ABU DHABI // The parents of a three-year-old girl who died after falling from a fifth-floor balcony will face charges of child endangerment.
Yesterday evening, dozens of family members, neighbours and mourners gathered at the home of the Egyptian child, named Maryam. The toddler died after she climbed over the balcony railing at about 6pm on Tuesday.
"We are all very sad, but we are trying to be strong," said a family member at the flat yesterday. "We are still mourning."
The child had been rescued by police only weeks earlier in December when she was seen dangling from a kitchen window in the same Airport Road flat. Police were forced to break down the front door to get to the child. She had been left alone by her parents who were both at work.
On the day of Maryam's death, the parents were again not at home but an aunt was reportedly sleeping when the little girl fell.
"The police cannot assign a policeman to every window in people's homes to ensure children's safety," said Brig Gen Maktoum Al Sharifi, the director of Abu Dhabi Police.
Brig Gen Al Sharifi added: "It is the responsibility of the family."
The parents could face between one month and three years in jail.
Though the railings of the balcony are approximately 1.5 metres high, police said the girl was able to climb on objects located near the balcony. It was not clear if the sliding doors to the balcony were left open.
Neighbours and community members said the family moved into the building about four years ago and the girl and her father were often seen going for walks in the area.
"She was a very nice little baby, very pretty," said Hamid Moidu, the building's watchman.
Mr Moidu said the family did not have any other children.
On the day of the accident, Mr Moidu said he ran up to the flat after he and another watchman recognised the girl who had fallen. The aunt was "crying and screaming", he said.
Daod, a salesman at the JVC Electronics shop on the ground floor of the apartment building, said a crowd formed outside the store right after the fall.
"There was a lot going on," he said. "I was just standing here with customers, then there were people and a lot of noise and police. It was very sad."
Sara Homaidi, a Sudanese housewife who lives in the flat next door to the family, said she had feared a similar incident could happen in her home. Six years ago, she installed a lock on the door to the balcony and asked a carpenter to modify the windows to allow only three-centimetre openings.
"My children are very curious, and they were trying to push tables to the balcony to look over," Mrs Homaidi said.
"If I left them at home with the maid even just to go to the store, I would still not be very comfortable. Every time I go, I am afraid."
General legal principles stipulate that parents are responsible for their children's welfare and safety, and they are expected to make all efforts necessary to protect children, police said in a statement.
Parents can be prosecuted when evidence proves they neglected their children or left them unattended. Endangering the life of a child under 15 can come with a penalty of one month to two years imprisonment. The penalty increases to three years if the child is left unattended.
This year, the Government will begin enforcing new building codes that will require windows open no more than 10 centimetres, in accordance with international standards, after a spate of accidents where children fell from windows.
Officials and child safety experts recommend that parents install locks on doors and windows, as Mrs Homaidi did.
Property owners will also be required to install government-approved window locks, according to a special clause expected to be written into lease contracts. Regular inspections by Civil Defence would ensure compliance.
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