Causes and Effects of Child abuse in the UAE


This paper examines the concept of child abuse in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In specific terms the paper provides an overview of the problems for this region.  Looking at the correlations that exist between the 7 countries in the Arabian Peninsula and the shortcomings and difficulties from a sociological perspective. Examination of a range of subject matter indicates the children have been subject to a wide range of child abuse and neglect.  Much of this has been accepted in society as a matter of religious tolerance and discipline. It is considered that such acts are not fitting for a modern world and that there is a need to confront these realities in order to bring about sociological change.   (Al-Mahroos, F. 2007)


            A study conducted by Dr. Al-Mahroos and reproduced in the 2007 Saudi Medical Journal has indicated wide-spread acts of child abuse carried out across the countries of the United Arab Emirates. Table 1 illustrates a summary of these findings.

Child Abuse Statistics in the Arab Peninsula – Source 2007 Saudi Medical Journal
Study Location Study Sample Results of Sample Outcome
Kuwait 27 22-Physical Abuse 3 – Sexual Abuse 2 – Munchausen’s Syndrome   3 deaths
Saudi Arabia 11 case reports 40 abused children 24 physical abuse 6  Sexual abuse 4 – MSP 6 – Chronic neglect 5 deaths
Oman & Bahrain 5 reported cases of MSP 150 hospital cases Inc. 50 from Bahrain with physical abuse, 87 with sexual abuse and 10 with both Unidentified
Yemen Wide spread reports of child and sexual abuse Not specific Unidentified

Table 1 Child Abuse Statistics 2007. (Al-Mahroos, 2007).

Although the results may have lacked in certain detailed specificity, nevertheless they provide some conclusive evidence of the range of these activities across different UAE countries.

The concept of violence has been an integral part of human behavioural patterns throughout the long history of mankind. This has resulted in a long trail of misery and destruction through the different human races and cultures.  The Arabic nations are not exempt and the more stringent laws of fundamentalist Islamic laws have perpetuated this.  The aspect of cruelty to children is perhaps the worst example of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. Children are the most vulnerable members of society and as such perhaps require the safeguard of human rights more than anyone else. 


All of the UAE countries have ratified the UN Charter on Human Rights and as such are bound by these articles. These protect the children from both physical and sexual abuse (Articles 19-24). Further, they should not be subject to inhumane or degrading acts of punishment. Despite this none of the courtiers identified have in place a legal framework that protects the children from abuse, other than the Yemen. This provides an imbalance in the signed agreements of the UN Charters and the legal frameworks that should enforce them.


The children of the Arab Peninsula (Inc. UAE) are subject to many different forms of child abuse, as in many other regions of the world.  Because of the relative affluence of the region this is somewhat shielded from the media and general populace opinion. As such the formal message projected by the authorities is that the incidence is low.  The assumption is based upon the lack of evidential data to support child abuse, however the assertion that there is insufficient data is a false conclusion to the fact that abuse is low.  No country really likes to confront this reality but equally recognition of the problem is the starting point in order to take remedial action. Most of the factual data is obtained from hospital records and as such this is not to gain a true perspective of the amount of child abuse taking place in society.


Many of the reasons that have transpired for child abuse in the area have related to socio-economic reasons including that of poverty, social circumstances of the children and marital discord. Equally, cases of polygamy and large age discrepancies between young girls and the fathers.  In Dubai the concept of child sexual abuse and physical abuse has been somewhat of a taboo subject. It is only recently that this topic has come into the open for discussion purposes. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children stated that there are no real statistics or information available to really understand the true magnitude of the problem. (McMeans, A. 2012).

The foundation states that one of the most common occurences of abuse in this area is that of child rape and sexual harrasment.  A Doctor attached to the foundation stated that such abuse normally affects a childs condition for life. The trauma can bring upon a range of both pschological and sociological problems for the victim.  Early statistics indicate children in the 8-12 year age group are amongst the most vulnerable  and that 40% of the abuse is carried out by relatives and another 50% by so called trusted adults e.g. Teachers. Because of the stigma attached to this many children attempt to hide their experiences (McMeans, A. 2012)

Dubai is making attempts to address this by the introduction of a new Child Protection Law and this Federal law embraces the child making the protective responsibility inclusive of parents, teachers, and others with social responsibility for the child’s welfare.  It is intended to be a holistic policy that provides the very broadest range of protection for the child. (Shahbandari, S. 2012). The objective of the new policy is aimed at projecting `zero tolerance`towards child abuse in Dubai. The have put together a team of 12 social workers that are on a 24/7 work regime in order to investigate all reported cases.

He use of Social Workers in the UAE is a relatively new concept and still at an early developmental stage. The actual formal training and development for social workers is still at a very formative stage and is inadequate, in terms of resources, to deal with the large amount of responses required.  (Crabtree, S.A. 2006).


A study carried out in Bahrain, an archipelego of 33 Islands within the Western Arabian Gulf, has shown a substative number of children being treated in hospitals for a range of different child abuse problems. A research team  examined over 150 cases with a specific hospital setting  and the data represented was from a diverse range of demographics. Statistics illustrated of the 150 reported cases being treated at the hospital the children were in 3-11 year age group. 53% were male victims and 47% females. Sexual abuse was present in some 87 patients and physical abuse in 50

Fig 1 as illustrated below illustratyes the different types of injuries that resulted from a sample of 60 children suffering neglect and child abuse at the hospital.  A large range of injury types but a high incidence of bruises as a result of beatings and violence against the children.  There were also 7% fatalities as a result of the abuse.  Statistics were also prepared for sexual abuse in both boy and girl sample patients.  (Al-Mahroos, F. 2005)

Figure 1: Types of injuries in 60 children  

Early reports of child abuse in the region date back to the 1980’s but the extent of the data and information was relatively limited.  Since this time there has been much more attention being paid to this in the Arabic and Gulf states.  As such many more research studies have been carried out. The legal system has been one of the key setbacks as there has been no mandatory system to report cases and as such a large % of the abuse remained both undetected and unreported. Low socio-economic status has been reported as one causative factor but equally tribal customs and beliefs from the less educated rural areas.  The legal system in Bahrain is also skewed more in favour of girls. Sexual abuse of a girl under 14 could lead to a death sentence whereas as mistreatment of a boy is only punishable by 10 years in prison. (Al-Mahroos, F. 2007).


Fig 2 illustrates the cases of child abuse in Saudi Arabia between 2000-2008 illustrating the large rise in substantiated case in 2007-2008.  Increased recognition of Child Abuse and neglect in the Kingdom has given rise to more data and information becoming available. (Almuneef, M. 2010).

Saudi Arabia has set up child protection centres at all of the major hospitals throughout the country. Within the confines of the Family National Safety Program a number of distinct initiatives have been made that include:

  • The accreditation of 38 hospitals as specialist centres for treating child abuse victims;
  • Advanced training being provided for the child protection teams;
  • 24/7 call line or help system for victims via a multi-disciplined child protection team;
  • Formation of an Abuse and Neglect registry;
  • Case Reports on Victims and the perpetrators, shows investigation results, types of abuse and follow-up action (Almuneef, M. 2010).


The Ministry of the Interior in Abu Dhabi has been approaching other UAE Ministries to adopt a joint strategy for the combatting of child abuse in the emirates. This resulted in the Wudeema Law being passed between the UAE Ministries. This aimed at protecting the rights of children and ensuring them a safe future free from molestation, discrimination or deprivation of human rights. It is intended to support other laws on child protection including that of human trafficking. It is an important start in consolidating the legal framework in order to provide a wider regional protection to the child abuse problem.  (Taher, N. 2013).

The Dubai Police, in April 2012, were reporting significant improvements in child abuse and a reduction in the number of cases being handled.  Much of this being attributed to the increased number of surveillance cameras being introduced at schools. The police have increased their levels of surveillance and support lines for victims.  The main aim has been focused on prevention and educating parents  in the responsibilities for child protection.  This includes responsible parents keeping improved levels of surveilance and monitoring of their children. Equally to stop the children watching violent TV programmes that incite them to violent behavior.  (Agarib, A. 2012).


 This really has to be separated into the two forms.  The concept of child abuse and domestic violence has a strong link to poverty and abusive parents, often who have drug related or alcohol problems.  This becomes a social problem where Education and treatment of the parents becomes a priority.  Intervention may mean the child being taken into care and removed from the abusive environment.  Pedophilia has been described by health practitioners as a mental disorder, however the US Department of Justice defines it as a criminal act.  As to date there has been no identified gene for pedophilia but undoubtedly this form of activity has been carried out for centuries.  Only in recent years through advances in communications and technology has this been more actively been made public. 


The UAE, similar to many other regions in the world, suffers from an inadequate record of human rights and child abuse cases.  There is however recognition of the problem throughout the UAE and changes are being put forward in an attempt to remediate the problem.  This is unlikely to fully resolve in the short term but it is encouraging to see a co-ordinated effort being made between the different emirate countries.


Agarib, A. (2012, 4 28). Child abuse cases near to nil in Dubai. Retrieved from Khaleej Times:

Al-Mahroos, F. (2007). Child abuse and neglect in the Arab Peninsula. Saudi Medical Journal Vol 28(2), 241-248.

Almuneef, M. A. (2010). Child abuse and neglect in Saudi Arabia: Journey of recognition to implementation of national prevention strategies. Child Abuse and Neglect Vol 34, 28-33.

Crabtree, S. (2006). A comparative analysis of social work responses to child abuse in the UAE. International Journal of Child and Family Welfare Vol 9(4), 226-235.

F. Al-Mahroos, F. A.-A. (2005). Child abuse: Bahrains experience. Child abuse and neglect Vol 29, 187-193.

McMeans, A. (2012). Dubai campaign against child abuse launches. The National.

Shahbandari, S. (2012, 11 20). Zero tol;erance for child abuse in the UAE. Retrieved from Gulf New:

Taher, N. A. (2013, 1 2). UAE’s efforts to combat child abuse commended. Retrieved from Glulf News:

Figure 1: Types of injuries in 60 children. 5

Figure 2: Cases in Saudi Arabia. 5

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