Dubai: The death of a 19-month-old Emirati girl forgotten in her family car on Thursday has sparked debate in the community, with many saying that her parents should have been more vigilant.
While the case is still under investigation, experts said no one can point fingers right away as this sad reality can happen to anyone.
The 19-month-old is the youngest case among seven reported child deaths in parked cars in the country since 1999. The children were between the ages of two and five. The pattern is the same in six out of seven deaths – the parents or caregivers forgot that the children were in the car.
The fatality is low compared with that of the US for a similar period, where at least 623 child deaths were reported due to vehicular heatstroke from 1998 through 2013. The figures were derived in a study by the Department of Earth and Climate Sciences at the San Francisco State University, which were published in the journal Paediatrics. The figures were last updated on July 11.
Some 606 of the 623 deaths reported by the media were examined and it was foudn that 312 children or 51 per cent were “forgotten” by their caregivers. Some 29 per cent or 177 children were playing unattended inside the vehicle while 111 children were intentionally left by an adult. The remaining six deaths were unaccounted for.
Gulf News spoke to parents and experts on the reasons why parents and caregivers forget their kids in the back seat.
“We’re all humans and we commit mistakes but I don’t think you can ever forget your child,” a Lebanese mother, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
“If you tend to forget things, then make sure to seek help. In my case, my mind is completely with my child. I never let him out of my sight even for a minute.”
Venus Ramos, 36, agreed it is hard to believe parents can forget their children in the car. A mother’s instinct is to check on the child every so often, she said.
But Ramos said accidents can happen and the child can be locked inside a car unintentionally. She learned this the hard way two years ago after grocery shopping in Deira.
“We placed our two-year-old daughter in her car seat first and my husband went to the boot of the car to put the groceries. I went to help him and the car locked itself automatically,” Ramos said, adding that the spare key was in Discovery Gardens.
“We panicked and didn’t know what to do. The good thing was my husband switched on the engine and the AC before placing my daughter in the car seat. Otherwise, she would have suffocated and suffered from heatstroke. We called police for help and they arrived right away,” Ramos said.
Ramos said they panicked initially but kept their calm so that their daughter would not be traumatised. They played peek-a-boo while waiting for police to come and unlock the door. Their daughter was inside the car for 30 minutes and remained unharmed.
But not everyone is as lucky, Dr Mohammad Tahir, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and medical director at Health-Call, said.
“It can happen to anyone because in the current society. People are becoming forgetful because many of them are poorly organised or late for their appointments. Nowadays, we are so busy running to do so many things at such a short of time,” Dr Tahir told Gulf News.
Dr Tahir said some parents underestimate the harm a “few minutes” inside a parked vehicle can have on children. Another factor is the “maid culture” where many families are highly dependent on nannies in the country.
“I am not blaming it [maid culture] but some parents automatically think the kid is being taken care of by the maid so it is not part of their reflex. But there are days when the maid is not there or is on vacation, and they [parents] are taking the baby by themselves, so this can happen.”
Tracy Fountain, a child safety advocate and founder of Back to Basics, said social demands and functions at different times of the year can easily distract parents. She urged parents to be all the more alert.
“During times such as Ramadan, we should be extra vigilant as there is always the danger of feeling more fatigued and distracted. During iftar, when families get together, another change of normal routine occurs and this is when our usual routines get dismissed and children can find themselves in dangerous situations.”