In a safe and stable society such as the UAE, it comes as a shock to read about crimes against children. Yesterday, The National reported a court case in which it has been alleged that a four-year-old child was molested by a man while she was playing in a park on the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
While the presumption of innocence must be respected until the court delivers its verdict, the reported circumstances illustrate the potential dangers a child can face.
The Criminal Court heard that the girl's parents remained at a cafe while she went to play on a slide at a nearby park, which was mostly within their line of sight. The child disappeared from view for just a brief time before her parents heard a scream, and they and their friends ran to find her. "We thought she may have had a fight with another girl she was playing with earlier," one of the parents' friends said. "So we waited in front of the slide for her but instead the defendant came out."
After the girl's mother had spoken to the child and examined her, an accusation of sexual assault was made against the man. He has denied the charge and a verdict is not due until next week.
However, the story - and others like it that have appeared in the media from time to time - should serve as a warning to all parents. The sad truth is that, while the UAE is generally safer than many other countries, attacks on children can and do occur. For that reason, parents must be alert to the potential dangers and take precautions to protect their children.
The first step is in knowing where your children are, and who they are with, at all times. The second is to make them aware of the dangers they may face. Specifically, young children must know not to wander away on their own and never to go anywhere with a stranger, even if that person offers an inducement, such as sweets.
Children must also know how to identify a "safe" person - such as a police officer or a woman with a child - and how to call for help.
We all need to be alert to the dangers around us, and we must ensure that out children are also aware of them. While there is no need for paranoia, there can be no excuse for complacency when it comes to protecting the vulnerable people in our community.