An obligation posed by child abuse cases

Tackling child abuse involves finding the right balance between protection and meddling.

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Even one instance of child abuse is one too many. Recent cases of child abuse, although few in number, remind us that society needs ways to protect the most vulnerable. The challenge is to do that while limiting bureaucratic intrusion into family life to the essential minimum.

Around the world, the subject of cruelty to and sexual abuse of children is emerging into the light of day, and being met with the outrage it deserves. Sadly, such cases may not be as rare as we would like to believe. Statistics are scarce and unreliable but social workers and teachers are all-too-familiar with bruises, broken bones, emaciation, physical and mental scars, and other signs of abuse.

In modern society, the evidence of these crimes is often in plain view. But teachers and doctors who express concern can, as The National reported yesterday, find themselves obliged to hire a lawyer for their pains. This is not the way to encourage people to come forward.

On the other hand, nobody wants a system in which officious, overzealous bureaucrats come prowling around family homes on slight pretexts. Many bruises and other childhood injuries are innocent.

Striking the right balance will require legislation, training and common sense. The first two of these can be provided by official action.

The UAE has been considering a law on this subject since 2008, but it is still in draft form and the laws for implementation are still to come. It is no easy task to work out guidelines for initial inquiries and a framework for follow-up, walking the tightrope between legitimate concern and meddling. Under the draft bill, reporting of cases would be compulsory, giving legal protection to front-line care-providers who speak out to protect children.

Training is progressing. Many nursery workers are getting courses now. School social workers, who know the warning signs of abuse, also have a major part to play, but the whole education system needs more of these professionals. In some cases, police will ultimately be needed.

Finally, all involved in such cases will have to use common sense. Determination is essential in protecting children but judgement, politeness, prudence and discretion are all necessary, too. Angry public disputes, after all, do nothing to help the children whose well-being is the ultimate purpose of the whole endeavour.