DUBAI // Doctors say they are concerned over the lack of a formal system for reporting cases they see of children with signs of abuse or neglect.
A draft federal law for such a system is in the pipeline, but still has several steps to go through before eventually becoming law.
"The cases we get usually in Sheikh Khalifa [are] very bad, with brain haemorrhage, shaken babies and so on," Dr Yasser Nakhlawi, chair of the paediatrics department at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, told a conference yesterday.
"We report to the police and that's basically the end of it. We don't hear back."
"We see cases of child abuse, as with everywhere else, but our hands are tied," he said.
"There is no formal process to report or put any punitive action to abusers."
During his speech on identifying abusive injuries to the 2nd Annual GCC Paediatric Summit in Dubai, Dr Nakhlawi showed photographs of children whipped with cords or submerged in boiling water.
"What should we do about it?" asked Dr VP Karthikeyan, a Dubai paediatrician.
"Are there any child-protection agencies … in the UAE? Who should we refer to? Who should be involved?"
The draft law outlines protective measures and penalties to address child abuse and neglect, but it must complete a process that includes discussion by the FNC and approval by the Cabinet.
A current draft was not available, but an earlier version made reporting cases of child abuse and neglect mandatory for doctors, nurses, social workers and "others who are entrusted with child care".
Without that legal framework, doctors rely on a handful of hotlines in different emirates.
"I haven't come across any [cases], but I've talked to colleagues that have," said Dr Najat Salim, a Dubai paediatrician.
"There hasn't been a good pathway to deal with it."
Dr Dushan Motwani, a prosthodontist in Dubai, recently tried to report a case of suspected child neglect, calling a Dubai Police hotline.
"They said it is a family matter so it's better for Dubai Family Court," Dr Motwani said.
He tried a helpline in Sharjah and was referred to a Dubai women's group, which he visited.
"They were very encouraging but more needs to be done so that they can move ahead," Dr Motwani said.
Doctors should stay vigilant and pay special attention to the very young, children with disabilities and "families who are dysfunctional", Dr Nakhlawi said.
"In your clinic you'll see certain indicators," he said. "If you see parents who are not concerned about the magnitude of the child's injury or pain, inability or unwillingness to comfort the child, or delay in seeking medical care …"
Dr Nakhlawi explained how doctors could try to distinguish abusive injuries from accidental ones.
Red flags should be raised for bruises on an infant, patterned bruises and bruises on padded areas of the body, as opposed to bony areas such as shins and chins, he said.
But he warned that some medical conditions mimic abusive injuries.
On the sidelines of the conference, Dr Nakhlawi said stakeholders "need to keep pushing for the law".
"We have a ways to go," he said. "We just have to start somewhere."
The Dubai Community Development Authority plans to launch a hotline for child abuse soon. Until then, doctors in Dubai can report cases to a police hotline on 04 266 1228.
They can also call the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children helpline on 800 111.
In Abu Dhabi, doctors can report child abuse cases to the police by calling 999 or Social Support at 02 556 3111.
In Sharjah, doctors can report cases to a hotline at the Social Services Department on 800 700.