UAE: How to spot child abuse, grooming; warning signs to look for

Earlier this week, a British teacher was jailed for 10 years in the UK for sexually abusing two children in UAE



By SM Ayaz Zakir

Published: Sat 16 Apr 2022, 5:13 PM

Last updated: Sat 16 Apr 2022, 9:54 PM

Awareness is key in fighting any form of child abuse, psychologists and school heads in the UAE say.

This comes in the wake of reports about a British teacher P.S., 49, being jailed for 10 years in the UK for sexually abusing two kids in the UAE over a eight-year period.

The paedophile taught at an English school here, from 2004 to March 2019 before he was sacked following allegations that he had sexually molested children. The UK law enforcement agency said the accused was arrested after he returned to the UK from the UAE, following a complaint by the school.

Experts say such dastardly crimes can be nipped in the bud if parents, teachers and guardians watch out for warning signs which could include physical and behavioural clues.

“One must look for physical or behavioural clues such as fear, anxiety, social withdrawal (blunt trauma may not show external signs), self-harm, poor hygiene and signs of bruising,” said Zubair Ahmad, head of operations, Springdales.

Dr Nuran Nergiz, specialist family medicine, Canadian Specialists Hospital, Dubai, said extreme mood swings may also be a telltale sign of abuse. “When a child tends to withdraw from daily activities and avoids friends; when he or she shows signs of aggression, shyness, lack of confidence, changes in academic performance, indulges in self-harm, or undertakes suicide attempts; when he/she shows changes in eating habits, refuses to go to school (if the abuse takes place in the school), it may be a sign of child abuse,” said Dr Nergiz.

Ahmed said that in case of any suspicion, the teacher or parent should report the matter to a safety officer or counsellor for suitable action. “The counsellor will get in touch with the doctor of the school if required and the team will be part of further investigation. The authorities will take a call on involving external services,” added Ahmed.

He also listed out a set of important questions a child can be asked, to find out if they have been victim to abuse. These include:

  • Are you afraid of anyone?
  • Does any part of your body hurt?
  • Has anyone touched you in a way you didn’t like?

The counsellors said that parents should be personally aware of and involved in their child’s activities and always investigate if their child has been mistreated by fellow students, teachers or anyone else.

Dr Deepa Sankar, PhD, clinical psychologist, NMC Specialty Hospital, said children tend to trust adults because of socio-cultural models of interpersonal hierarchical interaction, and are vulnerable because they are taught and expected to obey adults and follow instructions and listen to adults.

She said that when an adult asks kids to do something, they meekly obey out of respect, and if the adult is in an empowered position (like a teacher, an uncle/family friend) children tend to follow instructions out of respect and fear.

Dr Sankar lists a few pointers for parents/guardians:

  • Awareness is key. We have to teach children how to be careful.
  • It is similar to how we teach our children road safety and prepare a child to cross the road. Its about awareness, and repetition. We cannot not wait for them to understand on their own.
  • Repeatedly emphasise how to act and what to be careful of.
  • Teach them about the need to protect their body; teach them about ‘pleasant touch’ and ‘unpleasant touch’.
  • Be aware that most instances of sexual abuse occur in a child’s immediate environment.

What does the UAE law state on child abuse?

There are stringent laws that protect a child’s rights in the UAE.

UAE-based lawyer Ashish Mehta said that abuse of a child may attract severe penalties including imprisonment and monetary fines as mentioned in Article 69 of the Wadeema’s Law, which states: “Whoever violates the provisions of Article (36) hereof shall be punished by imprisonment and/or a fine of not less than Dh50,000 (fifty thousand).”

There are four major categories of child abuse — neglect, physical, psychological/emotional, and sexual.

Mehta, the founder and managing partner at Ashish Mehta & Associates, added that children’s rights in the UAE are protected by Federal Law No. 3 of 2016 on Child Rights (known as ‘Wadeema’s Law’) and Federal Decree-Law No. 31 of 2021 on Penal Code (the ‘UAE Penal Law’) are applicable.

Wadeema’s Law states that “taking into consideration Clause 2 of Article 2 hereof, it shall be prohibited to expose the child to torture, violate his/her physical integrity, or commit any act involving cruelty that would affect the child’s emotional, psychological, mental or moral balance.”

Mehta explained a few more laws on child abuse in the UAE.

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Article 411 of the UAE Penal Law states that: “Shall be punished by imprisonment, or a fine of not less than (1,000) one thousand dirhams and not more than (100,000) one hundred thousand dirhams, whoever publicly commits a scandalous and indecent act. In the event of recurrence, he shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of no less than (3) three months and a fine of no less than (10,000) ten thousand dirhams and not more than (200,000) two hundred thousand dirhams, or either of these two penalties.

The same penalty shall be imposed on any person who commits any statement or act that violates public morals.

Whoever commits an indecent act with a female or a boy under the age of 18 years shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of no less than one year, even in a private manner.”

Article 407 of the UAE Penal Law states that: “Shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of no less than (10,000) ten thousand dirhams, or one of these two penalties, whoever indecently assaults another person, whether a man or a woman.

The penalty shall be imprisonment for a period no less than (5) five years and not exceeding (20) twenty years, if the act or attempt is accompanied by force or threat.

The penalty shall be imprisonment for a period of no less than (10) ten years and not exceeding (25) twenty-five years, if the age of the victim is not more than (18) eighteen years of age, or if his/her will is not considered for any reason or if he/she has a physical disability, or suffers from a health condition that renders him/her unable to resist, or the offender was one of the victim’s ancestors or relatives, or one of those responsible for his/her upbringing or care, or those who have authority over him/her, or he/she was a servant to him/her or to those mentioned above, or the crime occurred in a place of work or study, accommodation or care.”

It should be also noted that Article 60 to Article 70 of the Wadeema’s law mentions stipulations related to imprisonment and penalties if any individual is convicted of harassing a child.

Article 26 of Wadeema’s Law, prohibits to publish, display, circulate, possess, or produce any visual, audio or printed works or games for children that address the child’s sexual instincts. Whoever is convicted for such act shall be imprisoned up to one year and shall be imposed penalties between Dh100,000 to Dh400,000 as mentioned in Article 66 of the Wadeema’s Law.

Further, Article 37 (1) of the Wadeema’s Law prohibits a child from being exploited by way of filming, recording or production of pornographic materials. And if an individual is convicted on such grounds, he/she shall be imprisoned for 10 years as mentioned in Article 65 of the Wadeema’s Law.

It should be also noted that Article 36 of the Wadeema’s Law prohibits physical, emotional, psychological and mental torture of a child. Whosoever is convicted of torturing a child shall be imprisoned and imposed with penalty of not less than Dh50,000 as per Article 69 of the Wadeema’s Law.


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