Child abuse and family violence put in focus

A government foundation aims to determine the extent of the problems to help the police and social workers spot and assist victims.

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DUBAI // A government foundation is launching two nationwide studies to track what its chief says have long been "taboo" subjects: domestic violence and child abuse. Afra al Basti, the head of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, said one of the main challenges facing people working to combat violence against women and children was a lack of data.

"We are planning to carry out a nationwide study on domestic violence, the first of its kind, to evaluate the scope and size of this problem in our society," Ms al Basti said, adding that only then would they be able to assess the extent of the problem. At present, the foundation has statistics only on cases under its supervision. Ms al Basti was speaking on the sidelines of a two-day workshop aimed at educating police officers on how to spot, deal with and protect victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

Small-scale surveys conducted by academics across the GCC suggest that one-third of women have been subject to some form of abuse, Ms al Basti said. "The survey will include women, both Emiratis and expatriates, from across the country, including the remote areas." She added that the programme would require much time and effort to complete. "Violence in families is a taboo subject, which one is not allowed to talk about, and many victims do not talk about it, and we know that many will not accept this survey with an open mind and heart," she said.

The foundation is in discussions with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to provide technical assistance for the surveys, and with Zayed University, UAE University and Dubai School of Government to help carry them out. Dr Ghada Yehia, a programme and research specialist at the foundation, said the child abuse survey was their top priority as abuse has a profound impact on children's lives and futures.

"It will be a school-based survey, which will not only assess the scope of this problem both at home and school but will also outline its nature," she said. Although the method of the survey has not yet been determined, the tentative plan is to gather a representative sample from which eligible candidates will be chosen and interviewed, Dr Yehia said. The foundation is examining studies such as the WHO multi-country study on women's health and domestic violence, which documents the prevalence of intimate partner violence and its association with women's physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health.

"We are looking into the possibility of replicating the WHO multi-country study on UAE level," Dr Yehia said. "However, the methods and exact scope of the survey will be determined on the feasibility basis." The surveys, which are still being prepared, could take up to two years to complete, according to the foundation's officials. Several Dubai Police officers at the seminar agreed that a comprehensive study on domestic violence would be a tremendous help to enforcement.

Lt Yasser al Hashemi, a duty officer at Al Murqabbat police station, said domestic abuse cases were on the rise. "A study is very much needed, as by determining the scope of the problem, we can find solutions to prevent it," he said, adding that he thought workshops would help officers develop the skills they need to deal with victims. Capt Mohammed Rashid of Jebel Ali police station said the survey would also help police deploy resources to the right places and protect the right people.