Published: Gulf News
Janice Ponce de Leon, Staff Reporter
Dubai: If you see a child on a driver’s lap, in the front seat of a moving car, or unaccompanied in a house or a balcony, or any other forms of neglect or abuse, turning a blind eye is now out of the question. You are legally responsible to report such incidents to the authorities.
Protecting the rights and welfare of every child in the UAE is the responsibility of everyone — resident or a tourist — according to Law No 3 of 2016, known as the Child Rights Law, which will take effect on June 15.
Violators face penalties ranging from a fine to imprisonment. Using a child for pornography, for example, entails a jail term of not less than 10 years.
The law, signed earlier this year, ensures the protection of children aged one day to 18 years. It was earlier named Wudeema Law, drafted in the memory of Wudeema, an eight-year-old Emirati girl who was starved and tortured to death in Dubai by her father and his girlfriend.
“Implementing the [Child Rights] law is not the job of one person nor one institution alone. It’s the job of the whole society,” Khalid Al Kamda, Director-General of Community Development Authority (CDA) in Dubai, said.
“Your responsibility as a neighbour is to ensure that the children in the neighbourhood are safe. Some believe that having a child in the front seat is not an issue. But by law now, it is an issue. Take a picture and report the car to the police. If children are exposed to unsafe situations, it’s part of your responsibility to report it. And if you don’t report it, you may be held responsible for it,” he added.
Al Kamda made these remarks during the first consultative meeting of CDA with stakeholders and representatives of 24 government agencies to encourage members of the community to know the law and observe it.
Al Kamda said marks and injuries due to physical abuse are not the only indicators of child abuse. Even psychological, social, and cultural pressures, and most especially parental neglect, are punishable under the Child Rights Law.
Children make up around 24 per cent of the UAE population based on 2010 figures, Moza Al Shoomi, Member of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood said. Statistics on the forms of abuse and how prevalent they are in the UAE, however, are scant.
In 2013, Gulf News reported that Dubai’s Child Protection Centre handled around 50 child abuse cases from different nationalities. Most of these cases were sexual abuse committed against children aged between seven and 12. Physical abuse was the second most common form of abuse of children aged 12 and above. Roughly 95 per cent of the perpetrators is by a family member or anyone related to the family, or close to the child.
The UAE has set up a hotline (116-111) so anyone, even children themselves, can report the violation. But in some cases, the biggest deterrent is the child’s apprehension to implicate his or her family member.
“Many children are too scared to report especially if the perpetrators of abuse are their parents,” Dana Marzouqi, acting director of the Child Protection Department of the Ministry of Interior, said.
The law addresses this by mandating everyone connected to the child, be it a teacher, doctor, or family friend, to report to authorities should they spot signs of child abuse and neglect.
Previously, Marzouqi said, doctors refused to report abuse cases. Now with the Child Rights Law, they are legally-bound to help the child get justice.
Parents or custodians who are deemed neglecting their children may get three written warnings and a seminar about the law. Repeat offenders will be dealt with accordingly. Authorities, however, may immediately remove the child from an abusive environment if it endangers his or her life.
Law No 3 of 2016 states that every child has the right to live safely, be educated, have a name that does not demean him or her, and obtain identification papers.
Parents or custodians are prohibited from excessively disciplining a child. Hitting a child in the face, for example, is prohibited. Beating a child resulting in marks or injuries is also prohibited.
It prohibits psychological, or emotional damage, through exposure to parental disputes or arguments.
It prohibits parents from abandoning children because of a disability.
It prohibits child labour and sale of cigarettes or liquor to children.
It prohibits using, engaging or exposing a child to pornography.