x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Law on child abuse is a legal landmark

Some good will come from the tragic death by torture of a young girl – a law that makes protecting children the responsibility of us all.

When an 8-year-old girl named Wadeema was tortured to death in Dubai, the story, last June, shocked the whole country. Wadeema's body was found wrapped in cloth and buried in a sandy area of Sharjah. Her father and his girlfriend, on trial for her murder, are also suspected of torturing her sister Mira, 7.

The tragedy showed that the UAE needed a strict, coherent law giving short- and long-term protection to children, and it also speeded up the approval of such a law, announced this week. The Federal Cabinet has approved legislation combining elements of Sharia with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, The Nationalreported yesterday. We can all hope that the law will help in preventing abuse and neglect of the country's children.

"Wadeema's law" spells out the legal rights of minors, sets up mechanisms by which they will be implemented and establishes punishments for people who violate those rights.

The key modification is that doctors, teachers and anyone else dealing with children must now report any suspected cases of child abuse. The law also says child protection specialists can then be called in to take part in resolving such cases.

With this law, the UAE is taking a huge step forward by establishing the principle that the protection of children from abuse is a responsibility not only for parents but also for the government, and all of society, as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said on Tuesday.

The law will be discussed soon by the Federal National Council, before being presented to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, for final approval. Some fine tuning remains to be done, notably in clarifying some parts of what legally defines abuse.

As with every new law, there will be some challenges in implementing it. Cultural norms about family privacy and the importance of reputation may be challenged by some aspects of Wadeema's law, and applying the legislation will demand both balance and sensitivity, experts suggest. This will take careful management.

But the principle that children deserve legal protection, now firmly established in law, will serve the country well.