Sharjah: The first Child Safety Forum held in Sharjah on Tuesday came up with new guidelines and recommendations for a more socially driven and collaborative approach to ensure child safety in the UAE.

The forum titled ‘Responsible Media ... Safe Child’, was organised by the Child Safety Department (CSD) under the patronage of Shaikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness Shaikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA).

It 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.

Hanadi Saleh Al Yafei, director, CSD, said: “This event is born out of ... Shaikha Jawaher Al Qasimi’s vision for child safety and her emphasis on the importance of respecting the dignity and privacy of children, given they are the most impressionable members of our society. In organising this event, our objective is to motivate media professionals and state authorities to take charge in securing the rights of the child.”

The panel sessions highlighted media and community attitudes towards child safety issues.

The first panel, titled, ‘The media’s role in addressing children’s issues: Legislation and professional guidelines’, was led by Major General Saif Al Zari Al Shamsi, commander-in-chief of Sharjah Police; Hassan Yaqoub Al Mansouri, secretary-general, Sharjah Media Council; Ebrahim Khadim, media content director, National Media Council (NMC); and Dr Waleed Khaled Al Hammadi, senior deputy prosecutor, director of juvenile prosecution at Sharjah Public Prosecution.

Major General Al Shamsi noted that child safety in Sharjah is a top priority for the police department, which follows from the directives of Shaikh Dr Sultan. He stressed on the importance of the media’s role in enhancing community awareness through positive examples and not portray a negative images of children. “I request the media to be more positive in their interactions with 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.”

He suggested the formation of a committee led by CSD and featuring representatives from government departments, public prosecution and media, who will update each other, share knowledge and child safety practices so that awareness and protocol are disseminated in a timely manner to be followed more effectively. “We are social partners in this journey and child safety is our greatest social responsibility,” the Major General remarked.

Hassan Yaqoub Al Mansouri advised a more holistic approach to finding effective solutions to matters pertaining to child safety, saying: “The media is always under the spotlight because it’s a major input in shaping public opinion. But why are they blamed singularly? Isn’t the responsibility to protect our children a collective duty?”

“So many people claim to be media professionals or even experts who have had no academic or professional training in the field. Media is a discipline like arts or science, and due to easy access to technology, there are people out there who misuse their access to media by undermining media ethics. We need to find ways to address this critical issue,” Al Mansouri added.

Dr Waleed Al Hammadi noted that 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 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 stressed.

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 refereed to the court

In one incident, a father was referred to the court after beating his eight-year-old child and causing serious injuries.

He called on the community to respect children and treat them well, failing which they would face legal action.