‘We feel we are moving to the next phase of child protection.” This is how one Dubai-based child welfare advocate described the drafting of the UAE’s first federal child protection law, announced this week.
The legislation comes in the wake of several shocking cases, most recently the torture and murder of an eight-year old girl, whose body was found dumped in the desert. The girl’s father and his girlfriend have been arrested.
The legislation under discussion would address child protection from two angles: the first piece would create a framework for a child protection system in social service provision. This would, for example, provide for a legal method of intervention in cases of abuse where the perpetrator was a family member. The second piece of legislation would cover penalties for mistreatment of children, along with laws to cover child pornography.
This is welcome news. The UAE has thus far lacked federal legislation to deal with child abuse and neglect. With these legislative moves the UAE is showing that it is committed to improving the lot of children.
Perhaps, though, the Government could go further. While the law can protect children from the very worst abuses they can face, the Government could also do more to promote the very best behaviours.
The UAE has already ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which discusses the rights of children to education, to health services and to an adequate standard of living. But there are other aspects to child well-being that government efforts could promote.
For example, child health: obesity among children is a significant problem in the UAE and the Government could do more to promote healthy living. A recent survey of Abu Dhabi residents by the Urban Planning Council found that many neighbourhoods suffer a dearth of sports facilities and parks. It stands to reason that if residents had more access to these facilities, parents –and their children – would be fitter.
Legally protecting children from violence and abuse is a first step to improving their lives. Now the focus must turn to their long-term well-being.