ABU DHABI // FNC members sparred with a government minister for more than seven hours yesterday over a new adoption law, with a heated debate on whether abandoned children should be taken first to police or to healthcare professionals.
The marathon discussion at the third session of the 15th FNC legislative chapter covered each clause of the law point by point, with members and the Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi, often disagreeing.
One key issue, members said, was protecting the person who found an abandoned child, weighed against the need to save the child's life if it was in danger.
Article four of the law originally stated that when children are found, they must be taken immediately to the nearest police station.
But after consulting experts, the Health, Labour, and Social Affairs Committee amended the article to state that the child should be taken to either the nearest police station or to a health institute, depending on their health status.
It was a change with which the minister disagreed. "To give the child to a health institute — it is a big responsibility," she said.
She said hospitals did not have procedures to accommodate abandoned children and to take down the details of the person who found the child. Police, on the other hand, had been dealing with the issue for decades.
Hamad Al Rahoumi (Dubai) said police could not help a sick child. "If he is in a terrible condition, then he needs to be taken to hospital, not the police," he said. "A baby around two or three hours old is unlikely to be in a stable health condition."
Ms Al Roumi said police were better equipped to document the child and collect details of whoever found him. "The law is to ensure the protection of the person who found the child," she said.
Ahmed Al Amash (Ras Al Khaimah) agreed with the minister. He said handing the child to police was a better idea because it discouraged people from abandoning children. Ms Al Roumi said allowing hospitals to handle abandoned children could "open doors" to an increase in cases.
The minister said that even if the council united in seeking to have abandoned children taken to hospitals rather than police, the ministry would object at Cabinet level.
Dr Amal Al Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi), pointed out that receiving medical services without having medical insurance was difficult, and the case would be even worse for an abandoned child. Therefore, Dr Al Qubaisi said, the child needed to be referred to the hospital by police.
The council in the end voted for police to be informed first, before the child is taken to a hospital.
The minister also objected to a new article added by the FNC committee requiring all cases of abandoned children to be reported in news media. She said that would present a negative image of the country.
Mr Al Rahoumi, however, said that such publicity could reduce the number of abandoned children.
According to research conducted by the committee, there are between three to four abandoned children a month, about 48 per year.
The committee found that the number was increasing as more nationalities entered the country: more single workers meant more illegitimate children.
Members feared that the law, which provides greater rights for orphans, would encourage more families to abandon their children, particularly those who were illegitimate.
They suggested that DNA tests should be introduced to find the biological parents of the children.
"We need to find a solution to this problem first of all," said Mohamed Al Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi). "It is possible with ID cards to find the family."
In other parts of the 24-article law, the council agreed with the ministry's provision that abandoned children would be given a name followed by three surnames, but none that would relate to a known family name in the UAE.
Members said the names should be Emirati, not just Arabic, to increase patriotism in children. But the minister said the names would be like other common names in society.
The minister and the council disagreed on whether children should be told they were adopted. The members said that if children were not told at an early age, it could shock them later in life.
The minister, however, said a child should not be told without the ministry being informed, and it should occur in the presence of ministry officials.
As part of the law, the ministry will also monitor foster families by sending social workers to their homes. However, it disapproved of the idea that some of the visits should be unannounced, because male social workers might cause complications, the minister said.
The council added an article ensuring that orphans have opportunities to acquire university degrees and jobs before they are removed from a shelter for abandoned children.
Dr Abdulrahim Al Shaheen (RAK) asked the minister how the law would be executed, as laws often take a long time to be implemented. The minister assured him that the budget had already been set.