x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Parents right to call for more security

Parents are calling for better child protection measures in private schools. It is not difficult to see why additional action will be needed to put their minds at ease.

Be it a teenager bullied by his schoolmates or a four-year-old girl molested on a school bus, bullying and abuse are a parent's worst nightmare. Sadly, these incidents are all too real for some families in the news recently.

As The National reported yesterday, parents are calling for better child protection measures in private schools. They say that the absence of specific guidelines and uneven enforcement of rules already on the books put their children's safety at risk.

Last year, Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) inspectors at private schools reported that many were lagging behind when it came to health and safety. The lack of guidelines, or indeed any clear strategy, left many parents in a panic about their children's well-being.

"There should be a policy that defines and looks at every type of abuse, and states what is acceptable and what is not," said Fatma Abdulla, a mother of two whose children study at a private school in Dubai. "The Government has to enforce a uniform protection mechanism."

While Adec's recently announced safety regulations are welcome, it is not difficult to see why additional action will be needed to put parents' minds at ease. For a start, many parents would have assumed that there was a strong policy already in place vetting schools, teachers and policies, but in many cases these safeguards have been laxly implemented.

Furthermore, introducing stricter laws does not necessarily mean that they will be enforced properly. Schools across the country are being hit with budget constraints, creating incentives to hire less qualified staff and cut corners on vetting procedures.

Codifying the new legislation is an essential first step towards better security at schools, but the rules themselves need to be specific and adequately enforced. Regular meetings between parents and teachers are vital - parents need to be aware of conditions at schools, teachers should consider parents' concerns, and rules tailored to match.

Parents are already being listened to in many cases. Gems, the UAE's largest school operator, is in the process of hiring 700 women to monitor school buses for safety.

But this is not enough. Every school and every playground should be a safe haven for children, not a place of fear. Rules are part of the answer, but a parent or school official has to be there to make sure they are followed.