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Parents need help with balcony safety

The horror of a child's fall from a balcony - a tragedy too often repeated - focuses everyone's attention on the need for safety measures.

Everyone understands the abstract idea: children don't know enough about the world to understand when they are in danger, so society has an obligation to keep them safe. The reality, however, underlines the grim truth about what happens when everyone is supposed to share a responsibility.

In the last three months, three children under six have fallen to their deaths from high rises in the UAE. The horror of that fact, along with previous cases, have naturally focused public and official interest on the problem and on possible solutions. Falls of this type are not the leading cause of child mortality, but their preventability makes each incident especially tragic in hindsight.

As The National reported yesterday, some experts are calling on parents to install safety netting on balconies, and window guards. But Dubai municipal officials are not enthusiastic about do-it-yourself modifications; such changes should be done to a whole building by the landlord, they say. And it is not difficult to imagine what many property owners would think of such added expenses.

This is certainly not a subject for squabbling over costs or jurisdiction. Parents have the primary responsibility for child safety, of course, but others should find ways to cooperate.

In practice parents ought to be highly conscious when seeking housing, of features and devices, which minimise the risks to children. Is a balcony really essential? If so, can parents and caregivers get a childproof lock installed on the balcony sliding door? Are the balcony rails close enough together? (One US study found that two-thirds of balcony falls involved children squeezing between the rails.) Can parents find a flat with windows which open only a few inches? Can they negotiate to have mesh installed around the balcony before we move in? Can they arrange to never leave the children unattended?

But parents need help. New construction can be subject to any controls municipal authorities deem necessary. But the problem is with the existing housing stock, which varies enormously in safety levels. Municipal officials and landlords alike need to be flexible in finding ways to help parents protect their precious children.

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