DUBAI // The lack of easy availability of child safety locks and strict tenancy contracts was making it difficult to "child-proof" homes, parents said yesterday.
Families and experts called for education and awareness to reduce child deaths. Several families said they were unable to find safety locks for their windows and doors.
"I have never come across any safety locks in Dubai," said Maggie Sahni Saluja, the mother of eight-year-old triplets. "In England, there were plenty of places to buy them from. Here, child safety is a major issue and there are no child safety locks in most buildings."
Mrs Saluja, who lives on the first floor of the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), fitted an extra latch on to her balcony door to ensure her children could not open it themselves. "We need a lot of approvals if we want to fit grilles in the balcony," she said.
Mrs Saluja also removed all the furniture from the balcony as a precaution. "Children panic if left alone and they are very unpredictable," she said.
Another family also had all their furniture removed from the balcony as a safety measure, to prevent the children from climbing on to it and possibly falling over the railing.
"I have not put any furniture out," said Amal Talib, a mother of two children, 4 and 6. "They are constantly supervised even if we step out on the balcony," said the Singaporean national, who lives in JBR. "Buildings should install additional latches on the top of the door. However, the primary responsibility of protecting children lies with parents."
Jenny Haddad, the owner of Dubai Babies - a baby boutique that also sells children's safety items - said it was simple to make the inside of homes safe, but not so with windows and doors that lead to the outside. "We found it hard to find window latches and gate locks. We had to look for latches so the children couldn't open them. There should be more responsibility on building owners to make homes safe," said Mrs Haddad, adding that educating parents was equally important.
She said her company would consider retailing safety locks for doors and windows if these items were available.
The mother of two young girls, Minoti Rao, says she never lets her children out alone on the balcony of her seventh-floor apartment.
"If they go out onto the balcony, I'm with them," said Mrs Rao, who lives in a 50-storey residential building in Dubai. "I don't let them go close to the railing and they're not supposed to lean on it."
Mrs Rao said a heavy sliding door prevents her children, aged 5 and 10, from pulling open the door on their own.
"I'm cautious with my older daughter as well because although she is aware of the danger, she may slip or lose her footing if she is looking at something below. The railing is strong and it will not break, but you never know because kids can lose their balance. I prefer to be careful because anything could happen."
Sunil Daniel, a father of two children - 2 and 5 - said he was forced to move from his old building in Al Nahda to a safer apartment after he felt the window posed a serious danger. "The window could slide open to the other side easily. It was about four feet high and they could possibly fall out," he said.
He said his new apartment, also in Al Nahda, is considerably safer but he is awaiting approval from the real estate agent to install window grilles.
DuMa Safe, one of the few home "baby proofing" companies, offers professionally installed, plastic-coated mesh frames that fit over windows.
"You cannot leave a child alone, even for two seconds," said Duri Arbab, the founder of Dubai-based DuMa Safe. "You can't be casual about safety at home."
Ms Arbab said she has been involved in meetings with the Ministry of Interior, specifically focused on window safety. In addition to mesh, her company recommends using special locks, preferably with removable keys, or hiring a carpenter to bolt down the windows.
A hardware store in Dubai said it had safety locks, but only for inside the house. "We have locks for drawers, tables and cupboards," said the duty manager of a hardware store who asked not to be named, "but we do not have any safety locks for windows or doors."
* With additional reporting by Jen Thomas and Ramola Talwar Badam