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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Culture of silence shrouds child abuse, experts warn during Dubai conference

Mandatory reporting of suspected cases by doctors and teachers can save lives

Breaking the culture of silence shrouding child abuse in the Arab world, early intervention and mandatory reporting of suspected cases by teachers and doctors will save lives, experts told a Dubai conference on Wednesday.

These were among the suggestions and recommendations on the final day of the 5th Arab regional conference on Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Aid workers, academics and doctors from across the region called for confronting stigma and shame. Early interventions, such as removing children from harm at initial stages, would save them from suffering suicidal tendencies, mental scars and long-term physical injuries in later years.

“We should look for the cases of maltreatment, we should be the one to screen and find them in society. We should not wait for episodes of maltreatment and then the children come in injured or dead, we should intervene early,” said Majid Al Eissa, president of the Arab Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. Failing to address violence could negatively impact education, relationship and employment prospects, he said.

“An abused child could die, suffer from disabilities, mental disturbance. These are immediate dangers but later they can have anxiety, depression, may commit suicide. They have double the risk of diabetes, hypertension, obesity than an average person. Studies prove this so we must protect the child early,” he added.

A powerful Child Protection Law passed by the UAE last year makes it one of the few countries in the region that gives child protection specialists the authority to enter an abusive home and remove a child against the parents’ wishes and without judicial permission in cases of imminent danger.

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“Our goal is early intervention, so if professionals notice a child in school has a bruise or bite injury, they must do their job, talk to the child and report the case. We are trying to force them, to make them liable to report it,” said Mr Al Eissa, also associate professor of pediatrics in the King Saud University for Health Sciences.

From safe play areas initiated in Lebanon, a No Hit Zone campaign to promote better parenting in Saudi Arabia, child protection talks in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan to UAE shelters that teach secretarial, computer and beauty skills to victims – there is no single tailored response to the diverse challenges the region faces.

Lama Yazbeck, executive director of Lebanese non-governmental organisation, Himaya, said a high number of cases were detected in prevention programmes.

The organisation dealt with 1,742 cases of child abuse last year with neglect the main cause, followed by psychological, physical and sexual abuse.

It organisors ‘al sobhyah’ sessions in the morning for women and ‘al meswyah’ in the evening for men to provide child protection and parenting tips.

“In Lebanon, like in many countries here, to talk about what happens in the family is taboo and our message always is ‘Don’t keep a secret.’ We need referrals from hospitals, to build partnerships and change society’s perspective,” she said.

Afra Al Basti, director general of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children said while some countries must start with framing legislation, other nations needed enforcement and data collection, but protecting children should be an overall priority - particularly in conflict areas.

“We want to talk openly about the issue of death in childhood,” she said adding that studies were conducted but not shared and that should change.

Deaths and injuries to children in the Syrian conflict must be highlighted, she said.

“The death average in Syria is quite high in young ones and because of war there are few records and no international action. We want to talk openly about children who die because of poisoning and chemical weapons.”

Countering the cycle of abuse was key, she said.

“We want to prevent it from happening again and again because neglect and violence in childhood creates more violence in their personality later.”

Every year, there are an estimated 41,000 homicide deaths of children under 15 years of age, according to the World Health Organisation.

A quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children and the consequences include lifelong physical and mental health impairment. This can slow a country's economic and social development, WHO reports show.

Updated: November 22, 2017 08:07 PM

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