It's impossible, especially for working parents, to look after their children 24/7
By Evangeline Elsa/Community Solutions Editor
Dubai: The UAE is a very safe country. But does this condition lull parents into complacency, especially about their children’s safety?
From August 2011 to September 2018, Gulf News has recorded at least 27 youngsters — ages between three and 16 — falling to death; a grim reminder of the lurking dangers of residing in a tower and the dire need to keep children safe.
It's impossible, especially for working parents, to look after their children 24/7. So the question many people ask: Is there another reason behind accidents involving children falling out of high-rises?
What are the simple, deliberate ways one can do now to guard against such lurking horror in the family?
Gulf News spoke to some UAE parents to understand the issue they're facing.
Parents not lulled by false sense of security
Dubai-based mother Riza Gochuico (right) told Gulf News: “I trust the UAE with regards to crime and safety, but I don’t think that it’s made me careless when it comes to my children’s safety.”
Guchuico feels there is another important reason: “I don’t know if this trend is particularly seen only in the UAE but, I feel here parents are unable to pay 100 per cent attention to children, because they are very tired.
After working late hours, they have very little energy to engage with the child and use technology to nanny the children.”
Read more: Reality check - Living living safe
The Filipina expat says she is lucky to have flexible work timings: “I feel flexible work timings are very important in order for a parent to be cognizant enough to handle children.”
Wajiha Shamim (below), a 33-year old mother agreed. She said: “I think it has nothing to do with a sense of security in the UAE. Mostly, when both the parents are working, they are busy and lack time to monitor the child. Children especially young ones need constant attention.”
Shamim, a banker, recalled a recent incident where she left her two-year-old unmonitored for a few minutes to get water. “When I returned, my child was almost on the edge of the bed, about to fall off. I think it just has to do with our lifestyle. Parents who are constantly busy, tend to miss small details.”
For Pakistan expat Faiza Hasan, being tired is not limited to working parents. She said: “I am a homemaker, we don’t have a maid and live with extended family, sometimes there is a lot to do and you can’t pay attention to the child. I think as parents the solution is to prioritise everything after the child.
"They should not be left out of sight. And the responsibility should lie equally with both parents, and not just parents. All members living in the house should be careful if there are children in the family. Sometimes we are careless and leave doors open.”
Hasan, 29, lives in a villa, she feels people are so busy that they forget about children in the house: “People are busy with their own work, their phones and lives, those things somehow get more attention than children.”
Social media: A distraction
The world is constantly scrolling down phone screens, so are parents.
Dubai-based mother Amrita Vidyarthi (right) highlights a more important problem that parents do not admit or address, social media. She said: “I don’t think parents are intentionally careless. They are more busy on their mobile phones or are too self-involved. This results in lack of attention towards children.”
She added: “The phrase ‘let your child be independent’, has fundamentally changed now. In our childhood, we were given a chance to go out and play, explore. We understood if things we did were safe or not. But throughout this, we were rarely out of their sight or out of their mind.
"However, now, there is an increased sense of wanting one’s own time, and paying attention to oneself. So we hand them a smartphone or a gadget. The word ‘independent’ now translates to ‘as long as the child is busy and not disturbing me’.”
Riza Guchuico agreed, she said: “I made an informed decision to be off the phone and be more attentive to children once I return from work. It is a very sad thing that parents give more importance to social media than to their children and don’t have time to help children channel their energy.”
Talk to children about consequences
Children are naturally curious. Vidyarthi who is 38, has a five-year-old daughter. The Dubai-based tax accountant said: “As parents it is our responsibility to answer their questions and help them make wise choices. I tell my daughter that every action has a good or bad result, so that before doing something risky, she weighs the consequence.
"But, unless we have a conversation with our children, it is impossible to understand what kind of things make them curious. I try to guide my daughter by letting her follow her curiosity but only after informing her of the possible dangers.”
Guchuico says, talking to your child and instructing them is important. In their house the windows are permanently locked. Her children have access to a sliding door that leads to a balcony.
The 42-year-old financial controller said: “I have three children who have been taught from young, not to use the balcony without permission. They never do. Instructing your children is important along with telling them about the dangers of their actions.”
Faiza Hasan (right) thinks parents are sometimes careless and don’t child-proof apartments. She said: “Parents should ensure grills on windows and balconies.”
Wajiha Shamim also thinks parents should be aware of baby-proofing options. She added: “I have bought furniture keeping in mind my child’s safety. There are no decorations, mostly toys. Everything dangerous is kept out of reach or at a height. There are locks on cabinets and doors to balconies and the main entrance is always locked.”
Ali Munawer of DuMa Safe, a child-proofing initiative in Dubai, said: “The main reasons why incidents like these continue to happen is because of parents’ negligence, lack of education and a failure to take basic safety measures at home.
"It could be as simple as not leaving your child alone or securing your balcony doors and windows with restrictors. These restrictors don’t allow the doors or windows to open more than a few inches, thereby preventing small children from accidentally falling out.”
(With inputs from Sharmila Dhal, Reporter)
Why we childproofed our 12th-floor balconies
By Chiranjib Sengupta, Hub Editor
It was the view of Burj Al Arab and vast expanse of the sea that clinched the deal for us. We signed the contract immediately – not many apartments in Dubai offer you such a bundle of convenience, affordability and breathtaking views of the city all together.
It took a while for the flip side to sink in.
We were on the 12th floor. There were two open balconies and two large windows.
And we had three small children. There were stories all around the UAE – of children falling off. While playing with their favorite toys. While trying to grab an iPad. While just looking.
Accidents. The grief and the devastation.
So what, said some friends and relatives – don’t worry, it’s cool. Children will mind themselves. Let them be free. Just be careful.
Put some chairs, plants, trellis and a BBQ set, said others; let the kids enjoy.
Indeed, the views were lovely, the sunshine was aplenty and the children were thrilled: what a waste it would be to lock it out.
We thought. And debated. And then headed to the nearest child safety store.
Special locks for the balcony door; child-proof latch for the windows – it was all there, contrary to complaints that such things are hard to find in Dubai.
The building management wouldn’t allow it, said many.
Nope, they did. Without any hassles.
And so we locked out the beautiful balconies out of reach of our children. Ground rules were set: kids would only be allowed to step out when an adult is in the balcony.
Or until they became adults themselves.
With both parents working, which meant they had to mostly wait for the weekends or a holiday to get a peep at the ever growing Bougainvillea or the traffic on Shaikh Zayed Road.
It’s a price we will pay – a small one, I think.
While our kids are obliging enough to follow our safety advices to the tee, children are always going to be clever, curious and creative. And restless too.
So thank you for the view – but we are not taking our chances.
Call it harsh parenting. Paranoia perhaps? We will have none of it.
As they say, a moment of inattention leads to a lifetime of regret.
A safety-crazed mum?
By Sara Al Shurafa, Gulf News Web Editor
As a mother and wife, I run the house. That means constantly thinking about ways to curb possible dangers and making wilful moves to ensure my family’s safety.
Constant means everytime, all the time. These deliberate moves are aimed to avoid the risk of my two-year-old girl getting hurt, or worse.
I constantly keep an eye on doors, windows, cabinets, chemicals/washing liquids, medicines and make sure they child-safe.
At some point, being a worrywart develops into anxiety. When I head back to bed at night, dark thoughts sneak on me. My brain plays games with my consciousness: “A human life depends on you. A slight slip, any mistake, can cause a lifetime of sorrow.”
Mistakes do happen
A mistake I will never ever be able to forgive myself doing — or find any excuse for — is to neglect the wellbeing of an innocent soul given to me as a safe-keeper, a steward of life by God.
At that thought, I would ditch my bed, throw my blanket and double check on my daughter, the windows, doors, chemicals, sockets and furniture.
I double, no triple-check, all the toilet cabinets if they are locked well, as I imagine her popping medicines, thinking they are Smarties.
At home, all our cabinets are sealed with child safety latches. My next stop will be the most dangerous place in any house, what I consider the “war zone” — the kitchen.
My kitchen door is always locked no matter what time of day. The cabinets and drawers are all locked with safety latches, my knives and cutlery are kept on very high rails that I had installed when we moved in.
I suffered from severe burns when I was a child. So you can’t blame me if fire is my No. 1 worry now that I am a mum. A gas cooker was never an option in my house. I always had electric stoves, always unplugged if not in use.
No chairs and no tables in the kitchen, too. Every night before bed, I make sure put the stepper back on the kitchen top.
Detergents are no joke. The ghost of chemical burns and organ failures from children drinking detergents follows me around so that cabinet under the kitchen sink where washing liquids are kept is double-proofed.
This cabinet is has two locks, just in case my two-year-old daughter figures out a way to open one. I use all the force I have to close bottle caps.
Dangers lurking in the kitchen, cabinets, doors
Leaving the kitchen and locking that door behind me, I head to the balcony doors, double-check the locks and make sure no light furniture is located on my balcony that she would be able to push enough to stand on beside the rails.
Thankfully, our balcony rails are pretty high, so that’s one less worry for me.
My constant concern is this: You never know what goes inside the discerning head of the little ones. As a concerned mother, you always have guard against the worst.
Maybe my baby thinks it’s okay to leave the house in the morning instead of waking me up.
My last stop during the night patrol: the house main door. I make sure it’s locked, the key removed and kept in a safe place and the upper latch of the door is also closed.
Heading back to bed now, I check if my night baby monitor works, try to get some sleep, praying for my daughter’s safety.
Who is to blame for the fall?
By Karishma H. Nandkeolyar, Web Editor
Most people cannot help but love their children: they offer a look at immortality. You may die but your genes will live on in them; fondness is etched into your DNA.
So what’s causing so many people in the UAE to suffer the trauma of losing a young one to a fatal fall? Is it the complicity that comes with security that is addling the senses? Is it exhaustion after a hard day’s work and a lack of a support system that is causing attention to flicker? Or is it simply a case of curiosity proving deadly?
What’s interesting to note is that this is NOT a UAE-specific or age-kerned issue. For one thing, falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide, according to a report by the World Health Organisation.
In 2004, a WHO report found that about 424 000 people of all ages died from falls worldwide; of these more than 46,000 were children.
The WHO report also states that falls rank as the 12th leading cause of death among five–nine year olds and 15-19 year olds.
However, there are two age groups that are most at risk: the youngest and the oldest. Balancing trouble, curiosity and unpredictably — associated with both sections — can tip the scales onto a tragic plane.
“For sure UAE is known to be a safe place for children and also adults for different reasons but even the most safe place can become dangerous for kids who have no capability to judge the potential risks and dangers,” says Dr Valeria Risoli, Clinical Psychologist at Dubai Physiotherapy & Family Medicine Clinic.
She adds: “Since we think we live in a safe place, somehow, we feel reassured and more relaxed, this make us feel better for sure. However, this can [prove] dangerous as inevitably there are moments when we feel comfortable [enough] to drop our guard. Unfortunately, with kids we are not allowed to do so as kids per se are inquisitive, curious, unpredictable, fast and a moment of relax can become quickly a tragedy.”
However, what’s important to keep in mind is in a place like the UAE where heat can often cauterize outlets for energy release, there is a propensity to be more restless.
“Kids are full of energy and more than adults have the need to express their energy (mental and physical) through physical activity. They need to move around, to play, to run and jump. As parents we cannot expect children to stay calm and sit for hours reading of watching TV. This would affect our kids’ psychological and physical well-being in many ways,” says Risoli.
“Children get easily bored of the same activities so they can follow their curiosity as they see a window or a door or a street as an opportunity to escape and do something different or see different places.”
A brother flounders
I am not a mother.
But I am a sister to a very, very curious man who needed to know the inner workings of everything as a child. I remember living in a ground floor apartment and being in tears because one day — inspired by Spiderman toons — he decided to climb onto our indoor swing and jump off it, fully intending like the web slinger go from link to link. He ended up with a broken limb.
The fault lay not with my mum and dad, or the hawkish woman who kept us within line of sight at most times, it lay with the fact that children are just that fanciful.
Seeing my brother flounder and bruise himself inspired in me a bone-freezing type of caution — but also it brings to mind certain fundamentals: do the best you can but life can be (sometimes horribly) unpredictable.
Accidental falls of children make headlines all through the year in the UAE: a case of bad parenting or just of bad luck?
Three points to consider:
Parents are humans, not spiders: One set of eyes, one set of hands and with a whole lot of individual. To keep an eye on a living organism that is predisposed to behaving erratically 24/7 is impossible. It is not for a lack of love that these children are not being monitored it is because these caretakers also need time to refuel and react to their own lives.
Cost matters: It’s all fine and dandy to say child-proof your home but honestly, are you the same person who can afford house help, psychiatric intervention when you are feeling the blues, or a support system that can babysit when you need?
Bad parents exist: There are those who molest or see their children abused. There are those who in the stifling heat of summer lock their kids in cars. But there are also those who are just doing the best they can.
Sometimes it can be just the luck of the draw, or fate, if that’s what you’d like to call it. Get off your high horse and see these couples for what they are: Just humans trying to keep another living being alive.
Alertness is key
During summer, especially when school is out, it may prove a tough task to entertain, educate, keep safe while navigating your own day-to-day existence.
Must you then give up any idea of relaxation as soon as you put on the cap of a parent? Perhaps not.
The key is general alertness and knowing when to ask for help, explains the expert.
Here are some points Dr Risoli says one should bear in mind:
Child-proof the house: Parents might be too tired to keep a close eye on their children but in this case parents as responsible adults have the duty of either delegate someone to take care of their children or create a safe environment at home to minimise the risk of children being caught in accidents and tragedies.
Don’t blame the children: Kids are curious, inquisitive, active, full of energy, playful and they cannot be punished or blamed for this. These features [are] what allow them to grow and develop into creative and intelligent individuals. If we contain their curiosity we just limit their possibility of development. This is why we have to help them follow their curiosity in a safe way.
Don’t blame yourself, ask for help: We are human being so it is normal that sometimes we trust we can relax as we think that tragedies won’t happen to us. At the same time some parents are very busy, very active, multitasking, taking care of anything. And it happens in these fractions of seconds that we drop our guard (as said before) over our children. And this can be fatal. If we feel too stressed or busy perhaps it is important to ask for help for ourselves and people we are responsible for.
Timeline: Death fall of young ones
September 23, 2018: A three-year-old Arab boy died after falling from the balcony of a fourth-floor flat in Al Nuaimyah area, Ajman.
August 26, 2018: A five-year-old American girl died on the spot after falling from the 19th floor of a Sharjah high-rise building.
March 26, 2017: A three-year-old Saudi girl fell to her death from the 11th floor of a building on Jamal Abdul Nasser Street in Sharjah.
March 20, 2017: A 16-year-old Indian girl died after falling from the seventh floor balcony of her apartment in Jamal Abdul Nasser street in Sharjah.
January 22, 2017: A 12-year-old Pakistani boy died after falling from the eighth floor of a building in Al Taawun area in Sharjah.
December 30, 2016: A 12-year-old Filipino boy died after falling from the 14th-floor balcony of his apartment in Al Nahda in Sharjah
November 28, 2016: A two-and-a-half-year-old Eritrean child fell to his death from the fourth floor of a building in Al Qasimia area of Sharjah.
June 13, 2016: A four-year old Algerian boy died after falling from the 18th floor of a building in Al Buhairah area in Sharjah.
May 03, 2016: A four-year-old Sudanese girl died on the spot after falling from the ninth floor of a building in the Al Majaz area, Sharjah.
May 01, 2016: A two-year-old Pakistani girl died on the spot after falling from the seventh floor in the Al Qasimiya area, Sharjah.
February 24, 2016: A 15-month-old Omani girl dies after falling from a sixth-floor apartment balcony in Moeilah area, Sharjah.
February 03, 2016: A four-year-old Syrian girl fall to her death from the window of an eighth floor apartment in a building in Al Taawun area, Sharjah.
October 25, 2015: A five-year-old girl dies after falling from the window of her 15th floor apartment in Al Taawun area, Sharjah.
October 07, 2015: An 11-year-old British national of Yemeni origin boy dies after falling from the sixth floor of Al Jawaher building in Al Majaz area, Sharjah.
June 14, 2015: A two-year-old African girl falls to her death from a high-rise apartment in Sharjah in Al Taawun area, Sharjah.
March 09, 2015: A four-year-old Egyptian boy has died on the spot after falling from a window of his family’s 19th floor apartment in a building in Al Nahda area, Sharjah.
March 03, 2015: A 12-year-old Indian girl has died after falling from her third-floor apartment in a building behind Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah.
February 22, 2015: A seven-year-old boy has died after falling eight floors from a balcony of his building in Sharjah, while trying to feed pigeons.
November 27, 2014: A 19-month-old Pakistani girl dies after falling from a second-floor apartment balcony in Sharjah.
November 03, 2014: A five-year-old boy has died after falling from the window of his 12th floor apartment in Sharjah.
October 28, 2014: A five-year-old Egyptian boy has died after falling from the ninth floor of a building in Ajman.
October 20, 2014: A 12-year-old Indian girl falls to her death from a window of a building in Al Qasimiya area, Sharjah.
October 16, 2014: A four-year-old Indian girl falls to her death from a high-rise apartment in Al Naba'a area of Sharjah.
August 09, 2014: A five-year-old Bangladeshi boy is in hospital after falling from the window of building in Abu Dhabi.
May 26, 2014: A seven-year old boy has died after falling from 13th floor apartment in Sharjah
March 17, 2014: A four-year-old boy fell to his death from sixth floor apartment in Sharjah.
March 6, 2014: A nine-year-old child died after falling from the eighth floor of her parents Hamdan Street apartment, the Abu Dhabi Police said