x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A detailed strategy to fight child abuse

Putting in place a sophisticated policy to keep children safe from abuse is much harder than just expressing good intentions. Now Dubai has developed a solid way forward.

To decry child abuse is easy. It is, after all, self-evident that society has an interest in protecting the defenceless young from violence, including sexual abuse and psychological cruelty.

To design and apply a policy to turn this ideal into reality is, however, a complicated challenge. Where should we draw the line between protection and meddling? How much discipline is normal? When should neighbours speak up? In short, what is the best way to help children without unwarranted intrusion that makes matters worse?

Complexities such as these may help explain why a federal law on child welfare, drafted in 2008, has still not been enacted.

Now, Dubai is preparing a policy of its own, aimed at navigating the complexities of the subject and building capacity to analyse cases and act appropriately.

As The National reported yesterday, a policy drafted by Dubai's Community Development Authority was presented to the emirate's Executive Council last month, and approved. The next steps will be for a draft law to be written, discussed, altered if necessary and approved.

There can, as the federal example demonstrates, always be delays and roadblocks along the way in such a complicated project. In a society that has long given great importance to the status of the family, any formula allowing intrusions, however well justified, may be resented.

However, officials in charge of Dubai's proposal have shown that these types of questions, and possible solutions, are being considered.

Planners at the Community Development Authority spoke of building capacity to protect children in the context of the diverse cultures that call Dubai home; of coordinating social work with education and health institutions - and sometimes the police; of the valuable contribution that non-government organisations will be encouraged to keep making; of the staff training that will be needed, and more.

A solid foundation of thoughtful planning is vital to the success of any policy in social services, and by the evidence so far, Dubai's new plan to prevent and reduce child abuse is off to a promising start.

It is easy to wring our hands about child abuse. Taking action is hard. Enactment into law, followed by building capacity to measure and cope with the extent of this often-hidden problem, are the next steps.