x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

More than 1,000 Sharjah youths need social help

Police fear that hundreds of young people in Sharjah are victims of abuse and deprivation.

SHARJAH // Police fear that hundreds of young people in Sharjah are victims of abuse and deprivation after a new support service was inundated with pleas for help. A committee for deprived children was formed early last year by Sharjah Police and Sharjah Department of Naturalisation and Residency. It has registered more than 1,000 children in need of social help. The number was far higher than the committee had expected, Brig Humaid al Hudaid, the director of Sharjah Police, said at a recent committee meeting, which was also attended by Col Dr Abdullah Ali al Sahooh, the director of the naturalisation department. Brig Humaid added that there were increasingly more children being deprived of their rights in the emirate.

They include abandoned children, child victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, children of mothers in prison and orphans, as well as children from families too poor to provide necessities such as food, education and health care. In an effort to address the problem, Brig Hudaid announced a Dh6 million (US$1.63m) budget for the committee's programmes this year. They will include providing homes for abandoned children. The committee is currently housing 491 children in Sharjah home-care centres. Other services provided by the new committee include education, food and also medical treatment for sick children whose parents could not afford treatment.

According to the two authorities, the emirate has a serious problem with child abandonment. As if to underline the point, the officials received a phone call from the police during the meeting about an 18-month-old child found abandoned at the Al Sahabah mosque. Afaf al Amiri, the director of Sharjah Social Services Department, later said the child would be housed in a welfare centre and may eventually be placed with a family.

Col Abdullah said the naturalisation department was working with many of the abandoned children to establish their legal nationalities. "We have had to take their DNA tests and are still working on the process to sort out those who are genuinely nationals of this country," he said. Col Abdullah said the introduction of a DNA testing centre in the Sharjah Blood Bank Centre would help the authorities to carry out such tests quickly.

Other serious problems affecting children are domestic violence and sexual abuse, according to the committee. Dr Sana Hawamdeh, the head of Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Sharjah, said in June last year that about 80 per cent of child sexual-abuse cases in the UAE involve family members. At the time, Youssef al Sharif, a Sharjah-based legal consultant on childhood development programmes, said the number of attacks in the UAE was proportionately comparable with that in other countries. However, he called for laws to be strengthened and penalties increased to better protect children.

Dr Ahmed Amoush, a professor of sociology at Sharjah University, who has studied the exploitation and abuse of children in the country, said official figures indicated a growing trend. The number of young people in Sharjah care homes in 2007 reached 552 - 499 boys and 53 girls - compared with 503 in 2006. His research found that children who were the victims of abuse were more likely to suffer adverse outcomes later in life. Those who had been sexually abused, in particular, were more likely to end up involved in crimes such as prostitution, theft and drug addition than other young people. Dr Amoush said many cultures did not encourage the disclosure of violence against children, especially sexual violence.

Authorities have said that anyone aware of the abuse of a child has a duty to report it. ykakande@thenational.ae