One in five school girls have been sexually abused at least once, while the figure for school boys is just over one in ten. These rates are "considerably high" even by global standards, according to one of the researchers.
Of the nearly 2,000 students who participated in the largest study of emotional and physical punishment and sexual abuse of children in the Maldives, three out of ten children said their parents hit them with boys more likely to be subjected to physical and emotional violence than girls.
School life doesn't fare any better; 23 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls said they had been hit by a teacher, even though corporal punishment is banned in Maldivian schools. Five per cent of the children said they had been so badly injured by their teacher that they had needed to go to the hospital.
One third of the teachers in Maldivian schools are not qualified to teach. Not surprisingly, only 5 per cent of students sitting the GCSE exams passed in English in 2005. The UNICEF study paints a bleak picture of life for Maldivian children: they've been let down by their parents, the education system and by the community.
But a substantial section of Maldivian society, 36 per cent, supports physical punishment of children. Even supposedly progressive members of the community are pro-punishment. Dr. Abdullah Waheed, the deputy home minister, echoed populist sentiment in a personal blog post recently, when he criticised child laws protecting children as "ill-conceived and inappropriately implemented" and alleged they "prevented teachers from disciplining children". If this isn't a cry to bring back corporal punishment, I don't know what is.
Kay Engelhardt, a consultant for the international research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres which was part of the study, has commented that violence already enters the life of Maldivian children at an early age. "Home is not safe, the community is not safe and school is a grey area", Engelhardt told Minivannews.com.
But Maldivians in positions of power have habitually been unsympathetic to young people. Gayoom's buddy and former education minister Zahir Hussein, in the 80s, hit a Majeediyya student with a stick in front of the whole school. Hussein also, notoriously, tried to turn a blind eye to the serial child sexual abuse by two teachers during his disastrous reign at the ministry. Gayoom's faithful servant Umar Zahir, who headed the home ministry for several years, allowed rampant physical, psyhological and sexual abuse of children in the government's reformatory.
And now we have the likes of Dr. Abdullah Waheed, who failed to establish or manage a decent rehabilitation centre for recovering addicts or a modern prison service, advocating Maldivian children to be subjected to even more violence.