Sex offenders registry gets closer in UAE

Authorities are moving forward on a plan to set up a sex offenders registry as the UAE continues its first steps of establishing child protection laws.

ABU DHABI // Authorities are moving forward on a plan to set up a sex offenders registry as the UAE continues its first steps of establishing comprehensive child protection laws. "Legislation protects the privacy of every individual in society, whether he is a former criminal or otherwise," said Major Faisal al Shammari of the Permanent Higher Committee for Child Protection. "Sex crimes of this sort, particularly those that target children, require a special sort of treatment that curtails the privacy of the criminal record of these individuals."

Major al Shammari's comments came after the committee's second meeting last week, in which five subcommittees were set up. Their tasks were reviewing legislation on child abuse, setting up a child protection centre, creating awareness programmes, examining technical issues and overseeing the UAE's participation in a global task force to prevent the online exploitation of children. The sex offender registry will keep a detailed profile of convicted criminals, including their name, age, place of residence and biometric data such as fingerprints, eye imprints and facial profile. It also will include profiles of the type of victim the sex offender prefers.

Sex offenders on the registry would face restrictions on their place of residence and workplace. Such a system may have prevented the death of Moosa Mukhtiar Ahmed, the four-year-old who was sexually assaulted and murdered at a Dubai mosque last November, Major al Shammari said. The man convicted in the killing had committed prior sexual offences. "As a person with a family and children, you want to know whether one of your neighbours has a criminal record against children," he said. "As law enforcement, we don't have the authority to take action against an individual like that without legislation."

For instance, he said, authorities cannot ban a sex offender from certain neighbourhoods without the necessary laws. The registry is also likely to have different categories of offenders depending on the seriousness of the crime. The categories would depend on the level of danger the offenders pose to children, their psychological profile and their prior criminal record, he said. The next step will involve public consultation on the draft laws.

Nashwa al Qubaisi, an Emirati advocate and legal consultant, said stronger laws were important, but that child specialists were more urgently needed to work with police and in the courts. "We do not need a legal expert who asks questions only to reach a decision of how to punish abusers," she said. "We need child specialists who know how to deal with children in courts and understand the subtleties of the situation. We need those specialists to work side-by-side with us, lawyers, and judges."

Dr Lori Schwab, a consultant and psychotherapist at Al Ain Hospital, who is working on creating a child protection group at the hospital, said more co-operation in creating the legislation was needed from groups in the UAE studying child abuse. Even though there was extensive work now being done, "I find it very unfortunate that we're all not getting together with all our gained knowledge sitting at one table to get this thing moving a little bit faster," Dr Schwab said.