The experiment was held with the consent of parents in a safe and controlled environment under the supervision of Sharjah Police and Sharjah Child Safety Department at Kshisha Park Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: Almost all children failed to detect “stranger danger” in a social experiment in Sharjah, and readily accepted a free ice cream from a stranger in exchange for entering the ice cream van.

The Sharjah Child Safety Department (CSD) on Wednesday unveiled “an alarming reality” about the lack of children’s awareness about their safety, as demonstrated in the social experiment conducted in partnership with Sharjah Police at Kshisha Park.

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With 37 young participants in a safe and controlled environment, the experiment showed that only one amongst the 37 children (2.7 per cent) hesitated to accept a free ice cream from a stranger in exchange for entering the ice cream van. The remaining 36 children all readily accepted the stranger’s offer.

Addressing unsafe situations

The experiment created a realistic scenario in a bustling public park teeming with families. A friendly ice cream vendor approached the children, offering free treats in exchange for entering his truck. “Alarmingly, the results revealed that the vast majority of children accepted the offer without hesitation,” CSD said.

The social experiment was designed to assess existing child safety awareness levels in the emirate’s young residents during their interactions with strangers, and to understand the kind of guidance they and caregivers would need to navigate out of safely avert stranger danger.

“The experiment’s results have underscored an urgent need to equip children with the knowledge and skills to deal safely in such scenarios.”

CSD called on parents, teachers, and the wider community to collaborate in raising awareness and strengthening educational programmes to ensure children’s safety.

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Consequences of ignorance

The department highlighted that the numerous risks an “ill-equipped child” faces include potential abduction, and heightened risk of physical harm or abuse.

CSD added: “These will severely impact a child’s physical and mental health, disrupt their academic journeys as well as their social development. Ultimately, CSD highlights that the adverse affects of child abuse can be lifelong and often requires intensive medical and psychological interventions.”

Call for vigilance

Hanadi Al Yafei, director of CSD, said the experiment’s results are an “out-and-out reminder” of the need for children to learn about safely navigating situations involving strangers, make the right decisions when they are faced with stranger danger, and a reminder to parents, educators and caregivers that they need to be more vigilant about their children’s safety.

“Child safety begins with our awareness of it and the guidance we give our children about it”, she added.

“The UAE has created one of the safest environments in the world to grow and flourish, however, that should not mean we neglect our responsibilities about teaching them that not always strangers can be trusted.

“Awareness and education are essential to ensuring child safety and CSD is strongly committed to developing programmes that equip children with the knowledge and courage to say ‘no’ when necessary.”

The director added: “We urge every family to join this vital mission, making our homes the first place of learning and our communities a shield that protects our children.”

CSD urges parents and children to keep the UAE’s Child Helpline number 800 700 readily accessible for any situation threatening a child’s safety. The Department stresses vigilance and awareness as crucial to protecting children and ensuring their safety.