The ministry of law and gender has enacted new regulations governing foster care for children under state care, the first institutional and legal framework of its kind in the Maldives.
The regulations published in the government gazette today lays out procedures for placing children under foster care and specifies eligibility criteria for foster parents.
Children can be placed in foster care for six months, during which a case worker from the gender ministry will conduct a field assessment of the child’s treatment by the foster parents.
Based on the assessment report, the foster period can be extended a further six months, after which the foster parents will be granted permanent custody of the child.
Formal adoption is not allowed under Maldivian law. Adopted children will not have the legal responsibilities and inheritance rights of biological children.
Attorney general Mohamed Anil – who also heads the law and gender ministry – meanwhile revealed last week that 115 children are currently under state care at the children’s home in Vilimalé, which has the capacity of housing 40 children.
Children who do not have the option of living with family or relatives or whose family members have not contacted or visited at the Vilimalé shelter will be eligible for foster care provided they have no serious health complications.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Mohamed Shakeeb, director at the gender ministry, said interest in fostering unwanted children has been increasing, prompting the ministry to facilitate a “structured foster care system.”
Stressing the importance of children growing up “surrounded by family” Shakeeb said that “these children are now institutionalised, our aim is to provide them with a loving home environment,”
Shakeeb said the state has previously placed five children under foster care with the court transferring custody with the parent’s consent.
“It is different now because under the new regulation the state can place the child in foster care without prior consent or request,” he explained.
The applicants for foster care must be a Maldivian married couple between the age of 25 to 40. Applicants must also be listed in the ‘foster parents registry’ and must possess the financial, physical and mental capacity to be a parent.
Applicants cannot cannot be a relative of a child who is already under state care or an individual who has returned the custody of a child placed under foster care.
Foster parents must not have a criminal record or be facing criminal prosecution. They also must be literate and know Islamic prayer rituals, including how to perform the five daily prayers and recite the Holy Quran.
The state will not provide financial assistance for foster parents and they are not allowed to reside outside of Maldives during the interim foster period.
Last week, the government revealed plans to open a second children’s home dedicated to children under 10 years of age, whilst the existing children’s home in Vilimalé will house children over the age of 10.
Child rights advocates have previously raised concern over the lack of staff, resources and space at the children’s home.
The government expects the new orphanage to be completed in the next two months.
Photo of the children’s home in Vilimalé.