The UAE Government has moved with remarkable speed to ensure that the tragic death of an 8-year old girl - Wadeema, buried in the desert after being tortured during a seven-month period last year - will not be repeated. As The National reports today, a draft child-protection law has now been passed on to the Federal National Council for review. Among its provisions are rights that all children will have and responsibilities the Government will need to fulfil.
No matter what form Wadeema's Law takes when it is finalised, the fact that these issues are even being discussed is a big change in the way the UAE functions. At the heart of this legislation are not merely new laws, but a new relationship between the Government and families, and new expectations of what the role of the Government is in raising children.
The first part of this change is the creation of child protection units, backed by legal powers that will allow them to enter homes and collect evidence. The law would change the onus of protection, making the state responsible for preventive intervention. In extreme cases, children might be removed from their parents without a court order. In a society that is conservative and has historically seen the family as the appropriate forum for dealing with social problems, this is a big and potentially controversial change.
The second proposal is potentially more far-reaching. The law establishes responsibilities on the part of the Government, not merely to disseminate information on child well-being and to enforce laws, but also to produce results: one proposals says the Government would be tasked with lowering the dropout rate in schools and providing equal opportunities to all children. Clearly this is easier proposed than delivered, but the intent is what matters here. It means, in the long-term, that UAE policy across health, education and perhaps even employment sectors will be shifted to take children into consideration. The draft also calls for new building codes mandating child-safety locks on high-rise windows; warnings on crude content at cinemas; and bans on child employment.
Wadeema's Law will now be looked at by the full FNC, which may propose changes. But if it is adopted in anywhere like its current form it will, we can all hope, mean there will no repeat of the shocking abuse Wadeema suffered.
And it will redefine what "child protection" is, making the welfare, health, safety and security of all our children a shared responsibility.