Child abuse sentence reduced for father and stepmother

ABU DHABI // A father and stepmother who severely abused their nine-year-old daughter had their jail sentences reduced again yesterday, to five years.
The Emirati man and his Egyptian wife, who live in Bani Yas, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined Dh160,000 in April 2009 after they were convicted of abuse and causing "risk of death". There are no specific child-abuse laws in the UAE.
The case drew the attention of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who visited the girl in hospital with his daughter and spoke against child abuse.
The Public Prosecution appealed against the sentence and demanded the maximum penalty of life imprisonment, or 25 years. The parents also appealed, to have the sentence reduced. In June, the Court of Appeals reduced the prison sentence to seven years, but upheld the fine.
In September last year the case went to the Court of Cassation, where the parents were represented for the first time by a lawyer, Ali al Abbadi. He argued that because the parents faced a possible life sentence the lower courts should have appointed someone to represent them. He also argued that police had arrested the couple too quickly, and without reliable investigation.
The Court of Cassation ordered a retrial and the parents reappeared before the Court of Appeals under a new panel, which yesterday further reduced the prison sentence, but upheld the fine.
The girl was admitted to hospital in February 2009, when her father told doctors she had fallen off her bicycle. She had severe bruises, burns and scars on her body.
Doctors who examined her doubted the father's claim and contacted the police, who arrested him and his wife.
In her initial defence before the appeals court, the stepmother told the justices she did not mean to abuse the girl and that corporal discipline was the way she had been taught to bring up a child. The father also denied that he abused his daughter, who is now 10.
The stepmother asked the court during the last hearing to give her a second chance to "prove to the world" that she was a good person.
"I did that solely for discipline, I did not mean any abuse," she told the appeals judges. "This is how we were brought up, this is what we learnt from our parents."
The stepmother pleaded guilty before the appeals court to beating the child with a stick several times. She also confessed to using a heated knife to burn the girl's face, after the judge referred to forensic tests.
Both parents confessed in previous hearings to beating the child to "protect her from touching herself" and for "discipline" .
They have been in prison since February 2009. If either they or prosecutors appeal again, the case will return to the Court of Cassation for a final verdict.

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