x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Emirati children say they feel neglected

A survey of local children has found that more than two fifths believe they have been neglected by their families.

DUBAI // A survey of local children found more than two fifths believed they had been neglected by their families.

The survey in Sharjah asked 193 Emirati pupils aged 11 and 12 what they thought was their exposure to various types of abuse.

The most significant finding was that more than 40 per cent said that they felt neglected, said the researcher Ahmad Alomosh, professor of applied sociology at the University of Sharjah.

But Dr Muhammad Tahir, the head of psychiatry at Health Call Clinic in Dubai, said it was important to remember that the survey gathered children's impressions.

"This is not actually the amount of trauma. It is the kids' perception," Dr Tahir said, adding he wanted to know more about the study design.

"What are the questions used? What is neglect and not neglect?"

Many parents did not realise that neglect could be a form of abuse, said Prof Alomosh.

"The families here, they have their own activities now - shopping or going outside or watching TV," he said. "They are busy with their own life without giving any attention to the children. This will affect the child in the future.

"Sometimes they are not aware that they are doing this."

Prof Alomosh said one of the main recommendations from the study - which was conducted between 2008 and 2010 but released only recently - was that further research was needed.

The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children has gathered data from 3,000 pupils on the topic and results are expected this year.

Dr Tahir said the widespread use of nannies and carers could interfere with the relationship between parents and children.

"The bonding and separation anxiety issues, all of these things are very common," he said.

Prof Alomosh distributed the questionnaire at three schools for girls and two for boys. About two thirds of the participants were girls.

He divided the survey into two parts: demographic characteristics; and perceptions of discipline, maltreatment and violence.

Of the families surveyed, a quarter of the fathers worked in the public sector, a quarter worked for the military, a quarter were retired and about 8 per cent were unemployed. Others were from the private sector.

Of the mothers, about 85 per cent were housewives, while 10 per cent worked in the public sector and 4 per cent in the private sector.

Two fifths of the children said they were threatened when they disobeyed a parent. One tenth said they were verbally abused, 3 per cent said they were beaten with an object and 1 per cent said they were slapped.

Asked how they were disciplined if they broke curfew, half said they were threatened and one tenth said they were beaten with an object.

One girl said she thought she was born to be beaten.

Physical discipline should be a last resort, said Dr Mona Al Bahar, director of care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, adding that even then, parents should be gentle.

"Psychologically it harms the kids, more even than physically, because he believes that you are supposed to protect him," Dr Al Bahar said. "When you are not the protector - you are the attacker - then he will not trust anybody else in life."

Some parents think harsh beatings will make their children well-behaved, but they often have the opposite effect, Dr Al Bahar said.

"You create resentment and hate inside these kids, and fear at the same time," she said.

"Then these kids have two options: either withdraw from society and be weak, and then be abused by anybody else in the street; or become a violent personality that will attack anyone."

The survey also asked about sexual abuse. Nearly 18 per cent of the children said they had watched pornography, while 3 per cent said they had been sexually assaulted.

vnereim@thenational.ae