ABU DHABI // More clauses have been added to the country's first child protection law, guaranteeing a series of unprecedented rights for youngsters.
During the Federal National Council's debate on Wadeema's Law - now officially called the Child Rights law - members pinpointed the need to add a definition of violence to explicitly protect children from any physical, emotional or psychological harm.
The Child Rights Law was originally named after a young Emirati girl starved and tortured to death in Dubai by her father and his girlfriend.
The 77-article legislation came from the Cabinet without a definition of violence or neglect.
"The law should differentiate what goes under abuse and clarify that violence is a part of it," said Dr Mona Al Bahar (Dubai).
The council added a paragraph defining child neglect as the failure to take precautions to preserve a child's life, religious upbringing, or well-being.
But debate arose over the religious references added after protests by the Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi.
She said such a reference could backfire, although members insisted on its inclusion.
"We do not want to include religion, we are not talking about Muslims, but a lot of religions in this country," Ms Al Roumi said.
"Even mentioning this may open the room for abuse. This is a dangerous weapon that can be used against the UAE and not with it."
Rashed Al Sheraiqi (Ras Al Khaimah) agreed but rhetorically asked Ms Al Roumi: "Was Islam not the country's official religion?"
Ms Al Roumi said that because breaking the law would result in punishment, other religions could suffer if only one religion was specifically mentioned and was not followed by all members of society.
"Islam is the religion of the country, yes, but this is a law for all children," she said.
Even with the mention of religion, Ahmed Al Amash (RAK) said the law neglected details of Islamic upbringing and nationalism and did not give parents the right to discipline their children.
"First of all, raising them on Islamic teachings," he said. "The Quran has specified their way of upbringing. Like eating with their right hand, encouraging them to pray by the age of seven ... teaching them to ride horses and swim [according to the Prophet's teachings]."
Mr Al Amash said that under the law, children would be stripped of their nationalism and turned into international youngsters.
"The law must specify clearly the rights of an Emirati child," he said.
But Ms Al Roumi said this was not the purpose of the law.
"Every child coming off a plane has rights in the UAE," she said.
She said the law was to cover children of all nationalities and could not solely be based on an Emirati or a Muslim child.
After a lengthy debate, the FNC agreed to remove the religious references from the law.
Other rights guaranteed for children included the right to freedom and a safe life, with proper upbringing according to their religion and nationality.
They will also have a right to receive medical attention and care, and the right to be educated.
They must be involved in all life aspects according to their age and level of maturity, and must have respectable manners towards their parents and society.
After a five-hour debate, members stopped at article 14.
The council is due to reconvene at a later date to finish debating the remaining clauses before passing the law.
They will discuss one of the law's strongest reforms, which will be to allow child-protection specialists to remove children from their homes if the youngsters are believed to be in imminent danger.
Under proposed articles, the specialist can intervene in all cases which clearly show that the health of a child, or his or her physical or psychological safety, is threatened or in danger.
Child specialists can also intervene in cases of assault, abuse, exploitation, neglect or following the loss of a guardian.
Other examples include if a child is encouraged to follow extremist groups that spread radical views and racism, or the inability of their parents to care for them.
The law also covers criminal offences, traffic safety regulations, protection over passive smoking and covers all areas of education, transport, health, food safety, and protection from cyber crimes.