FNC passes Child Rights law after three-day debate

Members on Wednesday made final amendments to the law, and its 77 articles, which creates a nationwide system to protect children from mistreatment.

FNC member Ahmed Al Zaabi, of Sharjah, gives his views to fellow members during yesterday’s passing of the Child Rights law. Silvia Razgova / The National
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ABU DHABI // After a three-day marathon debate, the Federal National Council has passed the country’s first Child Rights law.

Members on Wednesday made final amendments to the law, and its 77 articles, which creates a nationwide system to protect children from mistreatment.

Picking up where they left off on Tuesday, the FNC passed a much-awaited clause allowing child-care specialists to remove children from their homes against parents’ wishes and without judicial permission in cases of imminent danger.

After the child is removed from the home, the child-care specialist must obtain permission from the court within 24 hours.

Although some members, including Ahmed Al Zaabi (Sharjah), who is also a lawyer and is the council’s legal adviser, insisted the law was unconstitutional, 19 members present – who made up the majority – ensured its passage.

In less severe cases, specialists may intervene by visiting regularly, providing social services and mediating a solution between the family and the child.

If the family refuses the solution or does not respond within 14 days, the case will then be referred to higher authorities.

Child protection specialists tend to children exposed to abuse, sexual exploitation, negligence, vagrancy, organised crime, forced begging and other hardships, as well as those whose parents cannot care for them.

Those who obstruct the work of a child-care specialist are subject to a fine between Dh5,000 and Dh50,000.

After much debate and backing from the Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi, the council also removed most references to religion in the law to escape any possible implications to “Muslims and non-Muslims”.

In another major move for the country, the draft also prohibits child-sex offenders from working with children.

Any offender who finishes a prison sentence would be prohibited from living within five square kilometres of the victim’s home.

In all cases, offenders will not be released from prison until they go through psychological tests to ensure they are not a threat to society.

Among other rights, children are entitled to health care, education, a safe environment, paid expenses and the right to know both parents and keep close relations with them.

Before parents are given custody of a child, they will have to prove themselves of sound mind.

Members were also keen to impose harsher punishment on offenders.

Those who put children in danger, abandon them, neglect them, leave them without supervision, do not enrol them in school or register them upon their birth, are subject to a prison sentence or a fine of no less than Dh5,000.

The FNC also added a clause to the law subjecting those who distribute child pornography on the internet to a prison term of no less than six months.

The law will now be passed to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, for final approval.

Once it is approved and published in the Official Gazette, it will be enforced three months later.

The law would apply to all children up to the age 18, regardless of nationality and religion.