Sharjah's child abuse awareness campaign spurs higher reporting figures

Almost as many incidents were reported in the first half of 2022 as in all of 2021

Since its inception in 2007 and until end of June this year, the helpline at Sharjah Child and Family Protection Centre has received a total of 10,828 reports.
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Authorities in Sharjah dealt with more than 2,000 reports involving children who were subjected to physical abuse, abandonment or neglect in the first six months of this year ― almost the total number of cases reported in all of 2021.

Figures requested exclusively by The National show that last year, authorities received 2,168 reports from people concerned about the welfare of a child. From January to the end of June in 2022, 2,038 cases have already been reported.

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The surge in number is a sign of people’s stronger awareness about their role in protecting children even if they are not related to them
Amina Al Rifai, Child and Family Protection Centre

Sharjah's Child and Family Protection Centre, the body that released the data, said it shows an increase in the number of people spotting signs of abuse and reporting incidents, rather than an increase in case numbers themselves.

“The surge in number is a sign of people’s stronger awareness about their role in protecting children even if they are not related to them,” said Amina Al Rifai, director of the Child and Family Protection Centre.

Since its inception in 2007 and until end of June this year, the helpline at Sharjah Child and Family Protection Centre has received a total of 10,828 reports.

Some cases were reported by children themselves, others by family members, acquaintances, or members of the public.

Most cases were a direct result of family disputes, the centre said.

Programmes from Sharjah Child and Family Protection Centre teach children about their rights. Photo: Sharjah Child and Family Protection Centre

Vigilance from schools

The Child and Family Protection Centre also revealed to The National a number of cases it had dealt with over the past two years to highlight the need for more awareness of the subject of child neglect.

In one case a school in the emirate had suspicions that one of its pupils was being subjected to severe abuse outside the school grounds. The school contacted the helpline to inform them of signs of physical violence as well as lack of attendance in class.

“Social workers found clear abuse marks on the child’s body and decided he was in need of urgent medical care,” said Khalid Al Kathiri, child helpline expert.

“At the school it was also discovered the child’s official documents had not been renewed and that he had not attended classes for months before that day.”

The child was provided with medical care before he was sent to a childcare centre under the Sharjah Social Department.

“We discovered his father was abusing him for many reasons, including financial difficulties and drug addiction,” Mr Khalid said.

Last year experts at the Sharjah Child Safety Forum discussed the roles played by institutions, families, and creative therapy approaches in safeguarding children. Salam Al Amir / The National

Tragic accident

Mr Khalid said another heartbreaking case involved a five-year-old child whose mother left him at home and was then killed in a traffic accident.

“The boy was home alone and unaware of her death,” he said.

When the child was found he was taken to hospital to ensure he was healthy before being sent to the childcare centre. Social workers then tracked down his father who was outside the country.

“When we called him he said his wife suffered mental problems,” Mr Khalid said.

“The father never came to take his son, who remained in the centre for a long time before an arrangement through his embassy was made to send him to a shelter there.”

To ensure the child was going to be well cared for, social workers travelled with the child and inspected his new living situation before returning to the UAE.

Dangerous home environments

Sameera Ibrahim, head of response at the child protection helpline, described a case she dealt with involving a mother who experienced an episode of psychosis and threatened anyone who came to her house with a weapon.

A negative reaction to Covid-19 restrictions and with her husband unable to return to the UAE, she believed she needed to protect her children from intruders.

A friend of the woman reported the situation to authorities who intervened for the safety of the children.

“After the friend’s calls went unanswered, she visited the family’s home and saw how serious the situation was, [so she] called us and reported it,” Ms Sameera said.

“She told us she found the children neglected and in a state of fear.”

Social workers from the centre visited the house and eventually managed to get the situation under control.

The mother was sent to a facility for treatment, while her sister and father took responsibility to care for the children in the meantime.

When the mother's condition improved, she was allowed to meet her children at a government-provided housing.

Her children received therapy to ensure they had not been traumatised.

Co-ordinating departments to guarantee child safety

Cases are dealt with in co-ordination with several other departments including police, prosecution, court, social support centres under the ministry of interior, and institutions of child protection, among others.

“Protecting children is everyone’s responsibility and as for families, they are required to show greater care towards their children,” Ms Al Rifai said.

To strengthen awareness, the centre regularly runs campaigns.

Programmes and training courses specifically designed by experts are also presented throughout the year for parents and members of the public.

“We also organise workshops about detecting and reporting suspected cases to staff at private and public hospitals,” Ms Al Rifai said.

They also have online lectures for children so that they can learn how to recognise unacceptable behaviour towards them, she said.

“Our goal is to protect children from all forms of abuse.”

Reports can be made through the Child Protection Centre hotline 800700, on WhatsApp number 065015995 or on email helpme@sssd.shj.ae. Incidents considered urgent will be attended to within 24 hours.

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Updated: September 06, 2022, 6:01 AM
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