75-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing four siblings on an island in Gaaf Dhaal atoll.
A police spokesman confirmed that the suspect was arrested in Malé last Thursday “on charges of sexually abusing four underage girls.” On Friday, the criminal court remanded him to 15 days under house arrest.
The arrest came weeks after newspaper Mihaaru reported the abuse, citing the eldest of the victims.
According to the local daily, the man has been evading police and gender ministry investigators by travelling to Malé on the alleged pretence of seeking medical treatment.
His passport was withheld on October 5 when he came to Malé to travel to India for medical purposes.
A migrant worker employed by the suspect has also been arrested on sexual abuse charges.
The paper reported that the alleged abuse has been going on for 12 years. When the eldest girl fled the island and moved to Malé, the man targeted her three younger sisters.
The girls’ mother was aware of the abuse but declined to report it because of alleged threats and coercion. The man was reportedly providing financial assistance to the family.
He could 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.
According to monthly statistics from the gender ministry, 43 cases of child sexual abuse were reported during September, up from 37 cases in August and 32 cases in July.
A 2009 study by UNICEF found that 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.
— Ministry of Gender & Family (@Min_Gender) October 19, 2017