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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Lack of child cremation services in Dubai causes anguish for bereaved families

Support groups say that the grief of losing a child is being compounded for some families by the financial and emotional burden of seeking cremations elsewhere 

Al Foah crematorium in Al Ain. Nicole Hill / The National
Al Foah crematorium in Al Ain. Nicole Hill / The National

Losing a child is a nightmare scenario for any family, but Dubai's support agencies have revealed that the trauma is further compounded for many by a lack of cremation facilities leading families to seek costly alternatives.

Crematoriums in Dubai do not have the equipment required to cremate children under the age of five — a special casket is needed for children that young. The absence of this service means that Dubai families have no choice but to travel to other emirates, or in some cases their home countries, to lay their child to rest.

At present, the only crematorium in the UAE to offer cremations for babies and young children is Al Foah in Al Ain.

Religions that practice cremation include Shintoism, Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism.

“It definitely complicates the grief process and sense of loss,” said Aisling Prendergast, a counsellor at the Raymee Grief Centre, which is part of The Lighthouse Arabia, a group who help families come to terms with loss.

“It can lead to frustration and anger as there are many different mourning rituals among expats in the UAE.”

She said that one bereaved mother who she spoke to was forced to fly to her home country of Mexico to have her child cremated.

“It created huge additional difficulties on the financial side of things because she had to fly back to Mexico and also pay for an embalming service for her child so they could fly,” she said.

Joanne Hanson-Halliwell, founder of Small and Mighty Babies, a premature baby support group, also said that the cost of having to travel to cremate a loved one, especially a child, can create a huge burden on families that are already suffering.

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“If you want to fly back to your own country to have a cremation, you have the pay the full repatriation costs,” she said.

“There are expats in Dubai from all over the world, so it stands to reason that some of them would prefer a cremation service as per their culture.”

She said that unless a family has top-grade medical insurance, the process can be "terrifying".

“If you have a child on life-support it can cost between Dh4,000 and Dh12,000 a day, depending on your insurance,” she said.

“I have heard of instances when children have been on life-support for up to 100 days, so you can imagine the impact this has on a family. The costs can be huge.”

She said she is aware of instances of families being presented with bills for as much as Dh1 million from neo-natal units.

While children can be buried in Dubai, Ms Hanson-Halliwell said this does not suit everyone as expats do not want to stay in the region indefinitely.

“There are cultural differences that have to be taken into account — many people from India and parts of South America believe in cremations as part of their faith,” she said.

“One mother I saw gave birth to triplets and sadly one passed away, while another was on life-support. Because the mother did not want to leave the child on life support alone for a significant period of time, the father had to travel to his home country alone for the cremation service.

“If cremation was available in Dubai, the mother and father could have taken a short break from the hospital and attended the crematorium together,” she said.

Ms Hanson-Halliwell is confident the situation will change, however, as a number of parties are lobbying for it. But in the meantime, the added stress of deciding how best to lay their child continues for some grieving families.

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