Judicial Academy

Department of Judicial Administration

Papers at the Symposium

Paper 01
Child Rights and Juvenile Justice in the Maldives 1 – A Critical Analysis of the Law

This paper would constitute an expansive and comprehensive coverage of the current laws of the Maldives which deal with rights of the child and issues of youth crime and juvenile justice. As of now, there are no less than 29 different laws, some of which contain only a section, a subsection or a phrase, relating to the matter. The lacunas and incoherencies in the law, and the shortcomings of the legislative landscape would be evaluated in this presentation, with the view to solidify and develop the law in this very important area.

Child Rights and juvenile Justice in the Maldives 2 – Independent Institutions and Executive Agencies

From independent bodies such as the Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office, to law enforcement agencies and executive authorities such as the Maldives Police Service, the Juvenile Justice Unit, the Family Protection Authority, and National Drug Agency, there are a number of authorities on the list of stakeholders in child rights and juvenile justice.

This paper would seek to analyze their roles, and identify various issues in their processes, such as arrest and investigation procedures for minors, overlapping mandates and lack of coordination among executive agencies, whether there is a need to simplify tasks and cut down the number of executive agencies, effectiveness in responding to reports of child abuse and providing remedies, their efficiency in dealing with cases of juvenile delinquency without recourse to the juvenile justice system and through solid diversion programs, and their capacity in managing processes such as probation and rehabilitation. Special attention would be paid to the issue of harmonizing the working of these institutions to solve many identified problems.

Child Rights and Juvenile Justice in the Maldives 3 – Courts, Court Procedure, and Court Administration

The Juvenile Court, established in August 1997, is a specialist court dealing with youth crime. Magistrate Courts also have jurisdiction to hear juvenile criminal cases, while all appeals go to the High Court and the Supreme Court. Family Court plays a vital role in protecting the rights of children, while Drug Court plays a key role in the juvenile criminal justice system as well.

In this paper, functions of these courts would be discussed, together with a thorough coverage of the procedures followed and practices adhered to in trial and in court administration. Questions to be addressed include the following:

Who can file a case with the court in order to secure the lost rights of a child? How can children approach the courts by themselves or through litigation friends to seek their rights? What are the challenges faced by Magistrate Courts in implementing best practices for securing child rights and ensuring access to justice for juvenile offenders? Are indigent children provided with the necessary legal aid in the Juvenile Justice System? How can the Maldivian courts enhance the use of amicus curiae and guardians ad litem in juvenile criminal proceedings so as to protect the best interests of the child? What are the vital principles established in the decisions of the High Court and the Supreme Court relating to child rights and juvenile justice? How are judicial statistics recorded, stored, and used to facilitate accurate and meaningful analysis of the juvenile justice system for the purpose of future development?

Law and Children with Special Needs

Principles and rules in place to protect children with special needs are a key part of the law on child rights and juvenile justice. This is a particularly challenging area when it comes to effective and efficient implementation, as has been observed. The sixth paper of the Symposium focuses on the issue, and discusses how the rights of orphans and children placed in foster care, children with disabilities, children with learning difficulties, and children who have experienced severe mental traumas and emotional setbacks are safeguarded.

Children in Conflict with the Law and as Victims of Crime: Understanding Patterns and Causes, and Finding Solutions and Remedies

There are two categories of children which deserve special attention: those who are in conflict with the law and those who have been victims of crimes and violence, whether committed by adults or by fellow juveniles.

Observations across the globe have shown that countries with economies in transition have witnessed a dramatic rise in delinquency during recent decades (World Youth Report, 2003, Chapter 7), and the Maldives has been one place where this observation is particularly true. Offenses commonly committed by juveniles include drug crimes, gang crimes, property offenses, sex offenses, and status offenses, including some violent offenses.

The issue of children being victims of crime and violence is no less serious: from domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect and abandonment, to gang crimes, human trafficking, pornography, statutory rape and child marriage, and child labour, there are a number of crimes of which children have often been primary or secondary victims.

Along with these issues, this paper would address the question of finding effective remedies and solutions for both young offenders and child victims.

Can steps such as post-school conscription be part of the policy to address juvenile delinquency? What are the other measures that can be taken against rising youth crime? How do we provide meaningful aftercare for child offenders and support for child victims of crimes? What is the situation of the currently available child shelters and their capacity to accommodate victims of crime? How and when can the State be granted custody over juveniles who have been abandoned by their families in one sense or the other? How can we ensure that children who become victims of crime and violence of all types are given full and meaningful access to justice?

Treatment or Punishment? Dealing with Juvenile Offenders

The Juvenile Justice System itself is sometimes described as a necessary evil. Subjecting a child to the system contributes to alienating him from the society and may even contribute to the development of anti-social tendencies in the child. We often find that children in crime have mental health needs and serious emotional issues which should be addressed through institutions and processes other than courts and criminal proceedings. As such, one of the crucial questions before us is about putting as many juvenile offenders as possible in a community-based treatment regime that works on the idea of restorative justice.

The current conditions with regard to community-based treatment of juvenile offenders are not satisfactory, as there are only limited options in the form of institutional arrangements, and we need to find ways of strengthening it. We need to enhance of both institutional and non-institutional machinery.

When it does become necessary to resort to the juvenile justice system to punish a juvenile offender, we still need to ensure that all the processes involved—investigation and detainment, prosecution, trial and disposition, and implementation of penal or correctional measures—are carried out with a rehabilitative approach, to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected, that the child is effectively taken out of the dark chasm of crime and put back in the society.

While these matters would be covered in this presentation, the problem of minors being incarcerated with adult detainees, issues regarding the causes and solutions of recidivism, the idea of expungement, and questions relating to dual status youth would also be addressed.

The Dividing Line: Legal Capacity of the Child and the Age of Criminal Responsibility

Legal capacity of children is another legal question which we must focus, especially after some of the criticism leveled against the Maldivian laws on children and juvenile justice in recent times.

The laws and procedural rules and principles need to be clear on issues such as when and how a child can be a witness, when and how a child can make a claim in court, in his own name or through a litigation friend, to secure his/her rights. One of the key questions in this context is about the age of criminal responsibility. This question is especially relevant to the Maldives, as we have seen that minors in the age group 15-17 have often and increasingly been involved in serious violent crimes. An alarming trend in recent years is the use of under-aged children as executors of crimes organized by behind-the-curtain adults who are seldom brought forth and held liable by the law. What are the law reforms necessitated by the circumstances prevalent in our society? Should we reconsider the age of criminal responsibility? When, if ever, can a child be declared not amenable to treatment and sent to an adult court for trial? These are the main points to be discussed in this paper.



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