Negligent parents must be held to account, says UAE child safety official

A series of deaths involving children falling from balconies must be met with firm action

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, June 1, 2017:     General view of the skyline of downtown Sharjah seen from Al Masraf Towers along King Abdul Aziz street in the Al Qassimiyah area of Sharjah on June 1, 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

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Parents must be held accountable for accidents that lead to the injury or death of their child, a family protection expert has said.

Moza Al Shoomi, deputy head of Emirates Child Protection Association, spoke after two young children died falling from balconies this week.

"We can't blame the chair or the window for their deaths," Ms Al Shoomi told The National.

“The ones who should be held responsible are the parents or caregivers who left the children unattended, building owners who didn’t implement safety measures, and the municipalities, if it is found that the safety measures are not being implemented."

A toddler aged two died on Monday afternoon when she fell from an eight-floor flat in Sharjah.

On Sunday, another child fell to her death from a ninth floor balcony in Dubai. The mother of the child in the Sharjah death was charged with negligence on Wednesday evening. She is thought to have left the girl alone in the apartment for some time.

“This is a child’s life we are talking about and it is our responsibility to look after them, to raise them in a safe environment," Ms Al Shoomi said.

The UAE's 2016 child protection law says parents or caregivers are prohibited from leaving a child without supervision.

Breaking the law can lead to imprisonment or a fine of not less than Dh5,000.

Police have been reluctant to prosecute parents following the death of their child. Accidents have involved reversing vehicles hitting youngsters and children drowning in unattended pools.

That stance appears to be changing, though officials believe there must be flexibility in the law.

"We have indeed prosecuted parents and referred them to court," Mohammed Rustom, head of Dubai's family and juvenile prosecution division, said last year.

“[But] if a child is metres away from his parents, falls and then is critically injured, its quite tough to blame the parents."

Two further fall deaths were reported in the past week, a 16-year-old who fell from the window of a sixth floor apartment in Umm Al Quwain and a 15-year-old who fell from the 10th floor of a building in Sharjah. Police believe both teenagers took their own lives, but investigations are ongoing.