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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

It is too late for little Obaida – but we all have a part to play in preventing child abuse

Every member of society is duty bound to report suspicions of abuse – even if that means being a nosy neighbour

Obaida, 8, was kidnapped in May of last year while playing outside his father’s garage in Sharjah’s industrial area. His body was found two days later.
Obaida, 8, was kidnapped in May of last year while playing outside his father’s garage in Sharjah’s industrial area. His body was found two days later.

Little Obaida Al Aqrabawi was “the son of every man and woman”, his mother Zaineb Sharif said. Her husband said he could never forgive the man who raped and murdered his eight-year-old son in a crime which sent shockwaves across the country. The scale of their devastation over the heinous actions of Nedal Issa Abdullah was matched only by the wave of nationwide revulsion which culminated in the murderer’s execution last Thursday.

Obaida’s parents will never again get to cuddle their beloved son. They will never wave him off to school, see him graduate, watch him getting married or cradle their grandchildren by him. All that was taken away from them in the few seconds they took their eyes off him.

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Read more on Obaida case:

Obaida’s case: a timeline

‘Now justice has been served’, say family of murdered Obaida

Lawyer speaks of his duty to defend Obaida killer

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But Child Protection Association member Moza Al Shoomi says we all have a duty to be nosy neighbours to protect our children from coming to the same harm. At last week’s Arab regional conference on the prevention of child abuse and neglect, she encouraged everyone to be a busybody and, against all cultural taboos, to interfere – despite sensitivities dictating otherwise. The conference heard how a culture of silence in the Arab world is now being broken, thanks to child protection laws invoked by the UAE’s leadership. Known colloquially as Wadeema’s Law after the eight-year-old girl who died after being kept locked in a bathroom in inhumane circumstances by her father and his girlfriend, it followed the orders of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, who said at the time: "Wadeema may have lost her life but her story and her memory are still alive among us through this law." Since it was passed by federal government in June 2016, the law is already changing the way public institutions look at child protection. Doctors, social workers and teachers are all duty bound to report any signs of abuse but it should not fall to them alone. Every member of society has an obligation to report and act on suspicions of physical or emotional abuse.

It is too late to help Obaida, Wadeema and four-year-old Moosa Mukhtiar Ahmed, raped and murdered in a mosque just yards from his home. It is too late for four-year-old Mariam, tortured to death by her mother in the name of "trying to teach her manners". These are extreme, rare cases in a nation which holds family values dear – but just one of these horrific tales is a case too many. We all have a part to play in preventing them happening.

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