ABU DHABI // The Government should introduce federal laws on child safety to try to reduce the number of fatal accidents involving youngsters, Abu Dhabi Police said yesterday. The unusual public call comes days after three Emirati sisters, aged four, six and seven, were killed by what officials say was a speeding car on Airport Road in Abu Dhabi.
The police have launched an inquiry into the deaths and are questioning the driver of the car that hit the girls and two nannies who were escorting the children. Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, sent a special police delegation to visit the girls' father, Salem al Mansouri, and express his sympathy. Following the nationwide shock at the the girls' deaths, The National launched its campaign.
Police figures published yesterday showed that 1,112 youngsters died between 2001 and 2007 after being hit by vehicles on the roads - the most common cause of accidental deaths among children. More recent data were not available. Although a detailed breakdown of the figures was not provided by the police, officials said the number of children involved in accidents per year had risen by 37 per cent during the study period.
Shahid Mahmood, whose son Zayn, four, was hurt when he fell down an open manhole at Dubai Mall last month, said any legislation that promoted child safety should be embraced. "I think it is fantastic news," he said. "Health and safety issues in this country, for children and adults, are far too low down on the list of priorities. "It's fair enough to say that the responsibility for looking after children lies with the parents, but that has got to be backed up by proper health and safety measures by the Government."
The child accident study, carried out by the Police Department's Centre for Research and Security Studies, found children younger than five most likely to fall victim to accidents. The majority were of Arab origin, and 30 per cent were Emiratis. Boys were more likely to be injured than girls, according to the data. A police press release said that in light of the research, officials were recommending "a federal law to protect children".
"This is a clear indication of the negligence of parents and guardians and their lack of understanding of the unpredictable behaviour of young children on the street," Capt Bashir Saleh Balbisi, the author of the report, was quoted as saying. The report said that 7,011 youngsters were killed in accidents between 2001 and 2007; 997 died in falls, 209 drowned and 120 choked to death. The remaining 4,573 died of other causes, such as poisoning and electric shocks, the report said. It was broken into four sections: types of accidents, which children were more likely to be involved in an accident, the role of police in prevention, and what parents could do to reduce accidents.
No further details about the recommendations were provided. Shabin Sreedharan, 38, whose three-year-old son, Aatish, died of suffocation in April after being locked in a school bus, said more should be done to tackle dangerous driving. "I think a law like this is obviously a good idea," he said. "It is a good sign that the police are calling for a law like this. It means that they are taking the issue of child safety seriously. I hope that the Government listen and it does become a law."
Camilla Hayward of the Abu Dhabi Mums group said she also applauded a new law, provided it had a real impact. "I'm sorry to say, it doesn't surprise me to hear of the number of children hurt in accidents in the UAE," Ms Hayward said. "I think any new law like this would be a good move, but only if it is followed up on properly. There have been some very good campaigns on road safety in recent years; efforts to get people to wear seat belts, but you still see parents allowing their children to ride in the car without them.
"This kind of law is a good start but unless they are enforced by the police, then they are not worth the paper they are written on." Abdul Rahman al Marzouqi, 26, whose eight-month-old niece, Shahid Abdul Aziz, was killed in January when the family's SUV flipped over on Sheikh Zayed Road, said more than just speed cameras were needed to tackle the problem of drivers going too fast. "There are a lot of people who are reckless drivers, and you see it more at night-time," Mr al Marzouqi said.
"Just last night, I was on my motorbike and a car crossed a red light so normally, as if it were green. If there was a car next to me, it would've been gone. "What more can the police do? You see all those radars on the roads? Young people know exactly where they are. Some even take out their licence plates so they do not show or put the location of radars on their GPS systems." He suggested that drivers craving speed should be giving a track or other regulated space to race.
"Maybe an awareness campaign will work, but I think the only way you can take these young people off the roads is to provide them with autodromes to take out their energy," he said. "Impounding a car will not change anything. They will think, if you take this car, I have another one at home. I think the best way is to provide a location for these young men to drive and race in a regulated environment like the autodromes."
Mohamed el Sadig, a researcher for the department of community medicine at UAE University in Al Ain, said schools, parents and city planners all bore portions of the blame for the number of children who had died after being struck by vehicles. "The majority of these accidents happen near schools or near residential areas where students are picked up and dropped off," he said. "Many are happening in front of schools themselves, in the parking area around the schools or traffic areas nearby."
In March, Shahda Abdul Rauf, five, was killed by a car after stepping from her school bus in Sharjah. Aiman Zeeshanuddin, four, died after being left alone in an unattended school bus in May. Mr el Sadig and Michael Grivna conducted research into child injuries and possible prevention in the UAE. Mr el Sadig said homes needed to be made safer for children, whose parents could not keep them in sight at all times.
"We tend to just take it for granted we have a safe environment where people live," he said. "I don't think this is correct by any means. There are many risks that we don't think of." For instance, he said, child safety locks on windows would help prevent children from opening them on their own and falling out. Other improvements could be made to ensure children did not fall over the side of a staircase, suffer injuries at playgrounds, drown in a swimming pool or suffer scalding in kitchens, he said.
He said more study of "the complex environment" of homes was needed so residents could better understand the risks. A federal law was "quite needed", Mr Grivna said. "I am quite impressed if they are trying to really address all these issues in some federal legislation," he said. On Monday, following the deaths of the three young Emirati sisters, The National launched a campaign to highlight poor driving standards and the dangers facing pedestrians.