x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Protecting children is the first priority

A police investigation by Dubai police last year revealed that the family of a four-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted on a school bus delayed reporting the attack for nine weeks. Had the crime been reported immediately, forensic evidence could have helped to catch the culprit.

An investigation by Dubai police last year revealed that the family of a four-year-old girl,who was sexually assaulted on a school bus, delayed reporting the attack for nine weeks. Had the crime been reported immediately, forensic evidence could have helped to catch the culprit. Hesitation gave the offender more of a chance to escape, and may have delayed crucial counselling for the young victim.

Powerful stigmas surrounding sex-related crimes continue to hamper the pursuit of justice. As reported in The National yesterday, families, victims and witnesses are being urged by Dubai police to be less reluctant to report sex-related crimes, the recording of which increased by 29 per cent last year over 2009.

There is a valid question whether the increase of cases is because more crimes are being committed, or whether policing and reporting has become more effective. It's a question that deserves more attention. Whatever the answer, the increase in cases is a call for action - these are the most vulnerable members of our society who are being victimised.

Cultural sensitivities have to be respected, but Dubai police have made clear that the first priority is preventing these types of crimes. Clearly, more should be done. The legal system needs further reform so that victims of abuse, particularly women, are not hesitant to report sex crimes for fear of themselves being charged; in the case of children, everything must be done to assure families that concern for their welfare far outweighs any social stigma that might be attached.

As the nation has been horrified by the assault and murder of a four-year-old last year, a crime for which the culprit Rashid Rabee al Rashidi was executed yesterday, now is the time to strengthen protections for children. Al Rashidi had a prior conviction for child molestation which led police to his door; perhaps a formalised database of sexual predators could serve as both an investigative tool and a deterrent.

More broadly, schools and other institutions have to be fully accountable for the welfare of children in their care. The goal of protecting children is paramount for everybody; what remains is to assure that it is done.

Every country knows the blight of child abuse and sexual assault. Last year, 504 such cases were reported in Dubai. We can all agree that even one is too many.