x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Wadeema's tortured sister physically and emotionally scarred by killer father

Her sister Wadeema died at the hands of their father, who faces the death sentence, now Mira, 8, is trying to rebuild her life in the UAE with her mother, who now has custody.

DUBAI // The little Emirati girl whose sister was tortured to death by their father has been sent to start her long recovery with her mother.

Mira was tortured and starved along with her sister Wadeema, 8.

She is physically scarred and emotionally traumatised, said Afra Al Basti, director general of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, where Mira was sent after her father was arrested.

Since then, custody of Mira has been awarded to her mother, who their father divorced in 2006.

“We had to do therapy with the mother first [about] how to deal with this girl,” Ms Al Basti said.

Mira was 7 when her sister’s case came to light last summer.

Prosecutors said the girls’ father and his girlfriend burnt them with cigarettes, poured boiling water on them and whipped them with electrical cords in their Dubai International City flat.

Their father was drunk and high on tramadol when he beat Wadeema with a bar and locked her in a bathroom, where he found her dead the next day, the court heard.

The UAE’s new child-protection legislation, a draft being discussed by the FNC, was named Wadeema’s Law in her memory.

In February, the father was sentenced to death and his girlfriend to life in jail. He is appealing against the sentence.

Mira’s recovery is just beginning. The abuse she saw and experienced could have emotional, behavioural, social and physical consequences, said Naeema Jiwani, a child development psychologist in Dubai.

“Family violence creates a home environment where children live in constant fear because everything is so variable,” Ms Jiwani said.

“Even though she is removed from this environment, because she has witnessed this at an age where fantasy bleeds into reality she is not really sure what her world is made of.”

The physical scars present more challenges. Mira’s skin is marked with white circles from the burns.

“This she can’t forget,” Ms Al Basti said. “We are trying to find out if we can do some cosmetic surgery for her.”

Foundation staff are working closely with Mira and her mother, visiting the girl at home and school, Ms Al Basti said. “We follow every single day the mother and the girl.”

The foundation also conducts unannounced visits to gather evidence for future custody hearings.

“After six months we have to give feedback [to the court] and then again in six months, continuously,” Ms Al Basti said.

As Mira grows up she may grapple with feelings of anger, helplessness, depression or even embarrassment, Ms Jiwani said.

“This poor child has to go back into society, back into her school network, back into even just the neighbourhood,” she said. “How many people know of what happened to her?”

Mira may also have trouble trusting or bonding with her mother.

“Fear of abandonment is really, really big in children who witness family violence,” Ms Jiwani said.

In court, defence lawyer Hamdi Al Sheewi argued Mira’s mother should also face charges, claiming she had given up on her daughters. The court rejected that argument.

Mira’s future will depend on how she and her mother cope, Ms Jiwani said. “This is where her mother comes in as her figure for everything, for changing this entire cycle.

“Depending on how she manages and brings up this child it could go very positively.”

Eventually, Mira will need to find a way to make sense of the trauma she experienced.

“Why was this done to her? That’s going to be one of the biggest questions,” Ms Jiwani said. “Is this how normal children are treated?

“The mum is going to have to put a complete opposite model of love and trust and respect.”

Therapy will also play a crucial role, Ms Jiwani said. “She needs to be able to relive some of that trauma in a contained capacity.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has offered to pay Mira’s expenses.