DUBAI // A mother returned to her home one afternoon in February, as she did on most working days. She walked into the garden and saw her children with a private tutor who had been hired several months earlier. Then she realised something was wrong.
Her 12-year-old daughter appeared to be struggling as the tutor, a 45-year-old Egyptian man, assaulted her. Meanwhile, her brother sat across the garden with a book, unaware of what was going on. The tutor has been charged with sexually molesting a minor, an accusation he has denied. His case is one of several to come before Dubai courts in recent months involving sexual assaults on minors, prompting child welfare experts to call for more parental vigilance.
While the UAE is recognised as providing a safe environment in which to raise a family, Dr Azhar Abuali, a clinical psychologist and the director of care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWC), said child abuse is a global problem. "There are universal patterns for the way it plays out," she said. "What we need to do here is shatter the barrier of silence and the wall of shame."
The foundation had previously said child-abuse cases accounted for 25 per cent of its work last year. A large proportion of the child abuse cases Dr Abuali has seen were carried out by individuals who are known to the victims. She said it is paramount for parents to screen personal and professional references for those who come into contact with their children. Perpetrators commonly try to win the trust of the victim and exploit the relationship, Dr Abuali said. Younger children are often more vulnerable to abuse because they are less likely to tell their parents.
"They don't always have the ability to express themselves if something happens and can be very scared," she said. "They need to know they are not going to be blamed. We need to instill in children to be assertive and tell them it's OK to be challenging in certain circumstances." Afaf al Marri, the director of the Sharjah Department of Social Services, believes people are taking the issue more seriously. She urged parents to maintain a dialogue with their children and stress the importance of being able to "say no" and how to set boundaries with people.
While the recent court cases have focused attention on the crime, so too have initiatives aimed at raising awareness about child abuse, such as a campaign launched in April by the DFWC. The Ministry of Interior announced last month it was considering establishing a special unit to deal with child sex abuse. * Child abuse helplines: 800 700 (Sharjah), 800 111 (Dubai) @Email:email@example.com