Parents also ask for guidance from Dubai Foundation for Women and Children to learn about abuse
Schools report suspected abuse cases after UAE Child Protection Law takes effect
Physical abuse of young children was the most common complaint received by a Dubai shelter for women and children, officials have said, a year on from the implementation of the Child Protection Law.
Schools are now calling either to report suspected cases of physical abuse or ask for information and guidance, said Afra Al Basti, director general of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children at a press briefing in Dubai on Monday to announce a regional conference on child abuse and neglect.
The schools come forward because they do not want suspected cases to continue, she said.
As per the law, doctors and teachers have a responsibility to report suspected abuse cases.
“Schools have started to call because they don’t want a crime to carry on and if they have seen something they want to report it,” she said.
“The schools ask us for more awareness campaigns, workshops, to identify abuse, explain to children to come forward and talk about it.”
In some cases, it started with verbal and continued to physical abuse.
“Children can’t explain what verbal abuse is because they think it’s the culture and normal language between students. But when physical abuse happens and they talk about it, then the history comes out.”
Ms Al Basti did not provide details about the calls received by the foundation or the numbers of cases handled after the Child Protection Law came into effect.
She said the foundation usually learns of cases at the critical stage from age seven through to the teenage years.
Phone calls were also received from anxious parents who found out their child was sexually abused after a doctor’s visit uncovered sexually transmitted diseases.
“Some families discover it after the child gets STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) for example and then they talk about it. They take their children - daughters or boys - to special doctors and they find out that this is a [sexually] transmitted disease, so this is when they understand.”
Parents called for guidance to ask about telltale signs that could provide clues if a child was being abused in school.
“The mother sometimes finds her son or daughter sitting lonely in a corner or their academic performance is low. We are starting to see parents calling to know more,” Ms Al Basti said.
“We are building awareness in the family and community. This is a big shift to building trust that we are there to help. So if you notice anything just call, even if there are only doubts.”
The 5th Arab Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect in November would further help spread awareness, she said.
Greater awareness about the signs of physical abuse, knowledge among doctors and teachers about laws to protect children will help stop abuse, said UAE and Saudi officials ahead of the regional forum.
Parents must also be more vigilant to prevent the death of young children due to neglect, said Maha Al Muneef, the executive director of the National Family Safety Programme in Saudi Arabia and chairwoman of the Arab Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
In the UAE, the tragic drowning last week of four young boys at an Abu Dhabi farm and the death in June of two young sisters who suffocated in their father’s car in the afternoon heat has highlighted the importance of safety and need for better supervision of children.
Similar cases were reported in the region too, Ms Al Muneef said.
A recent, yet unpublished study, of child death cases at the King Abdul Aziz Medical City in Saudi Arabia found that while 90 per cent deaths were due to medical reasons, about 10 per cent was because of neglect.
“Neglect is the most common type of abuse and the least measured by professionals. The study is not yet published yet but we found that 10 per cent deaths were from preventable causes,” she said.
“It can be a house accident from drowning, gunshot wounds from an unattended gun, being left in a car and suffering heat exhaustion, not putting a seat belt. So one in 10 children are dying because of neglect. This is really scary because we are preventing infectious disease, genetic diseases and then children are dying because of drowning or because we are not really paying attention.”
Parenting programmes had been started in Saudi Arabia to teach newly-weds how to make their house safe but this needed to be more widespread, she said.