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UAE law is just first step in ensuring child safety

DUBAI // Creating a safe place for children is the cornerstone of the UAE’s new Child Protection Law, so educators and a paediatrician have asked for a clear chain of command to enable an immediate response to cases flagged by schools and hospitals.

Informally referred to as Wadeema’s Law, in memory of an eight-year-old Emirati girl tortured to death by her father, it will take effect on June 15.

Authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai said child protection specialists and a dedicated team of prosecutors would investigate cases, and details of their powers and responsibilities would be made available over the next few weeks.

“It’s a huge step that the UAE is facilitating a child protection law, so implementation should be as strong as the law itself. It’s not that the law is the solution, the solution is the implementation,” said Bedour Al Raqbani, director and founder of Kalimati Speech and Communication Centre.

“Each school should have a social worker, by law, who will always be available to take care of cases or it will cause stress on teachers who are already stressed out.

“The community must be involved because this law is about a community initiative. Children also need to know what protects them.”

In the West, a trained nurse or social worker in hospitals and schools handles cases involving suspected abuse of children and liaises with state or federal officials. In the UAE, every emirate has designated an authority to oversee child protection.

In Abu Dhabi, a new team of prosecutors has been established to investigate cases involving abuse or criminal negligence of children up to the age of 18.

In Dubai, the Child Protection Centre, under the oversight of the Community Development Authority, has the legal right to intervene.

Cases can be reported on the 116111 hotline, with rooms ready for children in social support centres.

“This will make sure that their confidentiality is maintained and they are comfortable to speak freely,” said Dana Marzouki, acting director of child protection at the Ministry of Interior.

“Child protection centres have more responsibility now, so we must use this with caution.”

The conditions under which child protection specialists can intervene to take an abused child to safety are being drawn up by the Ministry of Social Development. Clear guidelines will help caregivers to understand which cases to report.

“I would like to know very clearly not just who to contact but what will happen next,” said Dr Rajeshree Singhania, a paediatrician at Singhania Clinic in Dubai Healthcare City. She works with children who have developmental problems.

“We should know if the medical person who reported it has to be present in court,” said Dr Singhania.

“Before this our hands were tied, now there will be awareness and accountability.

“Just because there is a law doesn’t make it easy. There will be growing pains as it gets more established but it’s the right way forward.”

In the past, serious abuse cases were reported to the police or to centres for women and children in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at Taaleem, one of the Middle East’s largest education providers, said a framework and clear guidelines would give teachers clarification on who would respond to reports about suspected child abuse.

“Any change brings challenges but this is an important law. I am sure that with adequate training and with heightened awareness, it will lead to a safer society for all children,” he said.

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(via The National)