UAE: Spike in online child abuse cases cause for extreme concern, says doctor


Dr Adil Sajwani
Dr Adil Sajwani

Dubai - Kids between the ages of nine and 12 are most vulnerable to online abuse

By SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Fri 22 Oct 2021, 2:21 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Oct 2021, 2:23 PM

Compared to pre-Covid-19 days, children and adults are using the internet more abundantly, which has led to a spike in sexual abuse and exploitation online, an Emirati doctor has said.

The 2021 Global Threat Assessment report by WeProtect Global Alliance highlights that the pandemic has contributed to a significant increase in child sexual exploitation and online abuse. Experts all over the world have called for immediate change.

Dr Adil Sajwani, a family medicine specialist at Fakeeh University Hospital, called it a cause for extreme concern. He urged parents to monitor children's internet activity and behavioural changes to avoid instances of online abuse.

"The online sexual abuse in children has increased during Covid 19 pandemic, as people were glued to their phones due to lockdown. Children land into suspicious websites, which are easily accessible nowadays. These webpages manipulate them to perform sexual activity by sending inappropriate content," he said.

Kids between the ages of nine and 12 are most likely to fall prey to online sexual abuse.

"These young children get into relationship online and get trapped. Both boys and girls are at risk,” Dr Sajwani said.

He also highlighted the underlying reason why children are likely to fall victim to such unacceptable behaviours.

“Children seek love from their parents. If they don’t receive it within their family and do not share a healthy family bond, they tend to seek love from outside,” he said.

According to the survey, almost one in two respondents (44 per cent) from the Middle East and North Africa regions said they experienced sexual harm online at least once during childhood.

Furthermore, the assessment also pointed to the pandemic as an undeniable contributor to the spike in reported incidents.

According to the assessment, the reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse online has reached its highest levels to date in the past two years.

Speaking on this issue, Lt-Col Dana Humaid, director-general of the International Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Interior, said, “The challenge of sexual exploitation and abuse online is a crime of global magnitude and requires collaborative and multi-disciplinary efforts to combat and end it.”

She added: “We consider the launch of the Global Threat Assessment report 2021 as an opportunity to reflect and prioritize efforts and engage with the international community and share our experiences and practices. This report can be used by governments to guide their efforts."

How can sexual abuse impact children?

Dr Sajwani said sexual exploitation can break a child mentally. They're likely to suffer from mental health problems, indulge in sexual behaviour, get pregnant at an early age, have trust issues, develop a fear of new relationship, engage in self-harm or criminal behaviours, and isolate themselves from their families.

How can sexual abuse be prevented?

Social stigma surrounding such topics prevent children from communicating the abuse they experience.

Parents play a huge role in prevention, Dr Sajwani said. Early identification signs and behavioural changes can help children understand and learn.


>> It's time to warn our children about sexual harassment

"Signs such as behavioural changes like child acting older to his/her age, kids missing sometime frequently, returning home late, using social media for long time and not spending much time at home — parents must watch out for these acts,” he said.

He also urged parents to be vigilant about the gifts their children receive, talking about boys or girls, and getting involved in such behaviours.

Media, in particular, promotes sexual content, which can be harmful for children.

"We have many policies regarding sexual content, but a strict enforcement is required to put an end to this," Dr Sajwani said.

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