Abusive parents receive seven-year prison term

A father and stepmother whose nine-year-old daughter was taken to hospital with bruises and burns have been sentenced to seven years in prison.

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ABU DHABI // A father and stepmother who beat their nine-year-old daughter so badly that she had to be taken to hospital with severe injuries were sentenced to seven years in prison by Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation. In April 2009, the girl was taken to Al Mafraq Hospital with bruises and burns. Her father told doctors she had fallen off her bicycle. But the doctors called police after discovering signs of abuse. The case drew the attention of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who visited her in the hospital with his daughter, Sheikha Shamma bint Mohammed, and then called on people to take a stand against child abuse.

Although there are no specific child abuse laws in the country, the father, an Emirati, and the stepmother, an Egyptian, were charged with abuse and "risk of death". Both confessed to beating the child, "to protect her from touching herself", the father told Abu Dhabi's Criminal Court last year. The parents said the beatings were for "discipline". Medical reports said "repeated" beatings had left the child 80 per cent immobile. Doctors hoped, however, that she would make an almost full recovery.

The Criminal Court sentenced the couple to the maximum of 10 years in prison as well as a fining them Dh160,000. The public prosecution, which was seeking a 15-year sentence, appealed the verdict, but the Appeal Court reduced the sentence to seven years. On Wednesday the Court of Cassation upheld the sentence as well as the fine. The couple's other children are in the custody of the father's mother, who disowned her son in court.

Dr Leena Amiri, a child psychiatrist who was assigned to the abused girl, said the verdict gave a clear message against child abuse. "It's nice that we are talking about it in public and it shows that there is no tolerance for abusing children," Dr Amiri said. @Email:myoussef@thenational.ae