Wadeema's Law on child protection under fire from UAE parents

Some parents raise concerns that Wadeema's Law - currently being drafted - will prevent guardians from disciplining children and want abuse and violence to be defined.

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DUBAI // The draft child-protection law has come under fire from some parents who say it could deter guardians from disciplining their children.

The 72-article draft legislation known as Wadeema's Law - named after an eight-year-old Emirati girl who was tortured and beaten to death last year - aims to guarantee specific rights for children.

Among its proposals is the creation of child-protection units with the legal backing to remove children from their homes if they are considered to be in imminent danger, and to intervene with regular visits in less severe cases.

The proposal met resistance from some Emirati parents who attended an open meeting with FNC members on Sunday evening.

"Does not this removal mean the strengthening [of] children against their parents?" asked Sa'ad Al Mehri, a resident of Abu Dhabi. "What do we mean by psychological abuse and how can one define abuse and violence? Are we no longer allowed to discipline our children?"

Mr Al Mehri said he doubted the need for such a law but if it were implemented it would need a clear definition of "violence".

He said that without such a definition parents could be deterred from disciplining their children.

"There is already law governing the criminal and abnormal abuse of children, including by their parents, so I do not really understand the need for a specific law," Mr Al Mehri said.

But Afra Al Basti, an FNC member and head of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, defended the law at the meeting.

"Who will put on trial those who sexually abuse children, without this law?" she asked. "These crimes are new to our country. They have not always existed and this law is to address them."

Dr Mona Al Bahar, a Dubai FNC member and the assistant director for care and rehabilitation at the foundation, said the power to remove children from their homes would not be used arbitrarily and each case would be studied individually.

Dr Al Bahar also assured the meeting that the draft law would be subject to "immense scrutiny" before being approved.

The draft is being studied by the FNC's health, labour and social affairs committee, in cooperation with the council's legal team.

The FNC will discuss it and any disputes over its articles will be put to a vote. The law also requires final approval from the President, Sheikh Khalifa.

Dr Al Bahar said a study had found that domestic violence was "not a phenomenon" in the country.

The study, conducted by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, and UAE and Zayed universities, surveyed about 3,000 Emirati children across the country.

Dr Al Bahar said the results of the study would be made public next month.

A children's-rights law drafted by the Ministry of Social Affairs was submitted to the federal Cabinet in 2011 and was awaiting approval when news of Wadeema's death came to light in June last year.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, then ordered policymakers to speed up the process.

Cabinet approved an expanded draft in November, naming the law after Wadeema.