Watch out for signs of child abuse, UAE experts say

Children must be given the opportunity to ask for help, experts say.

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ABU DHABI // Parents and teachers have been urged to learn how to identify and deal with child abuse.

The main cases of abuse are neglect, physical and sexual assault, verbal and emotional abuse in homes and schools, said Dr Ahmed Al Almaei, a specialist and manager of psychology for children in Khalifa City Healthcare Centre.

“Violence can be an issue between mothers and fathers, children’s siblings or in school,” Dr Al Almaei told an audience at Sultan bin Zayed Culture and Media Centre on Tuesday.

“Some families give constant criticism instead of showing support and love. Even if a parent is sometimes rude or aggressive towards the child, he or she will regret their hurtful words and actions and will in most cases rush to hug them.”

He said most abuse cases involve family or someone close by, such as a maid. “Deportation of the maids ends the issue with them, but the child might suffer for a lifetime.”

Culture in the region is another factor, said the doctor, with “physical disciplinary action towards children usual, and in many ways acceptable”.

He said many families do not report signs of abuse to the authorities. "Fathers especially don't like showing that their son, who will grow to be a man, might have an issue which requires treatment."

The way school authorities deal with abuse should also be examined, he said.

"The problem in school is that they notice an issue but take no action. The schools have a big responsibility in keeping our children safe. Schools are not only about education but must also assist in proper upbringing."

Children have to be given the opportunity at school to ask for help, he said.

“In the future we want a specialist who provides help to students, someone who listens to them and gives us a better picture. That is our aim.”

Parents must also monitor their children while using the internet or electronic gadgets, and spend more time one on one with them, said Dr Al Almaei.

“Parents have to be a part of their lives, socially and academically. We have to find common topics to discuss with our children. We often find ourselves too busy to notice them, and this has outrageous results.”

Most cases of abuse in children cannot be seen or felt, said the doctor, and require physiological evaluation. “At the hospital, we see signs of bruises, sometimes old and new, and in most cases separated. But some cases of abuse, like sexual, there are no visible signs, no bruises. If a child is touched inappropriately, how will we know?”

Children who are subjected to physical abuse will use violence when playing with others or with toys, which is also a sign parents must look out for, the doctor warned the audience.

Children who are abused can develop depression, learning and language difficulties, aggressive behaviour and drug problems, he said.

“Children grow up to be worried, afraid and unable to reach out. They suffer from sleep disorders and sexual issues and they cannot build a healthy relationship.”

In the end, he said, parents and extended families must create a supportive atmosphere for the child and both listen to them and allow them room to speak.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae