A new refuge opening in Sharjah next week will offer a vital lifeline for children who have been physically or sexually abused, a leading expert has said.
The centre, called Kanaf, was created to play a central role in the emirate’s efforts to safeguard young boys and girls from abuse, said the emirate’s director of child safety.
Kanaf will provide legal, psychological and social support to vulnerable children.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday at the House of Wisdom in Sharjah, Hanadi Al Yafei, director of the emirate’s child safety department and chairwoman of the steering committee for Kanaf, said: “The opening of this centre is at the heart of the emirate’s efforts to safeguard children.”
Increase in number of child abuse cases reported
Earlier this year, The National reported on a surge in the number of reported child abuse cases in Sharjah in 2022.
The Sharjah Child and Family Protection Centre said it had handled 3,487 reports from families, schools and children, up from 2,168 in 2021.
In the fourth quarter of last year alone, the centre received 1,449 reports, most related to family disputes and online blackmail targeting children.
From its inception in 2007 until the end if last year, it received more than 12,320 reports.
Ms Al Yafei said the new centre “will provide legal, psychological and social support to child victims of physical and sexual abuse from all nationalities within Sharjah”.
It will deal with cases involving children and teenagers up to the age of 18.
A dedicated team including members from the police, prosecution, social services, education regulator, healthcare and child safety departments will collaborate closely to ensure the welfare of children involved in reported cases.
The centre’s staff, including mental health consultants, co-ordinators and child care specialists, will support the dedicated team’s efforts.
“Investigations and most other procedures will be carried out on-site at the centre to prevent the need for children to visit multiple departments,” said Ms Al Yafei.
Once a report is received, it will be followed by case evaluation and therapeutic planning, legal investigations accompanied by mental health professionals, medical assessments, legal representation, and ultimately holistic therapy including family interventions.
“A mental health expert will be present during the questioning of a child which will be recorded to minimise repeat interviews,” Ms Al Yafei said.
“Even court sessions that require the presence of a child will be facilitated via video conferencing to prevent the child from having to physically attend court.”
A change in the law
In 2016, the UAE introduced what became known as Wadeema’s Law to safeguard the rights and welfare of children. It was named after an 8-year-old girl who was tortured and killed by her father and his girlfriend.
Her body was found buried in the desert in 2012, which shocked the nation and led to the creation of the new legislation.
Dr Muhadditha Al Hashimi, chairwoman of Sharjah Private Education Authority, said communication with schools to ensure child safety and care was ongoing, with plans to appoint child care co-ordinators at private schools in the emirate.
“The authority is committed to prevention and raising parental awareness as part of our holistic assessment of school environments,” she said.
An authority-dedicated employee, as well as social workers at schools and other educational establishments, will be looking for any signs of suspected abuse.
“We are also responsible for setting up alternative educational plans for child victims who are unable to attend school,” Dr Al Hashimi said.
“These alternatives could include online schooling or private tutoring, accommodating the unique needs of each child.”
The chairman of the emirate’s social services said her department’s role goes well beyond receiving reports and referring cases to others.
“It will see that the department’s experts take part in evaluations, developing therapeutic plans and providing after-care rehabilitation programmes,” said Afaf Al Marri.
“The department will additionally be responsible for providing legal representation for children in prosecution and court proceedings.”
Suspected cases can be reported through the dedicated child helpline of Sharjah social services department at 800700.
Updated: November 10, 2023, 3:30 AM