'Disturbed' son was kept hidden to protect a family's reputation.
Boy kept in restraints at home for 12 years
DUBAI // A mother kept her psychologically disturbed son tied up and a prisoner in his own home for 12 years to protect the family's reputation.
The boy is now 17 and being rehabilitated under the care of social workers, who will find a family to foster him.
The boy shows no signs of physical abuse, said Afaf Al Merri, director of Sharjah Social Services Department. "The only marks were due to the restraints on his hands. He was in good health and could walk but not communicate."
The restraints would have made the child more aggressive and prone to violence, she said. "He has never interacted with anyone outside his family, who neglected him. Now the boy has complete social retardation.
"The factors leading to this gross negligence include ignorance and the protection of the family's social image."
However, the mother will face no legal consequences because she approached the authorities voluntarily to seek help.
"She learnt in the media about the services provided by the ministry and decided to approach us with questions," said Hussein Al Shawab, director of social protection at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
"We assured the mother that we would help him and her family. Our main concern is for his welfare."
The Emirati teenager was voluntarily handed over to the ministry in February, and is being kept under observation at an undisclosed location.
When he first arrived he exhibited violent outbursts and bed wetting, but there have been visible signs of improvement, Mr Al Shawab said.
"He interacts and is receptive to the people around him now, which is a great improvement from when he arrived."
The mother said she "had the boy from an unknown father", Mr Al Shawab said. Later she married again and started a family.
When the boy was about 5 he began displaying violent tendencies.
"The family explained that he was tied up to protect him from himself and to protect his siblings and other members of the family from his anger bouts," said Ms Al Merri.
She said the boy may have had a psychological disorder from birth, but she could not identify what disorder that might have been, or how severe it was, as tests are still being done.
Dr Mohammed Tahir, head of psychiatry for Health Call Clinic in Dubai, said being isolated from positive human interaction could profoundly affect a child's development.
"Neglect is worse than anything. Yes, physical or sexual abuse can be a huge trauma, but neglect itself and isolation in the room could be devastating," he said.
"There is a chance that they will recover and catch up in some areas, but they will still lag behind as compared with the same age, same intelligence. Having said that, if this kid was in isolation the isolation itself can be very tormenting."
The boy will remain under the care of the Ministry of Social Affairs until he is fully rehabilitated, Mr Al Shawab said.
"After his rehabilitation we are looking at ways for his reintegration into society and we will place him in foster care to be raised within a family environment," he said.
He said the boy would not be returned to his family because they had shown neglect and because the stepfather had indicated the he did not want the boy in the house.
Ms Al Merri said the case was not unique. "When we took this boy in he was the second case that week. The other case was similar: a handicapped boy was being neglected and kept in a bad condition."
Afra Al Basti, head of Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, said they had also seen a similar case involving a girl of about 20.
"She was kept in the house because she had a mental disorder and she couldn't communicate with people," said Ms Al Basti. "The father is quite old, and the stepmother didn't take care of his daughter, so they kept the girl in the house without any treatment or follow-up."
As a result, she said, the girl developed only to the level of a two-year-old.
Raising awareness about the resources available to parents was crucial, she said. "Knowledge is very important: to know who is giving you services."
* Additional reporting by Vivian Nereim