ABU DHABI// Researchers are studying the UAE's patchwork of child protection procedures to identify gaps that could allow abuse or neglect to continue unchecked.
They hope the result will be a clear, robust system to deal with abused, neglected or otherwise vulnerable children.
The project was announced yesterday - on "Universal Children's Day" - by Unicef, the General Women's Union (GWU) and the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), which are jointly conducting the research.
It follows the federal Cabinet's approval last week of the UAE's first child protection law. The 72-article draft will be debated by the Federal National Council before going for final approval from the Cabinet and the President, Sheikh Khalifa.
Ahlam Al Lamki, head of research and development for the GWU, said the passing of the draft was a huge step forward.
"There are great strides in relation to ensuring children's rights," said Lara Hussein, chief of child protection for Unicef's Gulf office.
For now, there is no standard system for preventing, reporting or investigating child abuse. Instead, there is a patchwork of norms and procedures in different communities.For the analysis, researchers from the ECSSR will compile information about all the country's various child protection-related policies, programmes and services.
An orientation workshop for the project was held two weeks ago; more than 30 institutions were invited. In the coming months, the ECSSR will consult all those bodies.
The results will go into an analytical report identifying current strengths and weaknesses.
"When we have the results of this exercise, the country can strengthen the national child protection system," said Mrs Hussein.
Unicef, the GWU and The Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood are also working together on several other initiatives.
Chief among them is the National Childhood and Motherhood Strategy, a set of recommendations on health, education, child protection and children's participation in society that will shape policies over the next decade. A draft is ready and awaiting "last comments" from the institutions involved, said Ms Hussein. "Hopefully by the end of the year it will be announced," Ms Al Lamki said.
A household survey that will gather data about women and children is also being planned. A collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics, the project is based on the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Mics), which Unicef has used around the world.
"This provides international indicators which will enable the country to compare itself with other countries," Ms Al Lamki said.
Interviewers will target a random sample of thousands of Emirati and expatriate households. The survey is still in a preparatory phase, but versions in other countries have asked about living conditions, marriage, child discipline, child labour, domestic violence, infant mortality, breastfeeding and other issues.
Mics consists of three questionnaires, said Ali Halawi, a regional consultant for the survey: one for the household head; one for women in the household from 15 to 49 years old; and one for children under five, to be answered by their mother. Once the survey is done, the data will fill a new database of local statistics, Devinfo.
Developed by Unicef and already in use for other countries, Devinfo can generate graphs, maps or tables from reams of data on social issues. "It helps the decision-makers see it in terms of graphics, and on the map," said Ms Al Lamki. "You can know where you need to focus more."
A beta version of UAE Devinfo, with limited statistics, will be online before the end of the year.