Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

Dubai courts and author create book on children’s rights

The book aims to make difficult topics more approachable so children can be protected from abuse

Author Maitha Al Khayat has written a book on the federal Child's Rights Law to spread awareness among children and protect them from abuse. Reem Mohammed / The National
Author Maitha Al Khayat has written a book on the federal Child's Rights Law to spread awareness among children and protect them from abuse. Reem Mohammed / The National

Dubai Courts have teamed up with an author and illustrator to publish an illustrated book on the federal Child’s Rights Law, which protects children from abuse.

Written by Maitha Al Khayat, the book will be released in print and online on November 20, for International Children’s Day.

It uses simple and engaging language that children can read with their parents and approaches difficult subjects with sensitivity. The law is explained by a teenager named Sultan to his younger sister Wadeema, after he visits the Dubai Courts and learns about laws protecting children.

It explores education, health and sensitive topics such as protection from abuse.

Such a project is very important to children as in recent years we’ve noticed the increase of bullying, abuse and harassment to kids

Hessa Al Muhairi

“It is a topic that even as a children’s writer I’ve been avoiding a lot because it’s very sensitive and I’m sure that so many people have had some kind of abuse in their life,” Ms Al Khayat said.

“So, it’s kind of also fearful for me to try and illustrate or write something like this because it means accessing the skeletons in the closet and acknowledging that this happened to me as well.

“At the same time, I’m really happy that I have the chance to do something like this because it means I can help ­children protect themselves,” she said.

Rights are written in the first person, so children can quickly understand and relate to it.

The Child Rights Law came into effect in 2016 after it was approved by the Federal National Council. It was originally drafted under the name Wadeema’s Law, in memory of an eight-year-old Emirati girl who was starved and tortured to death by her father and his girlfriend in 2012.

The law was approved under a different name after days of debate in the FNC, where members argued that society should not be reminded of such tragedy.

A book on children's legal rights by Maitha Al Khayat will be released in November 2020. Courtesy: Dubai Courts
A book on children's legal rights by Maitha Al Khayat will be released in November 2020. Courtesy: Dubai Courts

“The Wadeema case actually went viral and everyone knows what happened and who was involved,” said Alia Al Mheiri, vice president of Dubai Courts Youth Council.

“It was like a wake-up call to everyone, including the parents, on how to embrace and protect children.”

If the project is successful, other illustrated books could be produced for other UAE laws, such as labour rights.

“We have so many laws in the UAE but how many of them are really understood by the target audience?” Ms Al Mheiri said.

Printed copies of the Child Rights Law are distributed at schools but can be a challenging read and many remain unaware of its scope. The law covers issues ranging from the right to live in a smoke-free environment to bullying.

One of the most important responsibilities of a teacher is to explain Wadeema’s Law to parents and children, said Hessa Al Muhairi, a vice principal of kindergarten at a Dubai government school. This includes discussing topics such as physical and psychological abuse.

Dubai courts has teamed up with children's author Maitha Al Khayat for a book on the Child's Rights Law. Courtesy Dubai Courts
Dubai courts has teamed up with children's author Maitha Al Khayat for a book on the Child's Rights Law. Courtesy Dubai Courts

“In the beginning it was very hard on us as teachers to open such a topic,” Ms Al Muhairi said. “We hesitated a lot on what’s the best way to approach the kids about this matter. However, thinking about what might happen if we don’t teach the children their rights made us strong and determined to do our part as teachers.

Such a project is very important to children as in recent years we’ve noticed the increase of bullying, abuse and harassment of kids,” Ms Al Muhairi said. “That’s why it’s essential to teach and inform our children of their rights in order to empower them against negative behaviours.”

Ms Al Khayat has written 17 books, from tales about a dumpling-craving camel to the story of a masked Emirati grandmother who accidentally enters a masquerade.

“I’ve been a children’s writer for 10 years,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of book readings and instilling a love of reading in children’s hearts by doing funny stories.

This is the first time I’m going to re-write and illustrate a children’s book that is really important to their lives as a child and even afterwards when they become adults. I’m feeling really blessed.”

The book will be a discussion opener for children and adults. Print copies will be distributed across the country in Arabic and English and discussions are under way to integrate it into the national curriculum upon its release. The project is supported by the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Community.

The Child Rights Law protects children against all forms of negligence, exploitation, physical and psychological abuse. It also gives authorities the right to remove children from their homes in cases of imminent danger. Those who put children in danger can be jailed and fined.

The law applies to all children up to the age of 18.

Updated: January 28, 2020 07:59 PM

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