The Pressure of Social Stigma in Maldives Keeps Families Silenced about Sexual Abuse of Children

The Pressure of Social Stigma in Maldives Keeps Families Silenced about Sexual Abuse of Children
​​Protesting for the victims of sexual abuse. © Duané Viljoen, December 17th, 2021, via Pexels, at


Pauliina Majsaari

Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

Almost one-third of girls in Maldives attending secondary school have been sexually abused at least once in their lifetime. As indicated by the statistics from the Maldives Ministry of Gender at the end of 2023, the highest number of cases brought to their attention dealt with sexual abuse and neglect of children.

The number of cases of sexual abuse reported to the authorities in Maldives is alarmingly high, with an additional concern about the number of unreported cases due to ignorance, lack of awareness of children’s rights, and social stigma attached to the issue. Social stigma constitutes one of the major factors contributing to the lack of reporting of sexual abuse of children, as sexuality continues to be closely tied to social status and family honour, leading to a fear of anyone knowing that their child has been sexually abused or raped. Most of the time, the abusers are family members or friends of the family, and usually, at least one family member is aware of the abuse but chooses to stay silent to avoid social embarrassment. Multiple cases have surfaced where the father sexually abused their child; however, as he is seen as the protector of his family and children, other family members do not take action to stop the abuse. The geographic factors of the country also contribute to the problem. As many children move from their home islands to bigger cities to pursue education, they are in a vulnerable state and can easily be subjected to abuse by teachers, religious leaders, and relatives that the children are staying with. An additional factor contributing to the low number of reported cases of sexual abuse is the insufficient trust in the judiciary and the unwillingness of the courts to bring justice for the child victims, as expressed by the people living in Maldives.

According to Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), states should take legislative, administrative, social, and educational measures to protect children from, among others, sexual abuse in the care of parents or others who are responsible for the care of the child. The protective measures can take the form of social programs to support the child, adopt forms of prevention as well as appropriate investigation of child maltreatment. The right to be protected from sexual abuse is also reinforced under Article 34 of the CRC, according to which the states should take all national, bilateral, and multilateral measures to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in unlawful sexual activity. Even though the government of Maldives has been setting up different divisions and programs to support and aid victims of sexual abuse in accordance with Article 19 of the CRC, the practical enforcement of children’s rights has not been fully realised. A major factor in this regard is the geographical isolation of its peoples, as a significant population of Maldives lives on remote islands where access to such services is limited. Moreover, the court system of Maldives is not in line with Article 19 of the CRC, as the judiciary does not endeavour to bring justice to the victims, and the perpetrators are rarely punished for their actions. In connection with Article 34 of the CRC, Maldives has ratified the CRC, as well as incorporated provisions within its Constitution for the protection of children’s rights; however, the legislation in place has quite a narrow reach and therefore does not adequately protect children from sexual abuse. Therefore, despite the fact that Maldives has measures in place to protect children from sexual abuse, further initiatives such as those relating to educational programs and social attitudes towards sexual abuse should be undertaken.

Consequently, Maldives is urged by international actors such as UNICEF to work towards creating national legislation that focuses solely on children’s rights, as such is lacking at the moment, and therefore ensure that it is taking all legislative and enforcement measures possible to protect children from sexual abuse. Moreover, Maldives is advised to progressively reform its court system and work towards changing the social views on sexual abuse, thereby changing the attitudes of people to understanding the harmful implications of sexual abuse for the wellbeing and development of a child.

Sources and further readings:

  1. 'Child protection: Because every child deserves a life free from harm' (UNICEF) <> accessed March 5th 2024.
  2. Oda Lykke Jernberg, ‘Strengthening Protection of Children in the Maldives’ (Norwegian Refugee Council, July 2nd 2021) <> accessed March 5th 2024
  3. Adam Ameena, ’Child Abuse in Male’ City of Maldives’ (2017) 14 International Journal of Economic Research 537, 537 and 538.
  4. Afnan Ibrahim, ’Child abuse on the increase and in urgent need of government accountability’ (, April 28th 2018) <> accessed March 5th 2024.
  5. Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS