A kid at the balcony of their flat in Sharjah. For illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Sharjah: Parental neglect, furniture on balconies, and windows left open have been blamed for high-rise deaths involving children, according to an official from Sharjah Civil Defence.

In the wake of a 19-month-old girl who survived a fall from the 10th floor of a building in Ras Al Khaimah on Sunday, Colonel Sami Khamis Al Naqbi, Director General of Sharjah Civil Defence, said such incidents were easily avoided.

Parental neglect, he said, topped the reasons for such incidents, in addition to a lack of safety or security measures inside houses.

Such incidents, he said, should force parents and property owners to take preventive measures to combat the number of children who fall victim to such tragic incidents.

“In order to avoid such painful circumstances, parents need to follow safety measures in their homes,” said Col. Al Naqbi.

“They should supervise their children, make sure windows are closed and avoid keeping any objects that will help children climb windows and balconies — especially in the areas where children play.”

He warned parents not to leave their children unattended and to instruct housemaids to keep an eye on them.

“These kinds of tragic incidents have occurred frequently during the course of recent years, leaving a painful and unfortunate impact on the lives of many families,” he said, while urging residents to be vigilant and ensure they keep their windows closed.

The fact these incidents continue to happen despite many awareness campaigns and repeated warnings by authorities, shows that “some parents don’t learn a lesson from such advice and guidance, and insist on repeating the mistakes committed by other parents, which has led to their children’s death,” he added.

Col. Al Naqbi said such accidents occurred more frequently during winter than summer, as parents keep windows and doors to balconies open due to better weather.

Sharjah Civil Defence plan to launch another campaign to address the issue, including awareness booklets and instructions to protect children. These booklets will be available in Arabic, English and Urdu. Col. Al Naqbi also added that Sharjah Civil Defence are cooperating with other authorities, including Sharjah Police and Sharjah Municipality’s Planning and Survey Department to find a solution to this problem.

A committee from the planning and survey department has also been formed to implement specifications for buildings and will follow up with inspections.

Parents could get three years in prison

If you are a parent who doesn’t abide by the above instructions you could be punished by law.

Article 349 of the [UAE] Federal Penal Code stipulates that ‘Whoever, by himself or by means of others, endangers a juvenile under 15 years of age, or a person unable to protect himself due to his health, mental or psychological condition, shall be punished by detention for a period not exceeding two years.’

The penalty increases to three years if the child was left unattended at the time of the incident.

Police statistics

Between 2012 and 2015, Sharjah Police said 18 children fell to their deaths from residential towers in the emirate. Six died in 2016, and three in 2017. Only one incident occurred last year. To curb these incidents, the Sharjah Government introduced preventive measures in 2017 and amended the technical requirements for residential windows and balconies. The changes were made mandatory for landlords and contractors. Col. Al Naqbi stressed the importance of community awareness and pointed out that safeguarding children’s lives is not just an individual responsibility but that of the community. He also cautioned against leaving children alone on balconies and near windows, especially in high-rise apartments, saying homes should be child-proofed.

Col Sami Khamis Al Naqbi