x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Doctor urges greater child protection

The UAE protects its oil better than it does its children, according to the country's first female social worker.

ABU DHABI // The UAE protects its oil better than it does its children, according to the country's first female social worker. Dr Mona al Bahar, the head of the Emirates Sociological Association, is demanding a federal law to protect youngsters who are abused or neglected. The issue of child abuse was recently brought to the fore in the UAE after a nine-year-old Abu Dhabi girl suffered horrific injuries, allegedly inflicted by her parents. The emirate's Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, visited her in hospital. The Ministry of Social Affairs has said the UAE's first child protection law, a draft of which was announced last year, is being prepared.

Dr al Bahar also called for a national council that would protect children at risk and co-ordinate efforts to ensure their well-being: "This council should include specialists, psychologists, social workers, doctors and policymakers. All should work together to devise policies related to child welfare." Such a council would be able to formulate and enforce child protection laws, and inform the public, she said.

She noted that although there was one such local council in Sharjah, nothing similar existed in Abu Dhabi or at the federal level. Dr al Bahar is a senior executive adviser to the Emirates Foundation, which is funding the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children's campaign against domestic violence. "Empowering children is also a worthwhile investment for the country. Investing in human resources should begin from this early age.

"All other resources, including oil, have institutions charged with regulating and organising them. Children are one of the country's most significant resources, yet little has been done to ensure they have a healthy environment in which to grow. "Investment of this kind will be passed from one generation to another. Here we have an opportunity for a high sustainability - if we were to think like businessmen.

"If we want to empower men and women in this country, we should empower these individuals from their childhood." Dr al Bahar, who became the UAE's first female social worker when she completed a PhD in the subject at Ohio State University in 1997, said any federal law should cover parents who abused or neglected their children. She said: "If parent neglect is repeated, what kind of personality would this child have when they grow up? Weak, with very low self-esteem and not able to establish healthy relationships with others."

Children had a right to be brought up by their parents, rather than by unqualified nannies, she added. "A family should either shoulder this responsibility of raising their child or not have a child at all." The Emirates Foundation also last month started offering grants of up to Dh25,000 (US$6,800) for organisations that combat child abuse or protect its victims. hhassan@thenational.ae