x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emirati woman's mission to help prisoners

Latifa Khadim is part of a Dubai Police unit that aims to provide social and legal support to inmates.

Social worker Latifa Khadim at Dubai prison with prisoner Zakir Alam. Zakir has served 3 years and 4 months of a two-month prison sentence. He will not be released until he is able to pay the Dh 200,000 blood money to the family of the other driver who was killed in a car accident.
Social worker Latifa Khadim at Dubai prison with prisoner Zakir Alam. Zakir has served 3 years and 4 months of a two-month prison sentence. He will not be released until he is able to pay the Dh 200,000 blood money to the family of the other driver who was killed in a car accident.

DUBAI // Latifa Khadim cares about prisoners.

Her lifelong enthusiasm for solving people's problems guided her into studying social work, made her a star employee of the Dubai Police and has culminated in her appointment to a new unit that provides humanitarian aid to prisoners.

"She has a strong character," says her sister Khadeeja, "and can cope with people and conditions easily. I have always had faith in her."

After eight years as a social researcher at the Dubai Police's punitive and correctional establishments section, she is now part of the six-person team assisting inmates on financial, social, family and legal matters.

The humanitarian care unit tries to gauge what inmates cannot manage from behind bars, and often helps them reach financial settlements with banks, companies or individuals. Prisoners who cannot afford their return ticket home also receive aid.

Since the unit's establishment in May, three people have come to Ms Khadim with help for prisoners, including blood money. One man, she said, has pledged to donate Dh10,000 at the end of each month.

The unit's creation was based on suggestions from Ms Khadim. And to those who have watched her rise through the ranks, that initiative is no surprise.

When she carried out a study at the Dubai men's prison two years before her graduation from Emirates University, Dubai Police headquarters sent a letter describing her as "the girl filled with enthusiasm".

"The words were very stimulating, that I work harder and give more to my community," Ms Khadim says.

She had wanted to be a social researcher since childhood, when she solved her schoolmates' social and family problems, she says.

Her family supported her career and did not object to her studies, even though they worried she might never find a "proper" job and psychology was not a popular choice of major among Emiratis.

Her father, Mohammed Noor Khadim, an Emirati businessman, says that while he supported Latifa, he grew worried when she began studying at a Dubai men's prison two years before graduation from Emirates University. He says he was afraid for her, and asked her brother to accompany her to ensure her safety.

After Ms Khadim finished her studies and joined the police force, her father told her to be fair and boosted her sense of honesty. "Give each his right", he said when she started working with prisoners.

The police were her second employer; she first worked with the Bait Al Khair Charitable Society.

Only two years after joining the force, she was named the Dubai Government's best employee by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

"One of the minimum requirements to be recommended for the prize was to have finished three years with the public entity, but I was recommended by police," she says.

Ms Khadim says prisoners had already been assigned their punishment under the law, and her role was not to judge them but to help them change their lives for the better.

A social worker must be a good listener, never judge, must accept people's good and bad, and never discriminate according to gender, colour, religion or any other factor.

It helps that Ms Khadim is encouraging, and easy to talk to. "Every weekend when she returned from university, I would talk to her for hours, asking about what she had learnt that week," says Khadeeja, her younger sister.

Ms Khadim says the Emirati community has become more open to the idea of women being pioneers in different fields."Emirati female university graduates are more in numbers than men," she notes.

Ms Khadim has also launched personal initiatives to seek help for prisoners from individuals, or even seek settlements from banks to win the release of inmates who have served their terms but remain in prison because of debt.

An Egyptian prisoner she helped with a loan so he could return home still sends her text messages, thanking her for saving his life.

She then rounded up institutions to donate money to repay the loan.

Most of her efforts these days go to drawing attention to the new unit.

In the past four weeks, nearly Dh70,000 in donations has been collected from two Indians and an Egyptian who wanted to support it. The money has also helped 97 prisoners buy air tickets home.

"Some of them already left," Ms Khadim says, adding that another 34 inmates were given financial aid to call their families or obtain medical treatment.

Female prisoners who give birth in prison also receive help in obtaining birth certificates for their babies, she says. "Our main mission is humanitarian in nature," she says.

salamir@thenational.ae