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Senior UAE officials during a panel discussion at the 2021 Child Safety Forum in Sharjah on Wednesday Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: Most cases involving children are resolved amicably in Sharjah, the Commander-in-chief of Sharjah Police told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Child Safety Forum in Sharjah on Wednesday.

Major General Saif Al Zari Al Shamsi told Gulf News that Sharjah Police receives several cases related to children every year – most of them are resolved amicably through the police’s social support centre.

Maj Gen Al Shamsi said in case no solution is found to resolve the case, it is then referred to public prosecution. Every year, around 30 to 40 cases of child abuse are referred to public prosecution, he added.

Child Safety Forum 2021
The second edition of the Child Safety Forum, organised by the Child Safety Department (CSD), an affiliate of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Sharjah (SCFA), opened on Wednesday morning with Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of SCFA, asserting that the “family is the compass guiding Sharjah’s journey of development and the driving force that led us to provide the best social services with the child at the core of our programmes and initiatives”.
In a statement marking the opening of the forum, Sheikha Jawaher further conveyed: “Childhood is a period of innocence; it holds formative years of our lives during which our personalities are shaped. For this reason, His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, has never wavered on launching innovative projects that are designed to promote the psychological, physical, and intellectual wellbeing of children, and in turn, strengthen Sharjah’s appeal as a safe, nurturing haven for children where they enjoy their rights, express themselves and realise their fullest potential.”

The police chief was a panellist speaker at the forum during a session on the types of abuse suffered by children and how the police, the prosecution, and the relevant authorities deal with it.

Maj Gen Al Shamsi said child safety in Sharjah is a top priority for the police, in line with the directives of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

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Major General Saif Al Zari Al Shamsi at the Child Safety Forum Image Credit: Supplied

Advice to media

During the session, he stressed on the importance of the media’s role in enhancing community awareness through positive examples and not portraying a negative image of children.

“I request the media to be more positive in their interactions with all people, not just children. We need to be very careful in the way we project children’s reports and stories on media platforms because the child’s family might be deeply affected,” Maj Gen Al Shamsi said.

He also suggested the adding of sport activities in each neighbourhood park in order to keep children away from mobile phones and their impact.

The session’s others panellists were Al Amer Karama Al Ameri, Head of Public Prosecution, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department; Ahmed Al Mail, Director of the Social Services Department in Sharjah; Dr Waleed Khaled Al Hammadi, senior deputy prosecutor, director of juvenile prosecution at Sharjah Public Prosecution; and Moza Salem Alshoomi, Counselling and wellbeing expert, Ministry of Education.

‘Law is paramount’

Dr Al Hammadi said child protection laws in the UAE have been in place since the 1970s and are stronger than ever with the introduction of the Wadeema’s Law (now known as the Child Rights Law). “Of course, our country offers people the ability to sue offenders, but we need to be aware and committed to these laws and follow them because the psychological effects of abuse on children, even bullying, is sometimes irreversible. That’s why adherence to laws is paramount,” he added.

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Dr Waleed Khaled Al Hammadi during the panel discussion Image Credit: Supplied

Dr Hammadi told Gulf News that the public prosecution recorded a number of cases under Wadeema’s Law, some of which were shelved while others were referred to court. He called on the community to respect children and treat them well, failing which they would face legal action.

Risks of being online

He also urged parent to monitor what their children doing on the internet and what kind of materials they were accessing. “Beware of electronic games because they are a major cause leading to sexual assault,” he warned.

In one incident, a 12-year-old boy was exposed to an attempt of sexual harassment through an advertisement on Instagram. The boy saw the ad about the bike and contacted the owner to buy the bike, but later he found out that the owner of ad had sent him content of a sexual nature. The boy reported the issue to his mother, who in her turn reported the issue to police.

Police tracked the owner of the ad and arrested him, who was staying in a house 300km from the boy house. Police investigations revealed that the owner of the Instagram account targeted only specific group ages for sexual purposes.

Child abuse helpline

The Child Abuse helpline 800700 is a lifeline for many children in Sharjah. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, professional crisis counsellors through interpreters provide ready assistance to those who need it, in both Arabic and English.

The hotline number has received 1,623 complaints since the beginning of this year, said Ahmed Al Mail, Director of the Social Services Department in Sharjah. Most of these cases were related to negligence, physical abuse, violence, cyber-blackmailing, bullying and misconduct. They were reported by parents, caregivers, teachers or others through the helpline 800700.

New clinic in Sharjah

He said that the department has recently launched the ‘Ishraqa’ clinic, which has a team of social workers and psychologists to provide rehabilitation, social and psychological support to victims and those previously exposed to such abuse.

The clinic also conducts awareness programmes for parents to ensure that they maintain a safe family environment for the abused child to prevent the re-occurrence of such incidents.

School curriculum on child rights

Moza Salem Alshoomi said educational institutions play a vital role in reporting child abuse, adding that by next year a new curriculum will be launched in schools to encourage children how to defend themselves and report any kind of abuse.

The one-day forum brought together around 100 senior local and federal UAE officials and global experts in a bid to bolster child protection and combat abuse of minors, while raising awareness on the types of abuse and means of curbing it.

Speakers stressed on the need to shift focus from individual responsibility to the creation of an environment where child protection is a collective responsibility fulfilled by parents, the government, lawmakers and the media.

The changing face of abuse

CSD Director Hanadi Saleh Al Yafei told the forum: “Child abuse is a complex, multi-layered social problem and discussions held at the forum, under the theme ‘Keep their innocence’ addresses the physical, psychological and social impact of child abuse.”

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Hanadi Saleh Al Yafei addressing the gathering at the forum Image Credit: Supplied

She added: “Protecting children from abuse is a responsibility shared by parents, the community, and the concerned official authorities. A change in modern lifestyles with the growing shift to an online landscape has led to the emergence of new types of abuse.

“We must intensify efforts to identify and build better understanding of child exploitation online to protect our children from its dangers. The forum aims to ensure the safety of children, both online and offline, and will serve as a platform to boost awareness, especially amongst children and youth, on all forms of harm, negligence, and abuse.”

The clinic also conducts awareness programmes for parents to ensure that they maintain a safe family environment for the abused child to prevent the re-occurrence of such incidents.

How to seek help in the UAE

Report child abuse to Ministry of Interior (MoI)through their hotline number 116111 or through the MoI’s Child Protection Centre’s website and the ‘Hemayati’ (Protect Me) app (available on Android and iOS).

Other channels:

Community Development Authority, hotline 800988

EWAA Shelter for Women and Children, hotline 8007283

Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, hotline 800111

Child Protection Centre in Sharjah, hotline 800 700.

Hemaya Foundation for Children and Women – Ajman, hotline 800Himaya (800446292)

Aman Centre for Women and Children, via Ras Al Khaimah Police: 072356666

Ministry of Education hotline 80051115 for any issues that affect the students’ learning process negatively