Gender Minister Shidhatha Shareef is facing increasing public censure over the way she has personally handled the case of a missing 14-year-old boy who ran away from state care 13 days ago and has yet to be found.
Parliament’s Human Rights and Gender Committee decided unanimously to summon Shidhatha over the disappearance of Shaim Abdulla from Kudakudhinge Hiyaa orphanage in Villimalé. She was questioned by the committee in a closed session on Saturday night.
The committee said they had decided to hold a closed session to ensure that the rights of the child in question were not compromised.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Shidhatha disclosed the minor’s entire case history in an apparent attempt to justify how a case of child neglect first reported in 2009 had evolved into the child’s later disappearance from state care.
The Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services reported that the child was brought in from “an environment of crime”. According to Shidhatha, staff at the facility in which Shaim was being kept were not equipped to deal with children who exhibit “a certain kind of behaviour”.
“I concede that Shaim went missing because of negligence on our part,” Shidhatha said.
She also claimed that the ministry did not immediately release information about Shaim’s disappearance because they were putting the child’s safety first.
Many have condemned the actions of the Gender Ministry, with much of the criticism being aimed at the minister herself.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Eva Abdulla, tweeted: “Details of this child should not have been exposed. That he has been vulnerable to a lifetime of crime is all the more reason for the state to protect him. Exposing him violates his right to a life of dignity. Whatever situation he is in right now, he did not choose this. He is 14.”
Several people on social media are calling on Shidhatha to resign. Goodwill ambassador of Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC), Azka Adil, tweeted: “You cannot dodge away from your responsibilities by blaming the minor and re-victimising him. @shidhatha, this only shows your lack of empathy and compassion. RESIGN!”
This is not the first time Shidhatha has been under fire for negligence and inability to satisfactorily perform her job. She was serving as deputy gender minister when three-year-old Mohamed Ibthihaal was murdered. The ministry had been told on multiple occasions of abusive behaviour towards the toddler by Ibthihaal’s mother, who subsequently beat the boy to death.
On Friday, ARC released a statement that said: “A missing child’s best hope for a safe return depends largely on immediate, coordinated and focused efforts by the responsible state agencies,” adding: authorities need to “step-up” their search efforts to find Shaim.”
Shaim ran away from the orphanage at around 9.30am on June 18. The police have asked the public for information to help find the boy.