DUBAI // The drafting of a federal child protection law that could merge two proposals for legislation by different ministries has been ordered by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
The move follows the arrest last week of a man accused of torturing and killing his eight-year-old daughter and dumping her body in the desert. His girlfriend was also detained by Dubai Police.
Sheikh Mohammed, also the Prime Minister, visited the girl's sister in hospital, according to a tweet by the Dubai Media Office.
The order to draft the law was announced yesterday by Wam, the state news agency.
"My gut feeling is that over the past months, because so many child protection issues have been highlighted, they have taken a position to actually go - seriously go - for the legislation," said Sanjana Bhardwaj, a child protection consultant and instructor at Zayed University.
There is neither a federal law addressing child abuse and neglect, nor a process for intervention if the perpetrator is a family member.
Legislation drafted by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2008 would create the framework for a child protection system based in social services.
A second law, drafted by the Ministry of Interior's Higher Committee for Child Protection, would cover child pornography and criminal penalties for child maltreatment, along with other topics.
Both drafts are awaiting the approval of the federal Cabinet.
The order from Sheikh Mohammed means that the authorities could review the drafts and may merge them.
"I personally think he has been presented already with two drafts," Ms Bhardwaj said.
It is possible the federal law could incorporate the child protection policy of the Dubai Community Development Authority, recently approved by the emirate's Executive Council.
Children's advocate Samia Kazi was thrilled to hear about Sheikh Mohammed's order.
"I was jumping up and down dancing in my office last night," said Ms Kazi, the chief operating officer of the consultancy Arabian Child. "This was long awaited.
"But, as always, the UAE is in the lead. We feel that now we are moving to this next phase of child protection.
"It's great that the people in charge, the decision makers ... are talking about aligning with the organisations and working in collaboration."
There has been debate among officials over what should be included in the law, said Mohammed Ibrahim Mansour, an adviser to the General Women's Union.
"Unicef is suggesting that the law has to be comprehensive for all children's rights - not only protection. We are talking about participation ... health, education, many things," he said. "The proposal was that it should be one law for the children."
Dubai Media Office declined to clarify the announcement, referring questions to the Prime Minister's office, which could not be reached for comment.