x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Doctors seek better laws on child abuse

At a paediatric conference in the capital, a doctor suggested social institutions and accountability for abuse of youths, most of which happens within families and goes unreported.

SHARJAH // Doctors are asking the Government to set up social institutions and laws to protect children from domestic abuse by close family members.

Presenting a paper on child abuse at a one-day paediatrics conference at the Al Qassimi Hospital, Dr Asif Saleem Afridi said that chil abuse cases, most stemming from family members, were going unreported and unpunished because there were no laws to penalise the abusers.

"Children themselves cannot report these abuses. Social institutions on child welfare can probe and find such cases to bring offenders to justice," he said. "Police handling these cases alone is not enough. The situation needs experts on children welfare."

He also queried the absence of figures on domestic child abuse, saying that the Government needed to do more and be more transparent to properly address the issue. He said that although there was a law that bans corporal punishments in schools, there should also be one that regulates the beating of children in homes.

Dr Afridi highlighted the case of a four-year-old child brought into his hospital with a fractured spine and additional broken bones that he said was a likely case of domestic abuse. He said medical personnel had no powers to pursue such matters, and had to rely on police to investigate them.

"It's not easy for a child to injure his spine. In most cases, it's violence," he said. "For us doctors, we can just point out our suspicions, and it's up to the police here to investigate."

However, getting the police involved may not be a viable option if there are no comprehensive laws against the many forms of child abuse.

Anie Thomas, a nurse at the hospital and a presenter at the conference, said domestic violence against children consisted not only of physical abuse such as beatings but also neglect, abandonment and sexual and emotional abuse.

"Verbal abuse would also cause serious psychological problems to a child," she said. "Such children would be depressed and not confident, lack trust, and have relationship difficulties."

Last year's child abuse cases in Sharjah included that of an eight-year-old Pakistani boy who was bound in chains and left in a dark room for supposed bad behaviour.

His father was held briefly by police, counselled, and later released. The boy was kept in a social care centre for three days, and then was sent back to his father.

A more serious incident involved an Egyptian father who raped and beat his two-year-old daughter in June last year before he was arrested. The girl later died of her wounds at Al Qassimi Hospital.

ykakande@thenational.ae