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It’s time to act against child abuse

It’s becoming increasingly common these days to hear horror stories of fathers beating their children to death and that government ministries are apparently powerless or perhaps unwilling to wade in and address the problem.Saudi Arabia is experiencing a steady rise in reported domestic abuse cases. According to the Saudi National Society for Human Rights, 576 abuse cases were reported in 2013, a 77 percent jump from 292 cases reported in 2012.The latest incident involves a divorced Abha father, a retired Islamic Affairs administrator who routinely abused his teenage daughters. Abuse is too soft a word. More accurately, he tortured them until his 13-year-old daughter, Reem, died. He had the habit of using chains to hang all three as if they were animals ready for slaughter.The day Reem died, the man allegedly chained two of his daughters to the windows of the house and Reem to the door. He then left them alone. When he returned he found Reem dead.According to Arabic newspaper reports, Abha school authorities and the Ministry of Social Affairs were aware of the abusive treatment. School officials had observed evidence of beatings. The Social Affairs Ministry’s Dar Al-Hemaiah Center received a report of the abuse. The father pulled his three daughters from school last year. When the school asked the father to return the girls to class, he refused. The bottom line is that enough people were aware of the abuse but did little to stop it.The authorities need to decide which direction they want to take to protect the future of this country. The Ministry of Social Affairs implemented an awareness program to give victims and witnesses of spousal and child abuse a means to report crimes without fear of retribution. The Council of Ministers passed a law last August criminalyzing domestic abuse. But clearly, awareness programs and telephone hotlines are not enough, and there are no statistics available on whether the abuse hotlines are being used and resulting in prosecution of offenders. And it’s too early to determine the impact of the domestic abuse law.Two ministries need to make the effort to stem abuse a step further. The Social Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Education are the best agencies to ensure the safety of Saudi children. Both ministries should also be held accountable for incidents like what occurred in Abha. The Education Ministry, in particular, is the perfect agency to stop abuse in its tracks since teachers and school administrators see children up to seven hours daily and know better than anyone outside the family the emotional and physical health of each child.Mandatory reporting of abuse by school officials to law enforcement authorities is the only way to ensure a measure of safety for children. School authorities that ignore abuse should face the music and there should be consequences for police investigators and shelter employees who also ignore evidence of violence.We live in a society that values privacy and family security. We turn our backs from evidence of abuse by telling ourselves that it’s a family problem and it’s none of our business. Yet when families abuse the notion of privacy and security and beat their children or wives without fear of prosecution, then they should forfeit their right to have children. The community has a responsibility to step in and stop such violence.Our male guardianship and custody laws that allow judges to give children to abusive fathers need reconsideration. The fact that often divorced mothers can only see their children during school hours and only at the school give fathers carte blanche to do as they please with their children.Already excuses are made for the father who murdered his daughter. He was mentally ill or some such nonsense. He could be mentally ill, he hates women, or he could just be a mean, hard-hearted criminal who enjoys torturing children. Whatever the case, the signs were there that he was a dangerous abuser and his community did nothing to protect his kids.It’s too late for Reem. Will we tell ourselves that it’s a private matter? Will we tell ourselves that it’s too late for the next child who turns up dead because we value privacy more than life? It’s not too late if we are quick to act. By putting aggressive measures in place now, we will be saving lives.•

#childabuse #sex #sexualabuse #kids #care #children

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