x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A careful strategy on child safety

It is vital that vigilance and increased safety measures are carried out judiciously and are not just a knee-jerk response to an unspecified threat.

In November 2010, three men were arrested in Dubai for allegedly molesting a 4-year-old girl on a school bus. The incident caused an uproar, with many parents calling for extra security on school buses and in playgrounds, as well as stricter punishments for the offenders.

The concern was natural. The safety of children is the paramount concern not just for parents, but for every responsible member of society.

But eventually the three men were cleared of any wrongdoing. As we outlined at the time, they had gone through an unnecessary ordeal in the court of public opinion.

This does not in any way detract from concerns for child safety; it is clear that this concern is as great now as it has ever been. As The National reported yesterday, schools and parents in Dubai are again urging greater vigilance after what appeared to be an attempted abduction of a child near the Union Co-operative Society on Al Wasl Road on Sunday.

"While Dubai is generally recognised as a relatively safe environment, it is clear that high levels of vigilance are required from us all," said Ruth Burke, head teacher at the Jumeirah English Speaking School, in a circular sent to parents and other schools.

Ms Burke was right on both counts: generally, we are lucky to live in a safe society; and we still must be responsible for the safety of children and ourselves.

This recent case has to be fully investigated. Indeed, many of the details are still sketchy at this point. But it is also vital that vigilance and increased safety measures are carried out judiciously and are not just a knee-jerk response to an unspecified threat.

Incidents of this type gain notoriety in part because of their rarity. But as the country continues to grow, it is an unavoidable fact that the UAE will have to deal with the same problems of urban density, population growth and attendant levels of crime that exist elsewhere.

That means that society will change, and not always for the better. Families that used to leave their doors unlocked may have to rethink home security; children who were allowed to play outside unsupervised might need to be kept within an adult's line of sight.

Let us take the measures needed to keep society as safe as possible, while avoiding a sense of fear that could undermine those same efforts.