In commemorating the 32nd anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the fifth anniversary of Federal Law No 3 of 2016 on child protection, best known as "Wadeema's Law", and in preparation for our celebration of Emirati Children's Day on March 15, we wish to reflect upon our progress on children's rights and our commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
We in the UAE enjoy an environment in which we can openly discuss how to improve existing laws, institutions, policies and services to advance the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Our nation is young, and in this spirit, we have given priority to children’s rights, as a prosperous future depends on their well-being.
In this regard, our country has devoted significant resources to creating a legal framework for child protection with the enactment of Wadeema’s Law, which comprises 75 articles dedicated to children’s rights in the domestic environment, as well as in health, social, cultural and educational services. Moreover, the law established mechanisms of protection and set out penalties for child abuse.
In recent years, the UAE has continued to strengthen its legal framework for child protection through Federal Law No 10 of 2019, concerning protection against domestic violence. Furthermore, in 2016, the UAE established shelters for victims of violence, including the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, Abu Dhabi Shelter and Humanitarian Care Centre (Ewa’a) and the Aman Centre for Women and Children in Ras Al Khaimah.
The UAE participates in some of the most prominent global bodies dedicated to the protection of human rights, such as the UN Human Rights Council, in which it has presented a resolution on the right of all girls to education. The UAE also hosts a Unicef regional office, which offers programmes on early childhood development, child protection, data collection and partnerships.
Increasing the participation of children in decisions that affect them is a priority for the UAE. As such, the Emirate of Sharjah recently volunteered to host the Arab Parliament for Children, thereby raising awareness of and enhancing global dialogue on children’s rights in the Arab world and beyond.
The UAE also belongs to the WePROTECT Global Alliance, the only international public-private partnership dedicated to fighting sexual exploitation and child abuse online. The UAE, represented by the Ministry of Interior, was awarded a permanent seat on the WePROTECT International Advisory Board in recognition of its security and police work in the field of child protection.
The UAE is recognised as a child-friendly country and has engaged public and private institutions to develop policies and initiatives to enhance the well-being of children.
In 2005, the UAE established the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, an institution dedicated to protecting children’s rights at the highest levels of government. The council is involved in training professionals dedicated to child protection and representing the interests of Emirati children in discussions held by the UN and regional organisations.
The UAE also promotes cultural, social and sporting activities for children through the Ministry of Culture and Youth and the Ministry of Community Development with the aim of strengthening early childhood development.
All parents ask themselves how they can build a better world for their children, and we ask ourselves the same question as a nation. As home to nationals of almost every country in the world with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, the UAE is deeply committed to the principles of tolerance and respect. In this regard, since 2019, the UAE, through the Emirates Red Cross, has reserved 7,500 seats in nine tolerance schools to enrol resident students with limited income or exceptional circumstances.
The National Strategy for Motherhood and Childhood 2017-2021, approved by the Cabinet, is another tool to enhance child protection as part of an integrated system.
Providing the tools for children’s empowerment is another national priority. In this regard, the General Women’s Union prepared the #Digital_Child strategy to engage children, teachers, parents and professionals through training and information sharing on how to identify online bullying and harassment.
We also set up a 24-hour hotline (116111) to report suspected abuse and established training programmes for caregivers and schools to detect warning signs.
While the UAE has achieved important progress in recent years, our focus is on what we can achieve in the future. Soon we will launch our National Human Rights Plan, which will outline specific actions to protect and empower children.
This is especially important in 2021 as we celebrate our 50th anniversary as a nation. Our aim has been to place the UAE among the best countries in the world, and this includes achieving the highest standards of economic and social development. While our physical transformation as a country is perhaps most noticeable to the outside world, our real mark of progress can be summed up by our Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, who said: “To treat every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul, is a mark of Islam.”
He well understood that this starts with our children – especially Wadeema, whose memory we continue to honour through our actions.
Saeed Al Hebsi is director of the human rights department at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation