DUBAI // In the aftermath of a high-profile murder of a four-year-old boy, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children is planning a far-reaching effort to combat violence against women and children that aims to challenge taboos. The foundation has planned several awareness campaigns for this year after the death of Moosa Mukhtiar Ahmed. A verdict in the trial of a 30-year-old Emirati who is charged with raping and killing the boy in Dubai's Al Qusais district on the first day of Eid al Adha is expected on January 27.
The group will also address the problem of human trafficking, continuing its work from last year. Ohood al Suwaidi, the foundation's marketing and communications manager, said: " "The foundation is planning a sexual assault awareness campaign in malls, and it will also have workshops during key Dubai events in children's areas to educate about all forms of child abuse, including child bullying." Dr Fekreya Arjamand, a psychological services manager at the foundation, said the effects of child abuse had a profound impact on the victims' lives and on society as a whole.
"Many of the abused children become abusers themselves as grown-ups and many have serious psychological problems and addiction problems," Dr Arjamand said. "One of the major challenges facing those working to combat child abuse in UAE society is the lack of understanding of the nature of child abuse, so we need to work on awareness and education to clear any misconception prevalent in society," she said.
Almost 30 per cent of the victims the foundation sheltered in the first half of last year were children, up from just 10 per cent for all of 2008, it said. Half of the 20 children helped were victims of physical abuse, and nearly all had witnessed violence against their mothers. Two suffered sexual abuse. The foundation also plans a series of seminars in public schools with a high rate of domestic violence among the students. These events will be in co-operation with a Dubai Government entity that monitors education in the emirate. It has also opened the door to volunteers as a means to strengthen its cause.
The foundation was set up by a decree issued by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to offer victims' protection and support services. Since being established in July 2007, the foundation has provided shelter for more than 200 men and women. The foundation helped establish a specialised public prosecution task force for dealing with human trafficking and speeded up the processing of abuse cases through Dubai's courts. Last year it was also able to educate law enforcement personnel about how to deal with victims.
An allowance given by the Dubai Government covers expenses to shelter and assist victims and provides the group's main source of income. However, the foundation depends on fundraising, such as corporate sponsorship, for its awareness projects. Afra al Basti, the executive director of the foundation, said: "Initially there was a lack of acceptance for the nature of our work among some government authorities. Despite the official support we received from these authorities, many did not understand our job and thought of us as 'home breakers'. But we are working together to change this stigma."
Although the foundation has made progress getting victims to overcome the social taboo of talking about personal matters outside the family, there is still a lack of awareness, on a communal level and among government authorities. "We do not want the problem of domestic violence and human trafficking to become a phenomenon," Mrs al Basti said. "This is why we are concentrating on preventive measures, so naturally spreading awareness becomes one of our main priorities."