In 2009, an initiative was set up to pair 50 orphans with older Emirati mentors who would organise activities or simply spend time with them. Al Khawi, or the brotherhood, programme was launched by the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care, Special Needs and Minors Affairs and Takatof, the UAE's social volunteering programme, to help to ensure that some of society's most vulnerable members were integrated into everyday life through visits to libraries, gyms and malls.
Similar initiatives have acknowledged a basic fact about today's UAE: in a diverse and cosmopolitan society, social support structures have to adapt to changing realities. Traditionally, tribal and informal networks provided for orphaned or abandoned children - indeed, that is still the case in many instances - but a government-sponsored safety net is required as well.
As The National reports today, Dubai's Awqaf and Minor Affairs Foundation is raising money for a planned "Family Village" project that will provide a new centre for orphans and abandoned children. There is a recognition that children in such circumstances need more than just bed and board. Orphans and abandoned children already are entitled to Emirati citizenship - this new project, it is hoped, will attend to the diverse emotional and psychological needs of these young people by providing a staff of dedicated carers.
The new village is supposed to cater to children known as laqeet, whose parentage is unknown. In particular, the UAE has seen an increase in abandoned children, often left at a very young age by unmarried mothers who fear prosecution for sex outside of marriage. This is a challenge in a diverse society that cannot be solved entirely by traditional family networks.
Of course, many orphaned and abandoned children are fostered by families in the UAE. At the end of last year, the Federal National Council helped to overturn a proposed plan that would have barred couples over the age of 50 from adopting children in need. This increases the likelihood of many orphans finding loving homes - but, of course, others will not be so lucky.
There is no single solution to such a complex problem, just as no child is the same as another. This Family Village, however, should provide another caring environment for many of the most disadvantaged children.