x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Adults’ supervision key to child safety

Lessons can be learned from New York's method of avoiding children falling from high rise apartments

When the Federal National Council reconvenes in just over a month, Wadeema Law is expected to be one of the first items to be considered.

While the law was primarily inspired by the tragic case of Wadeema, an eight-year-old Emirati girl whose torture and death at the hands of her father and his girlfriend shocked the nation, the FNC’s draft goes much further and includes measures to protect children from all forms of danger.

That includes making high-rise apartments safe. For Wadeema’s death last year dominated the headlines, there has been a series of tragedies of children falling to their deaths from apartments.

Attempts to avert similar high-rise deaths have been underway for some time. By the start of this year, more than 90 per cent of high rises in Abu Dhabi complied with safety rules preventing windows opening more than 10cm and ensuring doors opening onto balconies can be locked. A similar law has been enacted in Sharjah.

But avoidable tragedies still occur. A four-year-old girl in Sharjah died this week in a fall from an eighth-floor window while her mother was cooking dinner. A two-year-old girl met a similar fate last month after falling from the 14th floor, also in Sharjah.

In the most recent case, the window had been shut and the mother has no idea how her daughter managed to open it. This situation demonstrates that enforcement can only provide part of the answer.

Other nations with large numbers of families living in high rise towers have grappled with this issue and can provide strategies for the UAE.

One of these is New York City, which back in the mid-1970s enforced similar safety rules on windows and balconies but found the deaths continued to occur. It was not until New York implemented an awareness programme, which emphasised the importance of adult supervision at all times, that the rate of tragedies dropped significantly.

That is a message experts like Dr Yasser Nakhlawi, head of paediatrics at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, has been advocating. Initiatives like bars on windows will only work when combined with supervision.

“Kids can find a way around it, so adult supervision is the golden standard,” he said recently. “Nothing would replace that or make it safer in any way without proper adult supervision.”