Dubai: Children must be taught how and who to reach for help in cases of abuse, top UAE officials told The 5th Arab Regional Conference on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect on Monday in Dubai.
Two UAE ministers discussed the challenges in fighting child abuse during a panel on “Child Protection Legislations and Procedures in the Region”.
They said anti-abuse laws and measures cannot be fully effective unless children are made aware that they can report cases confidentially and are also taught the ways of doing it.
Jameela Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Public Education, said children should know, for example, that they can turn to authorities if a family member is behind the abuse.
Children must know that there are child abuse hotlines, for instance, while call receivers must be specialised in handling child abuse cases, she added.
“If the child calls the hotline and is silent, that also means something is wrong. We have to educate children about their rights, what is child abuse, and how they can seek help confidentially,” Al Muhairi said.
Al Muhairi also said that schools are the “second home” of children, who spend six to eight hours at school every day. She described the school principal as the “second mother” of children who, along with school staff, are obligated under UAE law to report suspected cases of child abuse. Failing to report child abuse can lead to prosecution in the UAE.
“No teacher should touch the child, the child has rights. You can deal with the child’s misbehaviour in different ways but hitting the child is prohibited in all schools in the UAE. Also, if the child is absent from class for many days, it’s the school’s responsibility to find out why.”
Al Muhairi added that in the fight against child abuse, “our main mission is awareness. At schools, the teachers must know what is acceptable behaviour with a child and what is not. The child must also be able to tell the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour”.
Hessa Bint Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, said her ministry has been working with schools to raise awareness about child abuse and the laws and measures in place so school leaders, teachers and staff can effectively respond to suspected cases.
Buhumaid added the ministry is also coordinating with local and federal entities in the UAE concerned with child abuse in providing “social protection units” where abused children or their parents or guardians can seek help discretely, through officials specialised in this field.
Gulf News reported earlier this month that in the UAE, a specialised task force known as the Ministry of Interior Child Protection Centre (MOI-CPC) is establishing Child Interview Rooms across the country. The rooms are designed to make children feel comfortable by creating a homely atmosphere where trained specialists can discreetly record abuse testimonies so children don’t have to relive the ordeal in court.
On Monday, Buhumaid said: “We have to educate people about child abuse. Sometimes the child will not make the call [to report abuse]; it is the people around the child who will — the parents, siblings. Even the nanny at home should know that the state provides the laws and steps to fight child abuse. Everyone surrounding the child, at home or school, has a big role to play in all this.”
Buhumaid added that a priority for authorities is to find ways of detecting and investigating child abuse at home, committed by a family member, as such cases are least likely to be reported.
Another priority, Al Muhairi said, is to combat cyber-bullying. She said her ministry is working closely with the Ministry of Interior on this issue. Al Muhairi added that Lt. Gen. Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, is “very keen” on fighting the problem and has called for a dedicated conference on this topic.
Al Muhairi said her ministry has also reached out to thousands of students and teachers in building awareness specifically on cyber or online bullying. She added that the recent introduction of Moral Education in UAE schools should also provide inspiration to abstain from such behaviour.