‘Found massage cards in child’s bag’: Dubai parents raise alarm over obscene ads on streets

Parents urged to have open conversations with children about these inappropriate cards and why they must not pick them up

by

SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Thu 30 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 30 May 2024, 10:49 PM

A mum, who lives in Dubai's Deira area, was cleaning her son's bag recently when she made a shocking discovery: She found a stack of massage cards in her nine-year-old son's school bag.

These cards, which advertise mostly unlicensed and illegal massage services, often have obscene photos of women and actresses.


"I found about 30 massage cards in the bag’s side pocket. I am sure that he did not have any bad intentions, but even a collection of such cards is unacceptable,” said Amina (name changed upon request), a Dubai resident of 12 years.

“I couldn't believe what I was seeing. My son is just a child – to find such explicit material in his possession was horrifying.”


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Son in distress

Asked why he had collected the cards, the boy seemed to be in distress, unable to explain. It also seemed like he was unaware of the inappropriate nature of the cards, Amina said.

“When pressed further, he replied that he had seen a few children collecting these cards and he also wanted to have a collection,” she said.

Millions of such obscene cards have already been confiscated through the years, and yet in some neighbourhoods in Dubai, many are still found scattered on pavements, streets, and residential areas.

Protecting children

The discovery made by Amina highlights how children are exposed to these inappropriate images that objectify women.

“It's very scary that such material is easily accessible to children. As parents, we try to protect our children from inappropriate content,” said Ahmed, father of a 7-year-old boy.

Parents are discussing among themselves how to educate their children about the dangers of picking up unknown objects.

“It's important that we talk to our children, explain to them why such content is inappropriate, and encourage them to report if they come across anything like this,” said Ahmed, a resident of Al Karama.

Behavioural change

Psychologists advised parents to watch out for any behaviour change in their children.

“Children should be educated properly using the right (and age-appropriate) words on sexuality. They should be aware of the pitfalls of falling into these devastating experiences of early exposure to explicit content at such an early age. Parents can report to official authorities the menace of spreading of explicit content materials in public spaces,” said Dr Shaju George, a psychiatrist at International Modern Hospital Dubai.

Exposure to anything unusual and inappropriate elicits two types of responses in children, the expert said.

“A state of distress with disturbed feelings or state of being curious about the situation. Inappropriate [situations] can elicit a feeling of disgust towards sexuality. Or, it can generate a curiosity that can take them to unhealthy practices to mitigate the same."

Kids can present as being sad and reclusive, spending more time on devices at odd hours, showing sleep disturbances, and having academic problems, Dr George said.

Addressing the issue is crucial because such childhood experiences can have long-lasting imprints on their perception of the world, personal life, male-female relationships and sexual behaviour, the expert added.

Stringent police action

Local authorities have been vigilant about this issue, imposing heavy fines on those found distributing such cards.

These cards are often left on car windshields, tucked into building entrances, or simply strewn on the ground.

In November 2022, six million massage cards were seized across Dubai, and several gangs were busted in the emirate and in Sharjah.

In August 2022, the Dubai Police seized 5.9 million business cards that advertise illegal massage services. As many as 870 people were arrested for offering illegal service in 2021 and the first three months of 2022. Of these, 588 were charged for violating public morals and 309 for printing and distributing the cards.

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