A dedicated child protection centre in Sharjah aims to centralise key resources to deliver swift support to those at risk.
The multi-agency centre – known as Kanaf – is due to open imminently and will bring together forensic, protection, medical, therapeutic, and policing services under one roof.
It is at the heart of the emirate's efforts to safeguard some of the most vulnerable sections of society.
Strategies to reduce abuse were on the agenda at the second Child Safety Forum, held in the emirate on Wednesday, which was organised by Sharjah Safety Department.
“Numerous departments in the emirate were set up with the sole purpose of protecting youngsters,” said Maj Gen Saif Al Zari Al Shamsi, Commander-in-Chief of Sharjah Police.
The wide-ranging response is focused on prevention and protection, and includes hotlines to report abuse and awareness and education initiatives at schools and for parents.
Parents urged to be first line of defence
The police chief said the family unit has an integral role to play in protecting children.
He said it was important for parents to take an interest in the lives of their children to help prevent them falling prey to offenders, especially online.
Keeping lines of communication open was key, said Al Amer Karama Al Ameri, head of Public Prosecution at Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
“We saw different incidents of sexual abuse whether partial or full abuse and other incidents that happened online,” Mr Al Ameri said.
A leading child protection advocate said she had personal experience of the threats lurking on the web.
“This happened to my son and I am a very well-known advocate of child safety and protection,” said Moza Al Shoomi, counselling and well-being expert at the Ministry of Education and deputy head of Emirates Child Protection Association.
She shared a personal experience where her son, 12, was lured by an Instagram advertisement offering a bike for sale.
“The advertiser made sure to post a bike that is used mainly by children aged between 10 and 14 because they were his target.”
But the strong relationship she had with her son and her efforts to educate him about how to stay safe paid dividends.
“He immediately told me and after reporting the man, who got arrested, authorities discovered he had a long list of child abuse cases against him.”
Children take a stand against abuse
Ms Al Shoomi said awareness campaigns had made children more vigilant against potential dangers and more likely to report incidents.
She said next year’s schools curriculum will include a new topic called Support Self.
“It will teach children about their safety, how to secure it, the privacy of their bodies and how to safeguard them,” she said.
Walid Al Hammad, senior prosecutor at Sharjah Family Court, warned of the risk of young victims growing up to be offenders, creating a vicious cycle of abuse.
He said he believed "a broken family is the main cause of the problem" and is "not only contributing to a child becoming a victim but also an offender”.
Importance of rehabilitation
Ghanima Al Bahri, care and rehabilitation director at Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, spoke of the long journey of support needed for victims.
“Rehabilitation doesn’t end with the victim being discharged from the institution, because a follow-up is a must to ensure they have regained themselves,” Ms Al Bahri said.
She told of one case in which a six-year-old victim was given help by her team until the age of 18.
She said it was essential to utilise all approaches to therapy to help children get their lives back on track.
“We recently started using animals in therapy because the approach was a success with many victims worldwide.”
The forum, hosted by Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre, was held under the patronage of Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah and chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs.