x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Make it easier to report child abuse

The UAE has come a long way in policing abuse of children. But the issue persists for a variety of reasons, and it is time to address them.

The UAE has come a long way in terms of combating child abuse over the past few years. Authorities have made efforts to study the issue and come up with solutions, establishing government-affiliated treatment centres and drafting new laws. But the issue persists for a variety of reasons.

As The National reported yesterday, one recent study suggests that even nursery workers - people whose very job title is to protect children - face barriers and are afraid to report potential cases of abuse. The study found that less than half of nursery workers know who to contact in such cases and more than 80 per cent said they worried about the potential consequences if they did report them.

Authorities have long recognised the reluctance of family members, relatives and friends to report cases of child abuse. And authorities have established centres that seek to resolve such abuses through advice and threats of persecution. But the reluctance of professionals to act on suspicions of child abuse is particularly worrying and calls for immediate action.

Federal efforts are underway to close legal and social loopholes in child abuse reporting and investigation. The Federal National Council is set to debate a federal draft law aimed at protecting children from abuse and neglect, which has already been approved by the Federal Cabinet. The law, known as Wadeema's Law, is named after an eight-year-old girl who was allegedly starved and tortured to death by her father and his girlfriend. Such a law is overdue and needed to unify the laws at a federal level and subsequently ease the confusion over child abuse cases.

Enactment of this law, however, will take time, and children at risk can not wait for the bureaucrats to do their work. Lines of communication with concerned authorities must be simplified and straightforward. Police who investigate allegations, meanwhile, should exercise discretion to ensure workers do not have to worry about parents coming after them - a genuine concern among workers in educational institutions.

Some aspects of the issue are admittedly deep-rooted in society and will require a long-term process of education, legal reform and enforcement. Whether parents have the right to discipline their children and how are still unsettled questions in many people's minds. What is not in dispute, however, is that children can not protect themselves.