ABU DHABI // A children's advocate is studying the best way to talk to youngsters about physical and sexual abuse through a project in Dubai.
"From the people I know, something happens that makes them start talking to their kids, unfortunately," said Samia Kazi, chief operating officer of Arabian Child, an early childhood consultancy. "It's reactive. We're trying to get for that to be proactive, because you can never be too prepared for something like this."
Ms Kazi's work coincides with a month-long child abuse awareness campaign organised by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.
She said it was important to raise awareness among children as well as adults. The three youngsters taking part in her pilot - all relatives - are age 5, 7 and 8.
"If it's a campaign for them, you have to empower them and get their views," said Ms Kazi.
She began the project a few weeks ago and has been meeting with the children about once a week.
"You start with talking to them about how all children are special and important, then you move on," said Ms Kazi.
It is too early to say if the pilot would develop into a programme, she added.
"I'm trying to figure out if I can put together a small week-by-week curriculum of what teachers or parents can do with kids to talk to them about child abuse," said Ms Kazi.
Parents should discuss abuse with children to protect them, said Moza Al Shoomi, head of the child department at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
"Before, this was secret. We could not tell our children," she said. "Now, no. We must tell."
Adults should even address controversial issues, such as teenagers and older children sexually abusing younger ones, said Ms Al Shoomi.
"We must tell for all the children. They [should] not be friendly with the adults or the big, young teenage boys. Don't go with them alone," Ms Al Shoomi said. "We must give this advice for the children to know."
"It's something every parent worries about," said Briton Natasha Saunders, 32, the mother of a baby girl in Dubai. "She's only nine months but it is something I've thought about. I will definitely talk to her when she goes to nursery and she's old enough to understand."
Carmen Benton, a parenting educator at Lifeworks Counselling in Dubai, cautioned against panicking about "stranger danger".
"My fear would be that we would give our children the fear we have, which would then silence them because they would be too afraid to tell us," said Ms Benton.
Parents should bear in mind that children are most likely to be abused by someone they trust, said Dr Muhammad S Tahir, head of psychiatry at Health Call Clinic in Dubai.
"Abuse usually comes from near friends or relatives," he said.
Parents should talk to children about abuse in an age-appropriate way, tailoring the conversation to their developmental stage and mental capacity, added Dr Tahir.
Ms Kazi is trying to find a gradual, natural way to discuss the topic.
In one of her first sessions with the children in her pilot, she asked them to draw a picture expressing that they were important and special.
One child drew a mother holding a phone in one hand and a baby's hand in the other, writing: "Mommy, please turn off your mobile and hold your baby's hand."
"I always like to get children's views," Ms Kazi said. "You get insight about things they care about.
"Who knew that kids are in tune to how many times their mommy is on the mobile and not holding their hand?"