It is comforting to know that a blind eye will no longer be turned to these horrific events taking place within the privacy of one’s home. The killing of Wadeema Al Sherawi has changed the UAE’s entire perspective on child abuse situations. The country took matters into their hands and exercised their authority when the eight-year-old girl was ruthlessly tortured as well as burnt and beaten by her father and his girlfriend resulting in her death. Subsequent to her death, the father and girlfriend buried her body in the desert to rid of her, however, her younger sister Mirah who also suffered from being tortured was visited by her uncle to whom she informed the events of on-going agony they endure. Due to the immediate reaction of the authorities, Mirah was saved from facing the same fate as her sister, yet she suffered severe wounds and burns. Upon recovering Wadeema’s body, it was too late to investigate the cause of death, nevertheless, Wadeema died whilst being trapped inside a bathroom with no food or fresh water, forcing her to consume her own faeces which resulted in severe vomiting followed by her death. The father responsible for this dreadful act has been sentenced to life imprisonment as well as his girlfriend for taking part in such a ghastly act of child abuse.
As a result, a Federal Law No.  of 2016, so called “Child Rights Law” and also known as “Wadeema Law” has been issued by President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, which is a pivotal source to help providing children and youngsters a safer and happier living in the UAE.
The new law which was published in the UAE Official Gazette on 15 March 2016 has entered into effect on 15 June 2016. Its Executive Regulations shall be issued within six (6) months from its publication.
The Law shall apply to all children below the age of eighteen (18) years no matter what their race, nationality, country of residence, religion, social level, or disability.
The Law prohibits the employment of children before the age of fifteen (15) years old, or their exploitation in any economic activities which would endanger them. It also prohibits smoking in closed areas in the presence of children, and the sale of tobacco and alcohol for children below the age of eighteen (18) years.
Any child who doesn’t have solvent breadwinner or source of income shall have the full support of the State. Also, a child who is deprived of the environment of a natural family, permanently or temporarily, shall have the right to alternative care through either a foster family or, in the event of no foster family, a public/ private social care institution.
The child shall have right to education and development in all fields. The State shall take all necessary measures to prevent dropout, to prohibit all forms of violence in educational institutions, and to develop the educational system including kindergarten.
The child shall have the right to knowledge, means of creativity and innovation. For such purpose, the child shall participate in entertainment, cultural, artistic and scientific programs which are suitable for his/ her age.
Managers of cinemas and TV broadcast channels shall be obliged to post announcements prohibiting children from entry or stating that there would be scenes that are not suitable for children, in visible and clear areas.
Establishment of Child Protective Entities
New entities for protecting children shall be established to monitor and execute child protection mechanisms and measures through child protection specialists, who shall have the following duties:
(a) Preventive and curative intervention for the interest of the child, in any case jeopardizing the child’s physical, psychological, moral, or mental safety.
(b) Handle physical/ mental abuse cases and collect all evidences regarding the reported incidents and to attend investigations and trials, if necessary.
(c) Submit proposals to child’s parents or caregiver in case it is proven that there is an imminent risk of serious threat to child’s safety or child’s physical, psychological, moral or mental health. The proposals shall include keeping the child with his/ her family on condition that safety is guaranteed, or placing the child with a caregiver or with an appropriate public or private social, educational or health body or institution.
In all cases, the specialist shall follow up on the execution of measures agreed upon with the parent or the caregiver. The specialist shall have the right to amend those measures, at any time, to guarantee safe keeping of the child with his/ her family or caregiver.
(d) Refer specific cases to child protection authorities to take the necessary procedures in the following cases:
- failing to reach agreement with the child’s parents or caregiver within fifteen (15) days of his/her knowledge of the case.
- failing to maintain the agreement with the child’s parents, caregiver or the child who reached the age of thirteen (13) years old.
The child protection specialist shall take the necessary actions to refer the case to the public prosecution, if so required.
Authority of the Child Protection Specialists
The child protection specialists shall be selected through a Ministerial Decree from the Minister of Justice and shall have the capacity of “Law enforcement officers”. In the event of imminent risk of serious harm to the child’s health or welfare, and prior to taking legal permission, the specialist shall have the authority to take out the child from his place of living and keep him/her in a safe place under the specialist personal responsibility. For such purpose, the specialist shall have the right to seek legal/ enforcement assistance from public authorities.
The specialist shall have the right, within 24 hours from taking the child out of his/ her location, to request the issuance of a judicial order to extend such necessary measures. The judge shall issue his/her decision within 24 hours from the time of presenting the request.
Child Sexual Abuse – Specific Measures
Notwithstanding the stated various penalties for offenders, the Law describes specific preventive measures for child sexual abuse to include prohibiting those who have been convicted of any sexual assault or child pornography crimes from working in a job or profession that allows them to deal directly with children, even if they have been rehabilitated.
In addition, all offenders of crimes of sexual abuse on a child shall be banned from residing within 5 square kilometers from the residence of the assaulted child. In all events, a person sentenced to jail in a crime of sexual assault on a child shall only be released after being subjected to psychological examinations and tests, before expiration of his/her imprisonment period, to ensure that he/she does not impose danger on the society.
Certainly, before the enactment of the new law, interference with residents’ privacy was unprincipled and immoral as there was no law that provided for intervention of such matters. However, the UAE has demonstrated vast improvements since the killing of Wadeema in safeguarding the youth of its community which shall continue to branch out upon the implementation of the new law. A vital element enshrined in the new law is the involvement of society and their mandatory obligation to report any abuse incidents that occur to their knowledge. The UAE has ensured this shall take place to the maximum extent in their authority by authorizing penalties as well as possible imprisonment for those who do not abide by these laws and regulations. Moreover, the extended rights awarded to child protection specialists shall further allow the new law to be effectively carried out. These child specialists will be able to assist and support abused children to move them towards a better future, as previously done with Mirah, Wadeema’s sister.
It is evident the UAE strives to achieve a safer place for all children residing the country, this has not only been limited to regulating the new law, but also includes certain precautions across each Emirate. For example of such in Sharjah, the Civil Defence has made it compulsory that the height of balcony walls be raised to 1.5 meters rather than 1.2 meters. Additionally, parents have been given clear instructions to ensure the upmost protection of their children in their homes.
For background, the UAE has also implemented certain laws that govern child safety. For instance, in 2009 the UAE implemented Federal Decree No. 20/2009 on the Ratification of United Nations Convention on The Rights of the Child of 1990, specifically focusing on Articles 7, 4, 17 and 21, which entail the rights of a child to be registered immediately after birth, freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as ensuring the system of adoption to serve the best interests of children. Moreover, Federal Law No.1 of 2012 created the proper procedures to be taken in any event concerning the custody of a child with unknown parentage.
Finally, the new law is a clear message which has been spread throughout the nation that further demonstrates the UAE’s continuous progress to provide a safer and happier life for all children residing on its land.
About the Author
Ashraf El Motei heads the dispute resolution practice in Motei & Associates, a Dubai based law firm. His practice encompasses a broad spectrum of substantive areas of the law with specific focus on civil, commercial and family disputes. For more articles, please visit www.motei.com