x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Tough sentences for child abuse

A string of child sexual abuse cases demands authorities respond with mandatory sentencing guidelines.

On Tuesday, a man was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of exposing his two daughters, aged 6 and 7, to danger after they were raped by an acquaintance. It was a rare conviction of a parent for endangering his child. But the sentence raised questions about cases involving child abuse.

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in prosecutions involving sexual abuse within families. This is in line with increasing efforts to tackle sexual and child abuse. But this recent case has reinforced a precedent of holding parents responsible, but the sheer number of cases requires that authorities take a stronger stance.

In their rulings, judges have often cited the integrity of the family in these cases and delivered more lenient sentences.

In a case that typified the trend towards lighter punishment, an Abu Dhabi court delivered a lenient sentence last year to a man found guilty of child-rape and another accused of murder because it was a "family affair": two brothers raped their two young nephews, whose father burnt one of the rapists to death.

Neither the father nor the second rapist served more than one year in jail "because no one sought the death penalty and because the situation involved a family", the court said in its judgement.

Such offences are not limited to families and certainly do not end there. They affect the welfare of the community at large.

UAE law considers sexual abuse a hiraba offence - a Sharia term that loosely translates as a special or aggravating circumstance that can incur the death penalty. But that is only a guiding principle; it is not specified in the penal law. The lack of such guidelines gives judges the discretion to sentence leniently.

Authorities must look into the complications of such crimes. Such offences have a lasting psychological and social effect on the victims. In another case, a man was sentenced to two years in prison for raping an 11-year-old boy; the man served his sentence but the boy, now 17, suffers from depression and has repeatedly attempted to commit suicide.

These kinds of deviant crimes exist in every society, and so too does the requirement to protect the most vulnerable. Strong sentencing requirements for cases involving child sexual abuse would send a message to would-be abusers, and keep predators behind bars where they belong.