x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Abu Dhabi ushers in a child-protection force

A group of police officers in Abu Dhabi has been trained to investigate child abuse cases.

A group of police officers in Abu Dhabi has been trained to investigate child abuse cases.

In addition, about 15 police social workers were trained to interview children. Police created a special suite in Khalifa City A where the workers can speak to young victims. The room has a two-way mirror for officers to watch, said Jonathan McAuley, a strategic adviser to Abu Dhabi Police.

"Child protection officers, you could call them," he said.

Mr McAuley, formerly a senior police officer in Northern Ireland, has advised the Abu Dhabi force for about two years on child protection.

During the past year, trainers from the London Metropolitan Police Service taught about 20 officers how to investigate child abuse, he said.

The training is part of a broader "capacity building" effort by the Ministry of Interior, said Lt Col Faisal Mohammed Al Shamari, head of the ministry's Child Protection Centre.

Police officers must be equipped to deal with child abuse, he said.

"Part of the challenge is understanding the potential stigma that the victim might have, even from himself or his family."

Child abuse cases in Abu Dhabi are routed to one of three social support centres that are staffed by police officers, social workers and psychologists.

But because many people are reluctant to report child abuse, the trained officers lack one key skill: experience.

"In the US and the UK you get such a volume of cases that officers and staff quickly gain experience.

"Experience is one of the most important parts of dealing with children," Mr McAuley said.

Most of the cases that come to the social support centres are referred from local police stations. Others times, families approach the centres directly.

Because the services of the centres are mainly advertised to the Emirati community, most of the families they serve are UAE nationals, Mr McAuley said.

* Vivian Nereim