images for illustrative purposes only, For story based on Children Abuse. Dubai. Photo: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: One of the most unnoticed phenomena in society anywhere in the world is the abuse of children, be it in the form of neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Referred to by experts as Shadow Crimes — because they take place in the shadows, not out in the open — these heinous incidents often go unreported and involve the most vulnerable people in society.

In the UAE, the government has a zero tolerance to child abuse with stringent laws to prevent and combat this menace. In fact, the UAE has gone a step ahead and mandated that anyone who is aware of a case of child abuse and does not report it is also liable for prosecution. This indicates just how committed the UAE is to eliminate this problem.

In addition, a special team has been put in place to develop best practices for rooting out child abuse. Led by the Ministry of Interior (MoI), the team has now grown into a department known as the Child Protection Centre (CPC) or MoI-CPC.

The MoI and CPC have been working tirelessly over the last few years to fulfil their commitment to protecting every child in the UAE, although majority of what they do is not reported or publicised.

An artist’s illustration of the Child Interview Rooms.


Gulf News was provided exclusive access to parts of the world of MoI-CPC.

Established in 2011, CPC’s responsibilities are vast and include preparing general policies, setting up strategic plans for child protection, supervising and following up investigations into crimes against children, following up on the implementation of laws and developing regulations regarding crimes against children in cooperation with the authorities concerned, and monitoring the execution of these laws.

“We need to work together, with the public. We want to make sure reporting of child abuse takes place,” said Major Dana Al Marzouqi, head of CPC.

“Be certain that in the ministry, everyone is dedicated to finding ways of ensuring every child in the country is safe.

“We are trying. And everyone here is educated and dedicated to this task,” she said.

The task force may be relatively new, however, their progress and efforts in this field have achieved international recognition.

The UAE has gained a permanent seat on the WePROTECT Global Alliance, an international movement dedicated to ending the exploitation of children online, and also chairs the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), a group of international law-enforcement agencies dedicated to combating online child sexual abuse.

How you can report child abuse

We are all under a legal obligation to report a crime and that includes child abuse or harm. Reporting harm to a child can help stop re-victimisation and even help save the life of a child.


Prevention and awareness

The MoI-CPC said they have been working rigorously in collaboration with other government entities to raise awareness in society about crimes against children and the importance of reporting them.

From teaching young children about abuse and what they should do if they experience it, to educating adults in regular contact with children about spotting signs of abuse and reporting them, this work, they say, is ongoing.

Majority of MoI-CPC’s awareness efforts have so far been concentrated on schools and educators as school staff are best positioned to recognise abuse because of the sheer length of time they spend with a child on a daily basis, the CPC personnel told Gulf News.

“Children are in school eight hours a day. The schools have a responsibility to make sure that they have the knowledge and experience, which we are providing through training, to notice if a child is being neglected, if something is changing in a child’s behaviour, if their grades are going down, if they look sad, isolated. Because maybe the child will not report it, so it is their responsibility to do it for the child,” said Major Al Marzouqi.

The MoI-CPC message to the UAE is simple: “If you see or are aware of abuse and you do not report it, you are breaking the law.”

Child interview rooms

Supporting abused children and helping them get justice, without traumatising them or making them relive the abuse all over again, is at the forefront of the agenda when speaking to anyone at the MoI-CPC.

After much research and deliberation with international partners, the department has developed Child Interview Rooms to be built across the country. The room is designed to make children feel comfortable by having a home-like feel to it.

It will be equipped with toys, colourful sofas, a double-sided mirror and discrete video cameras to record interviews and the child’s testimony.

A specialist in civilian clothes, with an ear piece, will conduct the interview while investigators sit behind the double-sided mirror and monitor the exchange, and request the interviewee to get further information if required. The recording of the interview, which is admissible in court, will prevent the child from having to repeat the ordeal.

“This is all to reduce the number of times the child is brought back for questioning — to protect them so they do not live the abuse over and over. And the child doesn’t need to go to court,” said Captain Ebrahim Hassan Al Beloushi, head of the Child Investigation Section in MoI-CPC.

Identities protected

Another point highlighted by MoI-CPC was their commitment to safeguard victims’ identities for life.

To ensure this, they have developed a codified database that only allows access to individuals dealing with cases involving crimes against children. Access will be granted on a need-to-know basis. The codified system is meant for a countrywide launch and will be so secure that it will not even give viewing privileges to the officer who wrote the intake report, unless he is on the list of a few authorised personnel with permission.

“There is an authority matrix for access to files with child crimes, it has been codified. We know who has access to information about child crimes in the country. This is an extra layer to encourage people to come forward, and an extra layer of protection for children,” said an MoI-CPC official.

“This makes our job difficult because it means we have to make some changes internally ... but this is better because it protects children, and that’s all we care about.”

MoI-CPC said they hope that the new system will further encourage people to come forward and report crimes against children, with the extra assurance that no one can find any information about the child and the crime that has been committed against him or her.

The system is also developed bearing in mind cultural sensitivities and the stigma perceived to be associated with reporting sexual assault crimes.

“One of the reasons it was important for us to code the system was that we don’t want this child when they are of a marriageable age or are looking for a job to think that anyone could know that she or he suffered abuse as a child.

“That’s something in the past … You shouldn’t have it with you everywhere, stuck somewhere on a document where anyone can see it. It doesn’t live again. You have our promise,” an MoI-CPC official told Gulf News.

Officials are only human

The people who deal with crimes against children see some of the worst atrocities committed and still do their work with unflinching dedication. How do they do it?

“It is our duty, we have to protect children,” was the unanimous response at MoI.

“I am protecting a child. This is not a job, I might feel sorrow but at the end of the day, we have to protect them,” said Captain Al Beloushi.

He admitted that there are times when the pressures of the job got to him and his investigators.

“We see terrible crimes on a daily basis. We are only human, so yes, there are times when we have to take a break, walk away even if it is for a little while and come back,” he said.

“There is no feeling like the one when you relieve a child of a situation they are in,” said Major Al Marzouqi.

Challenges

There was one issue in particular that, MoI-CPC admits, makes their and the prosecution’s job incredibly difficult — interference by people who find or suspect that a child abuse crime has taken place.

Too often, the child has been rigorously questioned on a number of occasions by maybe different people who take it upon themselves to play investigator, perhaps even take pictures of the child, all of which further distresses the child.

“By the time the case reaches the court, the child won’t talk. They are afraid or they feel traumatised. A lot of cases are lost because of this. This is a big challenge for us. The child is forced to live through the trauma a 100 times because everyone has asked him/her about it,” said an MoI officer.

His advice to people who come across child abuse case is: “Please, if you suspect abuse, do not speak to the child. You are not specialised. Please refer it to the police. You are harming the child, because if the child doesn’t talk later then there will be no justice [for him].

“Do not take photographs of what you think is evidence. If you see any bruising, just look at it and call the hotline, or 999,” the MoI urged.

The other obstacle for the MoI-CPC is people’s fear of reporting or reporting clearly.

“Report, report, report. And please report clearly. We need more cooperation from the public. We are here to serve and protect children, but we need the public’s support to do so,” said Captain Al Beloushi.

Statistics

According to a 2014 Unicef ‘Ending Violence Against Children: Six Strategies for Children’ report, every year, roughly six in 10 children between the ages of two and 14 or nearly a billion children worldwide are regularly subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers. Slightly more than one in three students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide experience bullying on a regular basis.

Almost one quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide (almost 70 million) report being victims of some form of physical violence since age 15.

Around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. Boys are also at risk, although a global estimate is unavailable due to the lack of comparable data in most countries.

One in three adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide (84 million) have been the victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners at some point in their lives.

About three in 10 adults worldwide believe that physical punishment is necessary to properly raise or educate children.

Why do people not report child crimes?

According to MoI-CPC, in their experience, there are a number of reasons behind why crimes against children are not reported, by adults and children.

The most common reasons for not reporting abuse by an adult includes:

They are protecting someone;

They are ashamed or feel it is shameful even to be associated with their child; and

They are afraid of being targeted for reporting

Children don’t report because:

They don’t know that what is happening to them is a crime;

They are afraid of the person who is abusing them; and

They think maybe they are doing something wrong and this is why they are being punished or treated this way.

Crimes that are being reported are generally by:

Educators including school nurses

People in medical care

Families and parents

Children (usually over 14-years of age)

Reporting made easy and confidential

In order to eliminate the apprehensions involved with reporting child abuse, MoI-CPC has concentrated its efforts on making reporting easier and completely confidential. Officials said that they guarantee that the identities of those reporting will be kept confidential.

Although all witnesses and reports of abuse are kept confidential, to further help remove people’s fears of reporting to the authorities, officials said they are working towards launching an app in the next few months, which will allow people to report abuse in simple steps, without sharing their personal information.

“The beauty of this app is that we have added an extra layer of confidentiality. You can report by picking the city that you are in, you select the type of abuse (from a menu) either you are being subjected to abuse or someone else. Then you don’t have to leave your number. We can communicate with you on the application,” said Major Al Marzouqi.

“We can send you a message to get more information or just let it be. Wudeema law says identities of victims and witnesses have to be concealed; we will find every smart way in the book to make it happen,” she added.

Major Al Marzouqi stressed that they are determined to protect children, and will use any means necessary to do so and will continue to develop innovative ways for the public to reach them.

How you can report child abuse

It is always the right time to report the abuse of a child. In fact, we are all under a legal obligation to report a crime and that includes child abuse or harm. Reporting harm to a child can help stop re-victimisation and even help save the life of a child.

  • Call the hotline on 116111
  • Through the website: www.moi-cpc.gov.ae
  • Call 999
  • Go to any police station
  • Through an app that will be launched in the near future

Figures and statistics

Figures provided by MoI-CPC regarding awareness sessions held so far on violence against children and how to report crimes to authorities:

  • 360 school nurses
  • 365 social workers in private and public schools
  • 65 GEMS social workers
  • 226 police
  • Children in 214 nurseries

Cases

MoI-CPC received a call on the hotline from a 17-year-old boy who claimed he had been abandoned as a baby by his father and left with a family. As a result, he had no identity documents. The investigators located the boy’s father and discovered that he had around five other children with similar situations. In cooperation with other departments, including the immigration, they managed to get the children’s papers in order. Then the legal necessary actions were taken.

What is the law?

The law stipulates children’s basic rights to live and be safe, and that all competent authorities and bodies concerned have to work together to ensure the protection of children’s rights.

Throughout meetings Gulf News had with MoI officials, they urged the public , on numerous occasions, to pay close attention to the laws regarding crimes against children.

“Article 274 of the UAE Law No. 3 (1987) Federal Penal Code stipulates that a person who fails to report a criminal offence is liable to prosecution.

Article 42 and 43 of the UAE Law No. 3 (2016) (Wudeema Law) stipulates that teachers, physicians or anyone assigned to protect and care for children and any adult to which child abuse has been disclosed to, are obliged to report any child abuse.”

Failure to report

Law Article (61) stipulates a person shall be punished to pay a fine of not less than Dh5,000 and not more than Dh50,000 in case of not reporting suspicion of child abuse and falsely reporting or conveying false information or intending to mislead the investigation authority about a case involving a child.

“Please report, it is a criminal offence if you see pain inflicted on a child and you don’t report it to the authorities,” said Major Al Marzouqi.

“At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of everybody. When you look at child protection, it is not fair to look at it just as what is the Child Protection Centre doing? This is eliminating responsibilities from other parties. It is the responsibility of all of us to protect children,” she added.

Advice for parents

While MoI-CPC reconfirms that the UAE is one of the safest countries in the world, they urge parents to not fall back on their responsibilities of protecting and looking after their children.

“Parents have to work with the police and not sit at home and think that the police is there, the teacher is there, the social worker is there. You still HAVE to ask your child: Where are you going? Witm whom?” said an MoI-CPC official.

MoI-CPC advice:

Parents’ and caretakers’ prime responsibility is the safety of their children. They should educate themselves on abuse.

Parents should not be relying 100 per cent on nannies to supervise their children on roads, in malls, and at home.

Parents should be actively involved in their children’s daily activities and outings.

Parents need to have open communication and a presence in their children’s lives so that a trust is created that allows the child to feel comfortable enough to approach their parents if someone harms them, and the parents can subsequently report it.