Neglectful parents must be ‘held accountable’ for child deaths

Child protection leader calls for laws on abuse and neglect to be upheld.

Neglectful parents must be ‘held accountable’ if their children die due to a fatal lack of care, a safety leader has said.

Mouza Al Shoumy, deputy head of Emirates Child Protection Association (ECPA), insists parents must face tough punishments if it is found their failures led to tragedy.

She says a UAE law set up two years ago to safeguard children from abuse and neglect is not being used to its full effect.

The ECPA is a government body, which was launched last November to look after the interests of children across the Emirates.

Ms Al Shoumy believes more must be done to halt the number of deaths involving inaction from parents and caregivers – including children who drown after being let unattended at pools or who suffer deadly heat stroke when left in cars in sweltering conditions.

“If a child fell from a window or a balcony, was locked up in a car or drowned in a pool, who do I hold responsible?” she said.

“Should it be the chair he used to climb up, the window, the balcony, the pool, the car, or his parents for failing to follow safety procedures?”

Ms Al Shoumy believes many deaths can be prevented if family members take the necessary safety precuations – and they must face legal consequence if they fail to do so.

She says many reported cases of children drowning, falling, going missing or being locked up in cars never lead to parents being brought before the court.

“In one case a child went missing for eight days and in another, two children were left alone in the car by their parents, who went shopping.

“They could have died and the parents, who are clearly negligent, should have been held accountable,” she said.

A new child protection law for the country – often referred to as Wadeema Law – was set up in June 2016.

The law ensured that for the first time, anyone in contact with a child – from parents and teachers to doctors and nurses – can be held accountable for causing harm, and is legally obliged to report cases of suspected abuse.

Ms Al Shomy feels the law should be put into practice on a more regular basis.

Ms Al Shomy, who is also a member of Dubai Juveniles Association, said the ECPA is working on a proposal to be submitted to municipalities across the country suggesting a condition to be added to tenancy contracts making it obligatory for tenants who have children to install windows and pool protection.

Dr. Hassan Elhais, from Al Rowad Advocates, said the country’s child protection law is explicit in cases of neglect and their penalties and does not exclude parents if they were proven at fault, or any other person for that matter.

“That’s why the law used the word caregiver, in order to be comprehensive,” said the legal consultant.

The law’s article 35 states that a child caregiver is prohibited from subjecting the child to neglect or abandonment and from leaving him without supervision or follow-up, or fail to or refrain from providing guidance.

Elhais said that article 60 of the same law stipulates that a person who contravenes the law shall be subjected to imprisonment, a Dh5,000 fine, or both.

However, Dubai prosecution says it has become tougher in cases related to children’s well being and safety since the law was released.

“We have indeed prosecuted parents and referred them to court,” said Mohammed Rustom, head of Dubai’s family and juvenile prosecution division.

The challenge they face is to prove that the parents were actually responsible, he said.

“If a child is metres away from his parents, falls and then is critically injured, its quite tough to blame the parents.

“We can’t be emotional, we have to be practical and as per law, find evidence to establish presence of negligence.”

But in cases were there is evidence that parents are the main cause of harm or have contributed to it, Mr Rustom said they have been prosecuted.

One parent said that landlords and government bodies must play their protect in ensuring safe environments are in place for children.

“Tenants should not be responsible for installing window or balcony security bars,” said Yasser Musbeh, a Jordanian father-of-two.

“The municipality should make it mandatory when approving any license for a residential building construction.”

Aidah Saleem, a nurse who has three daughters, said parents must also take action to protect their own children.

“The minute my first daughter turned six months and started crawling, I safeguarded the house and installed bars on all of my windows,” she said.

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