Child protection centre will bring together relevant institutions to provide integrated services
In a landmark initiative aimed at ensuring the safety and well-being of children, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah and Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA), has directed the Child Safety Department (CSD) to establish a protection centre for child victims of physical and sexual abuse.
Titled ‘Kanaf’, meaning protection or care in Arabic, this interdisciplinary, multi-agency child protection centre in Sharjah, will help standardise child protection measures and enable relevant entities to provide integrated referral and treatment services in its state-of-the-art facility, and in a safe, supportive environment.
The directive is part of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi’s efforts to provide a safe and protective environment for children. Over the past few years, Her Highness has been reviewing physical abuse cases and following up on them personally with relevant departments and institutions in Sharjah.
Child abuse is a social and public health problem and neglect can lead to a wide range of adverse consequences for the children involved and their families, as well as the community. It is present in various degrees in communities around the world, and its treatment requires privacy in a safe and nurturing environment.
Several studies have revealed that the reason why people hesitate to report cases of physical and sexual abuse is the prolonged investigation process, the physical and psychological treatments involved, and follow-up by various entities.
Kanaf is inspired by the ‘Barnahus’ model that originated in Iceland in 1998. Literally meaning ‘Children’s Home’, the success of this model in providing prompt legal, psychological, medical services to child abuse victims, saw more than 50 Barnahus-style centres spring up across the Scandinavian countries.
In 2015, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi had visited a Barnahus centre in Sweden. A second visit ensued in 2018 for representatives from Rubu’ Qarn Foundation for Creating Leaders and Innovators, Child Safety Department and the Sharjah Social Services Department. The visit provided the delegation with greater insight into the centre’s pioneering services for child victims of crime and abuse, where they can describe their experiences in a friendly and safe atmosphere for the benefit of investigations led by social services, the police, public prosecutors, and mental health experts.
CSD, an affiliate of SCFA, will be responsible for managing the centre. CSD will also coordinate and supervise its operations, as well as schedule visits and meetings with other local, federal and international child protection entities to implement best international practices.
Kanaf will bring together four key organisations under one roof that will oversee and provide services for abuse cases including the Sharjah Forensic Administration; Sharjah Public Prosecution; Sharjah Social Services Department’s Children Rights Protection Administration; and the Criminal Investigation and Social Support Departments at the Sharjah Police Headquarters.
HH Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi stressed that Kanaf is a major step forward in promoting social development in Sharjah, and reflects the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, to enhance the role of social organisations in protecting children’s rights to live in a safe environment, whichis vital to ensure their mental and physical health, which are fundamental rights, and instrumental for building a productive and socially conscientious generation.
Her Highness said: “Across societies, children are the unfortunate victims of various types of abuse and maltreatment. For both children and their guardians, following up on these cases presents a real challenge as it involves time, effort and complex procedures. Therefore, facilitating this process is a social necessity. It is impossible for abused children to forget the trauma they had undergone and there is a real danger of causing permanent psychological and health consequences. But when children feel safe and secure, it will aid in their recovery, allowing them to regain confidence and emotional security.”
“The UAE enjoys a high level of family security and stability. We need to maintain this achievement and take it one step forward by unifying the efforts of all relevant social organisations, developing mechanisms to protect children and families, and enhancing community awareness on how to deal with child abuse cases. As an advanced society, we need to find innovative means to drive development, placing the needs of our members as top priority.”
“Abuse in general, and child abuse particularly, has a grave effect on any society’s culture, values and ethics. Protecting children is all about protecting our future and the values we stand for,” Her Highness added.
“Through the launch of Kanaf, which adds immense value to the institutional landscape in the emirate and the UAE, Sharjah reaffirms its commitment to enhance and develop its social system by protecting children’s rights and raising awareness and highlighting the importance of a shared vision to achieve comprehensive development and progress, and protect the dignity of every person,” Her Highness concluded.
An integrated protection platform
Kanaf will be a one-stop platform to conduct interviews with child abuse victims in a child-friendly space under the supervision of a team of experts.
Studies have revealed that frequent interviews have an adverse psychological effect on abuse victims as it reopens wounds of the harrowing experience and may cause more harm than the abuse itself. A US-based child protection centre, for instance, found that children are subject to an average of eight interviews when their cases are handled outside the centre. In the long run, this also jeopardises the criminal case especially when external pressure or goading can lead a child to alter the original narrative of the incident.
To counter such negative consequences, Kanaf will set processes in place, including a unified digital framework, to prevent children from being subject to multiple interviews by different agencies.
The establishment of Kanaf stems from a study undertaken by the Child Safety Department to review the current child protection mechanisms in Sharjah including legal, psychological and social services. Officials at CSD also visited child protection centres abroad to develop its own model aligned with the emirate’s culture and values.
Integrated Inter-agency Services
The Child Safety Department has announced that through its network of partners and collaboration with competent authorities in the emirate, it will pursue its efforts to promote social responsibility towards children, raise awareness of their rights and underscore the importance of supporting abuse victims. The Department will offer full support to coordinators and concerned authorities, including state-of-the-art technology, friendly amenities, and all administrative needs, in addition to running all meetings and submitting recommendations for development.
Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi had previously announced the Child Safety Department’s strategy for the years 2020-2021. This strategy aims to build and strengthen partnerships between all related parties involved in protecting children’s rights and safety in Sharjah, in line with the CSD’s vision, Aware Society… Safe Child, which reflects the culture of the emirate and the essence of its social development project.