Government agencies unite to protect our children from abuse

Business Sunday 15/September/2019 22:44 PM
By: Times News Service

Muscat: Oman’s Ministry of Social Development protected nearly 1,500 children from abuse in 2018, more than three times the number they were able to in 2017, thanks to an increase of awareness in families who realised in the importance in coming forward to report cases of abuse.

A higher level of trust between families and the ministry meant that the Ministry of Social Development managed to help out 1,478 children in 2018, up from 492 the previous year. A report from the ministry given to Times of Oman said, “there were 1416 abused children in Oman who received services from child protection committees in 2018, as well as 62 abused children who have found a new shelter in Dar Al Wifaq.”

Of the 62 cases of abused children housed in Dar Al Wifaq in 2018, 36 of the cases were in Muscat, while three happened in Al Buraimi, four happened in Al Dakhiliyah, seven occurred in North Al Batinah, two occurred in South Al Batinah, four occurred in North Al Sharqiyah, and six happened in Al Dhahirah.

In 2017, there were 492 cases of child abuse cases taken care of by the ministry, 50 of which were children referred to Dar Al Wifaq, as well as 442 who were handled directly by the children protection committees. In addition, the child protection hotline 1100 which began operating in January has received 2046 phone calls during 2018

These details appeared during the 6th Arabic International Conference on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, also known as the Oman ISPCAN 2019 Congress, which began on September 15 and will last until September 17, 2019. The conference is being spearheaded by the International Society for the Protection of Children from Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development and UNICEF Oman. Also involved are the Arab SPCAN, Sultan Qaboos University and the Children First Association.

H.E. Dr. Yahya bin Badr bin Malik Al Ma’awali, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Development, said: “Oman has developed greatly in the field of social policies as a result of the directives of HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said, which affirmed that economic development must be accompanied by success in social development.

“This is where the strategy for social work for the years from 2016 to 2025 come from, as it supports harmony between different institutions, economic empowerment for all segments of society, and considers children a central pillar for a promising future,” he added.

Ahmed Al Shabibi, a member of the protection committee of North Sharqiyah, said one of the reasons the ministry was able to clamp down on cases of child abuse was due to the rise in calls being made to the hotline. He had held a conference on abuses against children a day before the conference, and asked more people to come forward to report cases of abuse.

“We can see a large increase in the number of calls that come through regarding child abuse, and an increase in the number of cases coming to the committees between 2016 and 2018,” he explained. “This doesn’t mean that the issue of child abuse is getting worse, it simply means that there is more awareness about the importance of reporting cases. For a time in Oman, we had a culture of silence regarding these cases, but this is changing.”

Al Shabibi added, “We want people to become more aware of the importance of speaking out, and we want parents to help prevent the problem by encouraging conversations with their children, especially since in many cases the culprit will try to build a relationship with the child.”

In addition, Dr Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on Violence Against Children said exclusively to Times of Oman that she had been part of the team that had help set up international hotlines against child abuse, with Oman being one of the nations that was taking a stand towards better protection of children.

“I was part of the international child helpline, and many assessments were done regarding the helplines,” she explained. “What is important for success is to be very easily accessible, and to also provide prompt and very quick responses. At the same time, you must protect the children’s privacy, confidentiality and safety. The challenge is referrals, so the countries where hotlines work very well are hotlines that are linked to other child protection services, such as child services and judicial services as well as health.

“This is very important. The problem is when there is a helpline that is not linked, and so is not very efficient,” she added. “It is also important to take a look at the quality and profiles of the people working on the hotline, because sometimes you need to be able to build trust and to even hear something even when the child goes silent. It’s really important to have this kind of training.”

Speaking about the dangers that children face worldwide, she added: “30 years after the adoption of the CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child), there are still millions and millions of children who are still victims of violence and abuse. This is important to take into account.”

Lana Al Wreikat, the UNICEF representative in Oman, spoke about how important the hotline is as a tool to protect children. She said: “The hotline is a relatively new experience but it has been working, as evidenced by the number of cases reported. Of course, the key thing is the mechanism after the case is reported, through the child protection committees that exist in 11 governorates. Those are multi-sectoral, including health, judiciary, education, so all sectors providing support for these cases.

“The key thing is to shift to prevention, because we shouldn’t wait for cases of violence to happen, but rather to work on raising awareness and violence prevention so that we have less cases,” she added. “UNICEF’s role in this is to support the government. The Ministry of Social Development is in the driving seat and they steer those efforts. So far we have used a KAP (knowledge, attitude, practice) survey, where we identify the practices that might lead to any behaviours that need to be eliminated or reinforced.

“The hotline, as well as the field visits are all necessary as tools and they have their place. Hotlines are a valuable tool and are used in many countries, including Oman,” she added.

The Ministry of social development used the hotline as one of its tools to protect children. An official from the ministry told Times of Oman: “The ministry provides many services in the field of family protection, such as using the child protection hotline and the housing services in Dar Al Wifaq to protect abandoned women abused children, and victims of human trafficking. The child protection committees also protect the children from violence and abuse currently occurring in all governorates in Oman. They do this over the phone and through field work, as well as through the procedures open to them.”