x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Protectors to have power to remove at-risk children from UAE homes

Under Wadeema's Law protection specialists will have sweeping new powers, and sex offenders face ban on living within five square kilometres of victims.

'The whole of society was concerned about Wadeema’s case.' Dr Mona Al Bahar, (left) assistant director for care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children. Sarah Dea/The National
'The whole of society was concerned about Wadeema’s case.' Dr Mona Al Bahar, (left) assistant director for care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children. Sarah Dea/The National

DUBAI // New child-protection specialists will have the power to remove children from their homes if they are believed to be in imminent danger.

Convicted child sex offenders will also be banned from working with children, and those released from prison will be banned from living within five square kilometres of their victims.

Offenders will not be released from prison until they go through psychological tests to ensure they are not a threat to society.

The landmark provisions are contained in draft legislation known as Wadeema's Law, named in memory of an eight-year-old Emirati girl who was tortured and beaten to death last year. The 72-article draft guarantees, for the first time, specific rights for children and creates the first nationwide system to protect them from mistreatment.

It applies to all children up to 18, regardless of nationality.

The most significant move is the introduction of child-protection specialists with the power to remove children from their homes.

In less severe cases they may intervene by visiting regularly and providing social services.

Anyone obstructing their work could be liable to a fine of up to Dh50,000.

People who report child maltreatment to the authorities would be guaranteed anonymity. Doctors, social workers, child carers and others who deal with children would be compelled to report such cases.

Sanjana Bhardwaj, a child protection consultant and instructor at Zayed University, said the most important element of the law was the "umbrella of protection for all areas of a child's life".

"This will help us to build a national child protection system, so that you are in a position to actually respond to situations where children are maltreated."

The tragedy of Wadeema came to light last year after her body was found in the desert. Her father and his girlfriend are on trial accused of her torture and murder.

"The whole of society was concerned about Wadeema's case," said Dr Mona Al Bahar, assistant director for care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

"And they were looking to see a law that governs these children's rights, and ... will stop such practices against children."

The draft law will be discussed this week at closed sessions of the FNC's Health, Labour and Social Affairs committee, and later by the full council.

Dr Al Bahar, also an FNC member, said: "It will be a huge debate because there are religious aspects, social-traditional aspects, human aspects. I think there will be big argument about this law."

Once approved by the FNC, it will go back to the Cabinet and then to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, for final approval.