x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Safety culture begins but does not end at home

Sadly, the UAE is a dangerous place to be a child. We need to develop a culture of safety to make tragic accidents – falls from windows, unprotected children dying in auto accidents – far less common.

A 33-year-old mother was waiting outside her building at 7am on Tuesday for her 14-year-old daughter's school bus to arrive. Inside the apartment, her five-year-old son climbed on to a table below the window and then plummeted eight storeys to his death.

Perhaps knowing she could not bear the memory, the mother rushed to the apartment - and took her own life.

Tragedies such as these are avoidable. In 2009, 29 children fell from windows or balconies; one died and 28 had severe injuries. In 2010 the death toll was far higher; 16 children died of falls.

Sadly, these trends have continued for years. Between 2001 and 2007 nearly 1,000 children died after falling from windows or balconies; 220 died this way in 2007 alone. Officials said that in most of those cases, parents had left the child alone or with inadequate supervision.

If this were an issue solely for contractors, window fitters or planners it might be solved easily. And in truth there is a role for all of these. Windows, balconies, stairs and lifts should be built with safety in mind.

But the bigger issue here is how to promote and create a culture in which children are protected at all times, and at all costs.

On the roads the statistics of neglect are striking. Between 2000 and 2006, there were 460 traffic deaths among children; 41 per cent of them were infants under four, and none was found restrained in a child seat. Even when vehicles are at a stop children suffer. Between 2001 and 2007, 120 children died of suffocation inside unattended cars, left locked in as their parents ran errands or went shopping.

The fact that children are often left alone in homes or are unbuckled in moving vehicles is unacceptable. Campaigns urging parents to watch their children while they play or swim don't seem to be working. Police, prosecutors, social workers and schools must all constantly hammer home the message of safety, and hold parents to account when they forget.

The UAE is, sadly and unnecessarily, a dangerous place to be a child. Falls from buildings are tragically part of this equation. So too are children unrestrained in cars, or running unsupervised in the streets. Authorities can do more to remind parents that the safety of their children is in their hands.

But ultimately this responsibility starts at home.