National strategy to shape UAE policies on children

The Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the General Women's Union and Unicef have been developing the National Childhood and Motherhood Strategy since 2009.

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ABU DHABI // A plan that will shape the country's policies on children for the next decade is due out by the end of the year.

The Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the General Women's Union and Unicef have been developing the National Childhood and Motherhood Strategy since 2009.

"The goal of the strategy is to enhance the achievements, first of all, of the UAE Government in regards to children and also to make sure that the UAE raises its services for kids according to international standards," said Mohammed Mansour, an adviser to the women's union.

More than 40 federal government, local government and private institutions have contributed.

The strategy is based on a 262-page study, completed in 2010, of the country's strengths and weaknesses in child health, education, child protection and children's participation in society.

"This study and this strategy are concerned with all the kids in the UAE, not only nationals," Mr Mansour said.

The study, Situation Analysis of Children in the UAE, looked at a variety of issues including obesity, traffic accidents, early-childhood education, juvenile delinquency and family violence.

"The study revealed the achievements were marvellous in relation to health and also in the indicators in education," said Lara Hussein, chief of child protection for Unicef's Arabian Gulf office.

"But … the study revealed that there is no comprehensive national child protection system. There are several services, there are several initiatives, but they're not well-coordinated under one umbrella."

The strategy addresses several issues that are taboo in much of the Arab world, such as family violence and juvenile drug use.

Unicef recruited four experts to look at challenges and recommendations from the study, Ms Hussein said.

Then the foundation and the women's union organised a "national consultation" with discussion groups involving almost 250 people.

Four workshops were attended by the government ministers whose portfolios were pertinent to the topics, Mr Mansour said.

A workshop on child protection, held last month at the Abu Dhabi Police headquarters, was attended by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister.

At the workshop, the women's union director Noura Al Suwaidi had called for a law addressing all issues related to child safety and child protection.

This month Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai, ordered the creation of a federal child protection law.

Two drafts from different ministries are awaiting the approval of the federal Cabinet.

"It is a new philosophy in the region to have a comprehensive law," said Lt Col Faisal Al Shamari, director of the Ministry of Interior's child protection centre.

"But addressing the order of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid in speeding up the process of issuing a law, it highlighted the necessity."

Ms Hussein said the strategy's leaders were including ideas from the workshops into the plan.

"We hope we will finalise it soon and send it again to the institutions," she said.

Unicef and the women's union plan to launch the strategy this year, perhaps on Universal Children's Day on November 20, Ms Hussein said.

When finished, it will shape the country's policies for the next 10 years, Mr Mansour said.

It took patience to get some of the participants to speak candidly about the country's challenges, he said.

"Some institutions are resisting," Mr Mansour said. "They say, 'everything is good.' Yes, everything is good but we have to do this for the children.

"Sometimes you feel that some people are hiding many things so we have to work, encouraging them."

Sanjana Bhardwaj, an instructor at Zayed University and a child protection consultant, said the strategy was an important step for the country.

"It will be a streamlined effort to work in the area of child rights," Ms Bhardwaj said. "And that's what's needed here."