At midnight on Saturday, 3-year-old Amna found herself alone at Kuwait Hospital in Sharjah. She started to cry as she wandered through the hospital, until a woman saw her and calmed her down.
That woman, who remains anonymous, could not find the child's parents and, thankfully, took Amna to the police. A medical examination found signs of abuse and burns on the child's body. But where were her parents? And who was responsible for her tragic situation?
As The National reported yesterday, the police identified the girl after seeking the public's help and eventually arrested her father, who admitted abandoning his child. Amna's mother had left for her home country, Ethiopia, after taking advantage of the UAE's amnesty for undocumented immigrants, but the 3-year-old was unable to travel with her mother because of her own lack of documents.
It is important to emphasise that the case has not yet gone to trial, and Amna's father hasn't been convicted of anything. But the case does alert us again to a vital social issue: child abuse and abandonment. Anecdotal evidence affirms that this is not an isolated case of abandonment, although usually the children involved are newborns. Police say it is rare to see a 3-year-old abandoned. And while abandonment is clearly an example of egregious child abuse, there are many other forms of abuse, ranging from emotional to physical and sexual.
Amna's case highlights efforts that are already underway to protect children and punish wrongdoers. Late last year, the Federal Cabinet approved a child-protection law named after Wadeema, an 8-year-old girl who died after she was subjected to torture for months, along with her 7-year-old sister. That case, too, is still in trial, but the details shocked so many people that authorities acted quickly to draft new legislation.
Wadeema's Law, once it is enacted, will set a new benchmark for child-protection legislation in the region. This new case shows not just the need for the law, but for an entire structure of support for society's most vulnerable. In the process of investigating this case, we hope that several questions are addressed: what mechanisms are in place to help in cases such as Amna's, in which a child does not have proper documentation? And separate from the criminal trial, what are the best options to provide for abandoned children's welfare?
The safety of children in society is the responsibility of us all. Amna is now safe at the Sharjah Care Centre, but every child in the UAE needs our support.