x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Wadeema's Law to protect UAE children in memory of tortured girl

The Federal Cabinet has approved the long-awaited children protection and rights law, clearing the way for its approval by the Federal National Council.

DUBAI // Landmark legislation aimed at protecting children from abuse and neglect was approved yesterday by the Federal Cabinet.

Wadeema’s Law is named in memory of the eight-year-old girl starved and tortured to death in Dubai. Her father and his girlfriend are on trial for Wadeema’s murder.

When the little girl’s ordeal came to light this year Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, ordered work to be speeded up on two pieces of legislation then at the draft stage. The approval of the new law is the result of that directive.

“Wadeema may have lost her life, but her story and her memory are still alive among us, through this law,” Sheikh Mohammed said yesterday.

“Every child has the right to a secure life, permanent care and emotional and psychological stability. We will be uncompromising with whoever infringes upon the rights of children, for the protection of our children is a protection of our future.”

The FNC will now debate the 72-article draft law and may suggest amendments before returning it to the Cabinet to present to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, for final approval.

At present there is no federal system for reporting or investigating child abuse or neglect, and no mechanism for intervention if the perpetrator is a relative.

“One of the key new additions to the law is child protection specialists and mandatory reporting,” said Mohammed Al Hammadi, a legal counsellor at the Ministry of Justice, who has worked on the draft for two years.

Teachers, doctors and others who deal with children would be legally compelled to report suspected cases of abuse.

Lt Col Faisal Al Shamari, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Child Protection Centre, said the draft enabled specialists to take short-term or long-term action to protect a child. “This is to prevent any similar incidents from happening.”

The law is the culmination of years of work by the Federal Government. The Ministry of Social Affairs began to develop a child-rights law in 2008. More recently, the Ministry of Interior’s higher committee for child protection drafted a law, too.

Both drafts were awaiting Cabinet approval when Wadeema died. After hearing of the case, Sheikh Mohammed told policymakers to speed up the process.

The final draft combines children’s rights provided by Sharia and the Constitution with elements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Mr Al Hammadi said.

The draft will also introduce restrictions for convicted sex offenders. “Those who have been convicted of child sexual abuse cannot work in any job related to children,” he said.

Mr Al Hammadi spoke about the draft at a symposium on child abuse held yesterday by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

Foundation counsellor Ghanima Al Bahri said there was “great celebration” when they heard news of the draft.

“It means a lot,” she said. “It’s just the right step; it’s the correct beginning.”
Many people are not sure what they should do to combat child abuse, Ms Al Bahri said.

“This law will have great answers for everyone,” she said. “Each and every party will know what the procedures are and how to act if they get a case.”

The Cabinet approval was also hailed by Mariam Al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs.

“The passing of this law marks the beginning of a new phase in the UAE,” she said. “Giving this law the name of Wadeema has a profound significance, given that the abuse and mistreatment that Wadeema has gone through has shaken the UAE, its leadership and people alike.”

vnereim@thenational.ae