x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Wadeema's Law to tackle child tower fall deaths in UAE

Child Safety: The new draft law on children's rights includes safety measures to prevent children from falling from towers in the UAE.

A building off Airport Road where a young girl fell off of the 5th floor balcony. Sammy Dallal / The National
A building off Airport Road where a young girl fell off of the 5th floor balcony. Sammy Dallal / The National

DUBAI // A draft law on children’s rights also lays down safety measures to prevent children from falling from high-rise buildings, the Minister of Social Affairs has said.

“It determines the architectural specifications and safety measures to protect children from falling from windows and balconies,” said Mariam Al Roumi.

The comprehensive child protection law, known as Wadeema’s Law, is awaiting approval from the Federal National Council.

A number of children have died in falls from buildings in the past few years. Last month, a 5-year-old autistic boy died after falling from a second-floor balcony in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have enacted safety regulations to address the problem, but there are no federal requirements.

“This is an extremely important issue, because although the number of deaths is not as high as road traffic accidents or as drowning, for example, this really should not happen,” said Dr Taisser Atrak, head of paediatrics at Mafraq Hospital.

“It should not happen because with very simple measures we can ... eliminate it by 100 per cent.”

He cited New York City as an example. In 1976, the city began requiring building owners to instal window guards in flats in which young children lived. Combined with an awareness programme, it led to a 96 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for window fall-related injuries.

Dr Yasser Nakhlawi, head of paediatrics at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, said the news about the federal law was “wonderful,” but added that parents should remain vigilant.

“Safety measures are important,” he said. “But kids can find a way around it, so adult supervision is the golden standard, to be honest with you. Nothing would replace that or make it safer in any way without proper adult supervision.”

Ms Al Roumi did not provide details about the window and balcony safety provisions in Wadeema’s Law.

The 72-article draft was named in memory of an 8-year-old girl who was starved and tortured to death in Dubai. Her father and his girlfriend are on trial for the killing.

The draft was approved last month by the federal Cabinet and will be passed to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, for final approval after it is reviewed by the Federal National Council.

The law addresses a wide range of issues, such as the sale of tobacco to children and the official registration of children after their birth.

Child protection specialists will be appointed to handle cases of abuse and neglect. They will be “legally entitled to interfere in cases where a child’s physical, mental or psychological safety is at risk,” Ms Al Roumi said.

The minister also discussed the new federal law for abandoned children, issued by Sheikh Khalifa in June.

It will establish a standardised care system for abandoned children, replacing a patchwork of procedures in different emirates.

The government is currently drawing up the bylaws that will allow it to be implemented, which Ms Al Roumi expects to happen “within one year”. When it is, she believes it will bring “substantial changes” to the lives of abandoned children.

“The law will have a great effect on children of unknown parentage since it defines the legal framework for dealing with them, protecting their rights and providing them with decent living,” she said.

The law sets a standard procedure for dealing with abandoned children after they are found.

It also provides for the establishment of “special care centres” to provide a family environment for the children, Ms Al Roumi said.

For children placed with Emirati foster families, the law sets requirements and objectives for the foster parents, she said.

vnereim@thenational.ae