Fatma Alzaabi, right, Manager of the Child Protection Center, plays with a visiting child at the Child Protection Center Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Any child in Dubai who needs help, protection from abuse, or advice can pick up the phone and dial 800-988 any time.

Four social workers and psychologists at the Child Protection Centre in Al Barsha are on standby to assist residents under 18 years of age to ensure their rights are protected and upheld.

The recently opened centre under the Community Development Authority (CDA) is part of CDA’s comprehensive strategy to make Dubai the most secure and ideal environment for children to live.

It is tasked with rehabilitating, providing counselling, visiting and assisting children in need.

“We want to make Dubai the safest and happiest place for children in the world as per the vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. We want a place where abuse, negligence, and exploitation are eliminated,” Khalid Al Kamda, CDA Director-General, said.

Al Kamda discussed the strategy to safeguard children’s rights on Wednesday ahead of the launch of its long-term Child Protection Campaign on Sunday.

Al Kamda said CDA will visit Dubai schools to teach children their rights, enable them to directly seek advice from experts any time, and provide them a refuge when needed.

“We believe in creating a culture of [upholding] human rights at a young age so that we can create this awareness. We want to be proactive in dealing with the issue of child protection. We don’t want a tragedy to happen to realise that there’s a gap somewhere,” Maitha Al Shamsi, CEO, Human Rights Sector at CDA, said.

Based on a new draft law on child rights, children have the right to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. It also provides, among other rights, economic, social and cultural rights necessary to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, education and health care.

In 2013, the Child Protection Centre handled approximately 50 cases of different nationalities, some of which were referred by Dubai Police and other government agencies. Most of these cases were sexual abuse committed against children aged between seven and 12. Physical abuse was the second most common form of abuse of children aged 12 and above.

Dr Huda Al Suwaidi, Director of the Family Development Department at CDA who is overseeing the centre, said the statistics are still incomplete.

“We are not at a stage yet to determine if there is a pattern of abuse. But, based on the numbers we have, it’s not an alarming rate yet,” Dr Huda said. “But we still want to make sure that every child here is in good shape, has a treatment plan, and is being followed up.”

The toll-free hotline, on average, receives about three to four inquiries daily about the centre’s services.

Al Kamda said CDA will work together with government agencies, private sector, and civil society to ensure everyone is involved in keeping children safe.

The awareness campaign will target families first, then caregivers and teachers, who need to be aware of ways to spot signs of abuse and report it to authorities, and, thirdly, medical professionals.

“The first line of defence is the family. If one level fails, the other systems should capture it,” Dr Hussain Maseeh, Social Programme and Services Expert at CDA, said.

“The highest percentage of abuse in children — about 95 per cent — is by a family member, anyone related to the family, or people close to the child. This is the most hazardous situation.”