x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Abused children need help

Children need to be "empowered" to speak up, while adults should be more aware of potential warning signs of sexual abuse, according to experts speaking at a seminar in Dubai.

DUBAI // Abused children need to be "empowered" to speak up, while adults should be more aware of potential warning signs of sexual abuse, according to experts speaking at a seminar in Dubai. The event, held on Thursday, was organised as part of the month-long Protect Childhood Campaign launched by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

Dr Azhar Abuali, a clinical psychologist and the foundation's director of care and rehabilitation, said children who have suffered abuse find it difficult to come forward, either because they fear being stigmatised or because they have been threatened by the perpetrator. "They need to know it's not their fault and we need to teach them how to speak up, say no and how to get help," she said. "The children need to be empowered through more dialogue to speak up without fear of consequences."

Similarly, parents need to be aware of the warning signs of child sexual abuse, which could include physical and emotional changes, according to Dr Suad al Marzooqi, the assistant dean of student affairs at UAE University. "If I see that there is something different in my child, then I have to stand up and ask what has happened," she said. Dr Abuali stressed that parents need to teach children to protect themselves, as well as to develop stronger relationships within the family structure so that victims feel safe enough to speak up if someone hurts them.

This sentiment was echoed by Yousef al Sharif, a lawyer and member of the Sharjah Consultative Council, who spoke of the need for parents to nurture their relationships with their children. "You need to build strong relationships from the beginning," he said. "Most of the people are not developing relationships with their children and don't put in the effort." Dr al Marzooqi is in the midst of a study that has revealed that 18 per cent of Emirati adolescents polled had engaged in sex-orientated activity on the internet. Sixty-two per cent have sought information about sex over the internet or from friends.

"When it is appropriate, the parents have to be open with their children about these subjects," she said. "We don't talk enough about sex. It is an uncomfortable subject sometimes, but we have to face it, otherwise they will get the information from others." The seminar also focused on the difficulty in determining the prevalence of child sexual abuse here because of the lack of statistical information, but also as a result of the reluctance on the part of some victims and families to report cases.

"Everyone agrees it's here, it exists," Dr Abuali said. "It is progress that we are addressing the problem." zconstantine@thenational.ae