The UAE's rapid pace of development has not been without its costs. To address them, the country must start by understanding them.
A study supervised by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, head of the General Women's Union, goes a long way to accomplish this. Its detailed report on the state of youth in the UAE reveals much about the lives of children, the life of the family, and what can be done to protect both.
Many changes have been for the better. Maternal health has made great gains, as 99.9 per cent of births are now attended to by a professional, the study reports. More than 90 per cent of the population is literate, a vast improvement from three decades ago when 90 per cent of the population could not read.
But the study also shows how the state of many families in the UAE can make children more vulnerable. While the UAE Constitution describes the family as the foundation of society, families may require more support. Divorce rates in the UAE, near 40 per cent, present particular dangers. Children in single-parent homes are more likely to lag behind in their performance at school and later when they reach the workplace, the report reveals.
"Neglect causes many psychological problems," said Dr Fadwa al Mughairbi, head of psychology and counselling at UAE University. "The father provides stability ... not only presence but also good connection with children." The General Women's Union also reports that divorced mothers can find it difficult to obtain financial support and have trouble presenting their cases in court.
A breakdown in the family is not without costs to society at large. "There are many violent behaviours from neglected kids to seek attention, even if it is negative attention" said Dr al Mughairbi. The rise in juvenile delinquency shows that this phenomenon is real. In Abu Dhabi, children committed 853 crimes in 2008. While many of these cases were traffic offences, these are not always victimless crimes, as the number of deaths on the UAE's roadways shows.
The General Women's Union should be lauded for their detailed report. Their call to make more data available so that these trends can be better understood should also be heeded. No matter how rapid the UAE's pace of development, we must do whatever we can so that children aren't left behind.