Empowering children to report abuse is study’s aim

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DUBAI // Strengthening the role of social workers and teachers in schools so children would report abuse was among the main recommendations of a national study into the problem.

Developing programmes with schools, staging workshops and spreading awareness about the importance of reporting abuse is part of a framework to protect children, officials said.

When Dubai Foundation for Women and Children’s (DFWAC) supervisors and volunteers visited schools to distribute questionnaires for the study Abuse Against Children in the UAE Society, they urged schools to publicise the 800 111 helpline number.

Afra Al Basti, DFWAC’s director general, said confronting child abuse was a shared community responsibility. She called on people to report cases on the helpline and to encourage children to speak out.

Researchers said the study’s anonymity persuaded students to participate but they were asked to jot down their age, nationality and sex.

Explaining methods of discipline was also key.

“Some students told us they get beaten but their parents love them and here is the contradiction, because they know we love them but sometimes the method of discipline is wrong,” said Aisha Al Midfa, DFWAC programmes and research officer.

“And this is what we need to work on as parents – to control bad behaviour but in a more positive way.”

Dr Fakir Al Gharaibeh, associate professor at the University of Sharjah and part of the team, said there would be more cooperation between academia and government agencies to educate people based on the survey’s findings.

“The most important thing is to improve the role of social workers in schools and the community and to build on their intervention,” he said. “One thing that did happen during the study was it was a space for students to talk about their problems. The most positive result will be spreading awareness about children exposed to violence and linking schools and families, because violence comes from families also.”

The nation’s first Child Rights Law was passed by the Federal National Council in January to protect children from mistreatment.

One clause allows child protection specialists to enter a home and remove a youngster they believe to be at risk.

Childcare specialists must obtain permission from the court for the intervention within 24 hours.

The issue of child abuse hit the headlines in 2012 after the torture and death of eight-year-old Wadeema by her father and his girlfriend.

rtalwar@thenational.ae