x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Refuge for the kids who have it tough

Sharjah children's home provides a second chance for abandoned youngsters to have a good life.

SHARJAH // Some of the children at the Sharjah Child Care Centre were abandoned on the emirate's streets. Others were rescued from abusive families.

The centre houses 25 children at a time and stands at the front line of the emirate's efforts to ensure children are protected.

Many of the children were taken to the centre by the Sharjah Family Council. All have a chance to bond with new "mothers".

"Each child here is assigned a 'mother' among the social workers of the centre," said Fatima Ali Al Marzouqi, the director of the centre.

"Some mothers have two or three children. They provide the care and comfort a real mother would have given these children."

The centre provides the children with the things a family would, including an education.

The youngsters all attend public schools and are sponsored by the Sharjah Government until they complete university.

The centre is a safe haven for children whose home life was unsuitable or even dangerous, and staff work closely with the authorities in removing them from problem homes.

"When the centre receives a call, our team of social workers is dispatched to the home of the child to evaluate the problem," said Ms Al Marzouqi.

"Once it is presumed dangerous for the child to continue staying there, especially in cases of sexual abuses, the social workers would recommend the child to stay with the care centre."

But she said most of the children at the centre did not arrive after suffering some form of abuse. Most were found abandoned, something that happens with alarming regularity in the emirate.

This month, a 10-day-old girl was found next to a villa in the Al Heera neighbourhood and taken to the centre after being treated at Al Qassimi Hospital.

The children can stay at the centre until they are 18 years old, and are given Emirati nationality and documents, said Ms Marzouqi. Recently, one of the centre's older children left after finishing her studies and marrying.

Some do not stay that long and are adopted by suitable parents, something Ms Al Marzouqi is eager to see more of.

"The requests for adoption are several times more than the number of children we have and we do appreciate this good spirit among people," she said.

"However, not all requests are accepted. Every year we accept and give out about 10 to 15 children for adoption."

The rules for adoption in Sharjah are strict. Only Emirati families are eligible, and only if they can provide a financially stable home.

People who have been declared bankrupt will not be considered, nor will those who have failed medical tests for diseases such as HIV/Aids. A police good-conduct report is also necessary.

"We also consider the race of the adopting family," Ms Al Marzouqi said. "A black child who lives at the centre would go to a black Emirati family because we don't want the child growing up completely different."

Staff also stress the need for adoptive parents to tell the child at an early age that they were adopted.

"The adopted family is required to tell the child at the age of six that he or she is an orphan in a good way," Ms Al Marzouqi said.

"They should tell them that many people are orphans but live well with other people, and that also our beloved Prophet was an orphan."

The term "abandoned from the street" does not feature on the child's documents or birth certificate. It is always replaced with "orphan", said Ms Al Marzouqi.

Children with disabilities and those suffering from chronic diseases are not put up for adoption.