x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Protection of children is everyone's responsibility

Every individual in society must share the responsibility to protect children from abuse and neglect.

No one can justify the mistreatment of children. iStockphoto.com
No one can justify the mistreatment of children. iStockphoto.com

As the eldest child in my family, my instincts to protect my loved ones seems to grow bigger by the day as I grow older. This obligation to protect my family has also grown even more since I had my own child five months ago.

When I read stories such as the one about a 3-year-old girl, Amna, who was found wandering in a Sharjah hospital after having been abandoned by her family, I feel like there are shock waves hitting my body. There were signs that Amna had been abused and, according to news reports, the girl's father has admitted to abandoning his child after her mother decided to flee the country.

This is far from an isolated case of abuse. I recall reading a story more than a year ago about a man who molested his own niece - who was below the age of 10 - and infected her with some kind of sexually transmitted disease. Can you imagine the effect that these kinds of abuses have on young people? One day, these children will grow up and want to have families of their own and, yet, in the backs of their minds, they will always remember their own upbringing and having being abused.

What would drive a parent to abuse his or her own child? Do these people have no feelings, no consideration? Why would a parent attack a young and innocent child, knowing that it might lead to emotional and physical problems that last a lifetime?

There is no defence that any adult can use to justify the mistreatment of children. We have all heard about studies showing how adults who were abused as children are more likely to abuse their own children.

This cycle of violence, although tragic, is no excuse.Why have children at all? Is it because former victims have psychological issues and must vent their own suffering on others? If that's the case, there are clearly therapy options that have to be explored before having a family.

The first question any person should ask before planning a family is: can I have and raise a child? Will I be able to protect and provide for them?

The UAE's pending Wadeema Law was created after another horrible case, in which two sisters were tortured and one of them killed. That law has been a first step towards a nationwide policy that protects children from abuse and abandonment.

But of course, the law will only be brought to bear on those cases that reach the light of day. I don't even want to imagine the number of cases that are not reported - out of fear, or maybe because people do not know about the law, or simply don't trust that the authorities are taking child abuse seriously.

Many people never speak up or act on behalf of abused children because it is "none of their business". Children are everyone's business - if their families fail them, they don't have anyone else to turn to. If we allow children to grow up thinking that abuse is normal, it harms every aspect of "normal" life in society and is perpetuated across generations.

Another aspect of social support for children who have been abused must be therapy. Victims need to know that recovery and a better future is an option, which can only be achieved by psychological and medical assistance over a long period of time.

I urge you, parent and everyone else, to act on behalf of children in trouble, and for each of us to be their protector. It is the least we can do.

 

Aida Al Busaidy is a social-affairs columnist and the former co-host of a Dubai television show

On Twitter: @AidaAlB