x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE's abandoned babies given new hope

A new law issued by President Sheikh Khalifa will result in a more cohesive approach to fostering abandoned children.

DUBAI // A new federal law will establish a standardised system to care for abandoned children, replacing a patchwork of procedures in different emirates.

The law, issued last week by the President, Sheikh Khalifa, provides for children of unknown parentage, called laqeet in Arabic.

Dozens of abandoned babies are found each year, left in the street, near mosques or outside homes. They cannot be adopted under sharia, but they can be cared for by Emirati families through a permanent fostering and guardianship system.

The law, developed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, details the rights of abandoned children, describes who is eligible to care for them and regulates the process of placing children with families.

Hala Kazim, an Emirati mother, took in a baby from Al Wasl Hospital in Dubai. He is now 16.

"I just wanted to do something to change somebody's life," she said, and bringing the boy up had been an honour. "It's been more of a blessing for me than him."

For children waiting for families, the law also provides for the establishment of government care homes.

Many abandoned children are sent to a care home in Sharjah while they wait for families. Others live in homes run by Dar Zayed, an orphanage in Al Ain.

Moza Al Shoomi, director of the child department at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said this year that the ministry planned to open a federal orphanage called Tala that could care for 150 to 200 children.

The new law lays out a series of steps after a child is found, Ms Al Shoomi said. "He will go through Tala," she said. "Then he will take the name and he will take the nationality. Then he will go to the family."

She said the lack of uniform regulations had created problems. For example, a young unmarried woman might take in a baby, then be unable to care for the child.

"When she's married and she brings the baby, her husband says: 'No, it is not my son, I don't want him with me or with my children'," Ms Al Shoomi said.

In other cases, a family might bring up a child but not obtain proper documents, creating problems when it is time to enrol the child in school.

"Where is his right?" she said. "We know you love this baby and he is living with you, but also they must have some ID."

The law provides for regular follow-up visits by social workers to make sure the children are doing well in their foster families.

"When I adopted him, they did follow-up," Ms Kazim said. "So it's a great thing what they have done now for the new ones too. It's amazing to help all these children."

For children not placed with families, the Tala programme will create a family-like setting. A designated "mother" will stay in a villa with a group of children of mixed ages.

Girls will be able to stay with Tala until they are married; boys will be able to stay until they finish their university education.

In Islam, abandoned children are distinct from orphans, or yateem, who are children of known parentage but whose father or both parents have died.

Yateem are often absorbed into extended families, while laqeet can be cared for by foster families. Taking in and bringing up an abandoned child is considered to be a highly pious act.

vnereim@thenational.ae