x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Child safety in UAE needs long term process

The authorities in the UAE need to step up efforts to spread awareness of the dangers of leaving children unattended inside cars, or in places where their lives are endangered.

During the heat of the summer, children left alone in a car can die within a few minutes. Although the warning has been made repeatedly in this country, we still see cases of children dying of suffocation inside cars.

As The National reported, a three-year-old boy died in Ras Al Khaimah on Friday after he was left inside his parents' car. The circumstances of his death have not been announced but authorities said the cause of death was lack of oxygen.

The case is part of a wider phenomenon in the UAE, which persists despite repeated calls from authorities and doctors to parents to ensure that children are not left inside cars, especially during the summer. Dozens of similar cases have occurred in recent years: a parent parks and goes off on a quick errand, a mother with diabetes faints in the mall leaving the child in the car, are only two of the examples reported in recent years.

As these incidents continue to occur, authorities must step up efforts to spread awareness of the dangers of leaving children unattended inside cars, or in places where their lives are endangered. The country's interior ministry has a centre for the protection of children. The problem is that warnings are often limited to when an incident takes place, rather than being part of a continuous education campaign.

Another key issue that needs focus is family negligence. In the region's conservative societies, a child's safety is perceived as the business of his or her family; if that family fails to protect the child, authorities are not expected to intervene. But in the UAE, punitive measures against negligent families are slowly being integrated into the legal system - a welcome development that needs to be entrenched.

Court cases in which parents are accused of negligence have become common, though the final verdict can still be influenced by traditional thinking. One of the factors that led negligence to trickle into the courts system is public statements such as those by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who spoke out against a father and a stepmother who tortured their daughter in 2009.

In addition, the UAE Government has drafted a child-protection law that would allow authorities to intervene in cases of child abuse. Such steps redefine the family's duties towards children, a worthy task that will hopefully foster a sense of responsibility among families.