Abu Dhabi: Five men have been convicted of molesting a 14-year-old girl whom they met through an internet social networking website.
Three of the accused have been jailed for six months while the remaining two are each facing a year in prison for wrongfully detaining the victim.
According to court documents, one of the suspects had threatened the victim to expose their romantic relationship to her parents, on a social networking site, if she refused to go out with him.
Upon succumbing to his threats, the accused molested the victim and abandoned her on a street in the capital. The remaining suspects, who had also met the teenager on the website, then proceeded to sexually abuse the victim.
Two of the defendants detained the girl for an unknown period of time.
Cyber-bullying through social networking sites causes serious psychological damage in some cases, especially to unattended teenagers, experts warned, urging for close parental supervision and educational campaigns for family members about the pros and cons of using these sites.
“Unattended use of social networking sites and cyber-bullying through these sites may cause serious psychological damage to teenagers who communicate with strangers,” a spokesperson of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said, citing a number of lawsuits heard by Abu Dhabi courts involving crimes against young children.
The Judicial Department spokesperson urged parents to monitor their children’s use of social networking sites more closely.
A recent survey of 127 families in the UAE showed 80 per cent of the households use social networking sites for a period of time ranging from one to five hours daily with 44 per cent of the households using them for one to two hours and 36 per cent of the families using these sites between 3 to 5 hours per day.
The pilot study, made by Dr. Mohammad Al Khouri, assistant professor in statistics at the Cairo-based Sadat Academy for Management Sciences, also found that 53 per cent of the households access YouTube while 42.5 per cent of the families surveyed used Facebook.
The study found that “communicating with unidentified persons without controls” was viewed as the highest relative disadvantage resulting from the use of social networks, followed by the “abuse of these sites by some teens”, and “causing isolation of children in the real world”.
The study also suggested launching awareness programmes targeting all members of the family and designing of a social network site under the supervision of community foundation working in the family development sector.
During the trial, the defendants’ lawyers raised several questions regarding the victim’s age claiming that she had passed the age of 14 according to the Muslim Hijri calendar.
Victims of sexual crimes aged 14 years and younger are considered coerced, even if they gave their consent to the illegal act. Therefore, the defence team attempted to remove this charge of coercion against the defendants by bidding to prove that she is over 14 years of age.
However, the court refused their claim and proceeded to prosecute the suspects based on the law that those under the minimum age of 14 are considered to have no authority to determine right from wrong, and found them guilty of their crimes.
Dr. Al Khouri said unconscious use of social networks in the absence of effective policies for monitoring and control of these sites can pose a serious risk to family stability in addition to many other social problems especially between spouses, children and parents.
He said young volunteers can address members of the family and society in various gatherings including malls, markets or parks to raise awareness about advantages and disadvantages of using social networks.
Abu Dhabi Educational Council, which oversees all schools in the capital, has a set of guidelines on behaviour and discipline to be followed in all schools across the emirate.
Under the policy, all schools are required to have policies and procedures to address bullying and other forms of student harassment.
Police across the country have set up hotlines to report cyber-bullying. In Abu Dhabi, people can phone 02 512 7777; in Dubai, the number is 04 609 6944 and in Sharjah, 06 800 151.