x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

International conference in Abu Dhabi tackles danger of online predators

International organisations gather at the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) conference to discuss how to protect children online.

Sharjah's Social Services Department will train Dubai Municipality employees in child protection over the next few weeks.

The course, which began yesterday, will teach employees how to prevent and report suspected child-abuse cases.

It comes as the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) conference is being held at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Law-enforcement agencies and non-government organisations are meeting to discuss ways of protecting children from abuse that starts or occurs online.

Delegates include those from the Ministry of Interior, the United States department of homeland security, the United Nations and others.

"This is one of the most important humanitarian issues facing our community and we wanted to address it and raise awareness about child rights, especially in the light of the newly announced Wadeema's Law," said Humaid Al Marri, the director of the transport department at Dubai Municipality.

Wadeema's Law is a federal law to protect the rights of children, and was named after a little girl who was tortured to death.

The Sharjah Social Services Department children's rights centre has handled more than 1,500 confirmed cases of child abuse since its establishment in 2007.

"More and more children are starting to understand what their rights are in our society," said Ahmed Ibrahim Al Tartoor, head of the centre.

"It is up to us to ensure all doors of communication are open to receive reports of abuse and be able to take action immediately if needs be."

The problem of abuse online affects millions of children and crosses international boundaries, said Najat M'jid Maalla, the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

"In spite of all this effort undertaken by many stakeholders, many children are not duly protected from sexual exploitation online."

The growth of technologies makes it difficult for law enforcement to catch up, said Neil Gaughan, national manager of high-tech crime operations for the Australian Federal Police. "I think the biggest challenge at the moment is that it's spreading so quickly and we are struggling to keep up with the new platforms on which child-abuse material is found."

Sharjah's children's rights centre provides shelter for victims of abuse, social and psychological counselling to parents and children and financial support to ensure the right of the child to education and health care.

It also provides foster homes for orphans and operates a toll-free helpline to report cases of child abuse.

"One of the most important things we teach is the How to Say No programme we offer at schools throughout the UAE," said Mr Al Tartoor.

"This programme teaches the child how to protect themselves from abuse, particularly sexual abuse."

In cooperation with various groups in the country, the centre is able to provide its services to anyone in the UAE, regardless of nationality.

It can be contacted through the Child Help Line at 800700, or by email at helpme@socialservice.ae

The VGT conference will continue through Thursday.

The theme of the conference is International Collaboration: an Enabler for Prevention. It is the first time it has been held in the UAE.

vnereim@thenational.ae

malkhan@thenational.ae