‘Use law and awareness’ in war on child abuse

Focus on legislative framework and raising public consciousness are key to tackling the problem, says consultancy.

DUBAI // The need for systems to protect children at school and at home has been highlighted by the number of child abuse cases reported to the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children last year, a consultancy says.

Last year, the foundation handled 62 cases, down from 69 in 2015. Since its inception in 2007, it has handled more than 500 cases.

As GCC countries improve their child protection measures, there should be a focus on legislative framework and on raising awareness, said a study by the consultancy, Strategy&.

GCC countries were actively pursuing child protection initiatives, said Fadi Adra, a Strategy& partner.

“Some of this requires putting in place the right enablers in terms of legislative framework, human capabilities, governance and guidelines,” he said.

“It also involves raising awareness of the problem within communities so that people are able to effectively detect child abuse, and making reporting mandatory while protecting whistleblowers so that they do not worry about reporting suspicions of child maltreatment.

“Schools in particular play a critical role given that school is where children spend a lot of time.”

The UAE’s Child Protection Law has won praise from children’s rights groups for leading the way for other countries.

The law covers physical and sexual abuse, habitual maltreatment, neglect and exploitation by groups that teach fanaticism or hatred, or urge children to commit violence. For its part, the foundation is raising awareness about child abuse and has yearly campaigns.

Last year, it responded to 88 calls about suspected child abuse, up from 92 in 2015.

In Qatar, healthcare professionals are leading strategic efforts to prevent child abuse.

In January, the Sidra medical and research centre in Doha launched a child advocacy programme after a series of workshops for civil servants, healthcare professionals and human-rights experts.

The programme supports children who have been abused or neglected at home or in the community.

Dr Khalid Al Ansari, Sidra’s division chief of emergency medicine, said it was working closely with law enforcement and forensic agencies under the ministry of interior, the protection and social rehabilitation centre and the family consulting centre.

Saudi Arabia set up the national family safety programme in 2005. It seeks to raise awareness about domestic abuse and to provide providing preventive and support schemes.

In Oman, the sultanate adopted the national strategy for childhood 2016-2027 to protect the rights of women and children and to enact preventive and care programmes for victims of abuse.

Valerie Jambart, a Strategy& manager, said the first step was to agree on a common definition of maltreatment to enable detection of child abuse.

“People who report cases need to feel confident that these will be dealt with expeditiously and professionally, without putting the child at risk of further harm,” Ms Jambart said.

“This is where the respect of confidentiality in information management plays a key role.

“Properly vetting staff who interact with children in schools is yet another factor for a successful child protection ecosystem.

“We are on the right path but still have a long way to go to properly fulfil the basic social requirements of child protection.”