x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Safeguard children from abuse, parents are urged

Dubai Foundation for Women and Children launches educational initiative and plans survey.

DUBAI // Parents will be urged to keep closer watch over their children as part of a month-long campaign to raise awareness of child abuse.

"Protect Childhood", an annual campaign by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC), will include tips from female Emirati students to families at four shopping malls in the emirate. The initiative, which begins on Friday, coincides with international child-abuse awareness month.

"The campaign is part of our main strategy to increase awareness and educate the community on child abuse and sexual harassment against children," said Afra al Basti, the foundation's chief executive. "In every society and every community there are many reasons for child abuse. Poverty is the main thing. There are also alcoholism, weak family relations and drugs."

Barriers to discussing abuse and domestic violence were difficult to surmount because of cultural taboos, which the foundation aims to overcome, Ms al Basti said.

"There is shame and embarrassment. When we started, people were looking at us with suspicion," she said. "The community still does not know how an non-governmental organisation or civil society organisation can help."

The campaign will begin at the Arabian Centre then move to the Mirdif City Centre and the Dubai Mall before ending at the Deira City Centre on April 30. Stalls will distribute informational handouts and invite questions on abuse. Issues requiring counselling or more attention will be directed to the centre's toll-free helpline, 800111.

A comic book with child-friendly messages will also be distributed and painting workshops will be held too. Educational seminars and theatre plays will take place simultaneously at schools and universities.

This initiative comes ahead of a nationwide study that the foundation plans to conduct this September in schools to gauge the extent of violence against children.

Through the use of questionnaires, research will be conducted on all public and private schools in the Emirates.

"There is no accurate research that has been conducted on children here. We have no indicators and by the end of this study we will know where we stand," said Ms al Basti.

The study, which was announced late last year, has been delayed because of its sheer size. The foundation is liaising with several organisations to enlist their assistance and is reviewing the study parameters as it prepares the questionnaires, Ms al Basti said.

The research will be conducted on children between the ages of six and 18.

The study comes after a non-academic paper put together by Emirati students last year that found that the local community was, by and large, unaware of the dangers children were exposed to on a daily basis.

The informal study, which took five months to conclude, examined child abuse among Emiratis and included interviews with authorities and observed interviews with victims, said Marilyn Davis of the Zayed University College of Education.

"They found that parents should conduct background checks on school bus drivers and care givers," she said, adding that the students' study concluded that parents should keep children close in malls and be aware of dropping them off at school too early.

The group of students will also be helping DFWAC reach out to the community.

"Our students will be handing out literature on how to protect children," Ms Davis said. She added that it was time to adopt a slogan that children could remember easily, akin to the "danger stranger" campaign in the US.

pkannan@thenational.ae