The Little Girls’ Revolution

04 April 2013

The tragic death of an 8 year-old girl sparks passing of Child Protection Law in the United Arab Emirates.

"A black cloud bringing rain," this is the meaning of the Arabic name ‘Wadima’. The tragic story of Wadima, a UAE girl of eight years, and his sister Mira, six, may bring a ray of sunshine to new generations in the Emirates.

It all began in November 2011 when, following their parents' divorce, Wadima and Mira were entrusted, as required by the dictates of Islamic law, to the father's family in the person of their grandmother, who later delivered the girls to their father. Last June, the lifeless body of Wadima was found in the desert as a result of the information provided by her sister, hospitalized as a result of beatings. Mira, in a state of shock, recounted to doctors how her father had shaved her head and that of her sister, poured boiling water over them, and, as if that wasn't enough, then beat them violently.

Wadima’s death shocked not only public opinion in the Emirates, but also the Emir himself, who decided to act and legislate to prevent similar cases. Already in 2010 Humaid al-Muhairi, a senior official of the Ministry of Justice of the United Arab Emirates, declared that "violence within the family context is always a deplorable event". Al-Muhairi was referring to a case of violence by a UAE citizen towards his wife and daughter, and pointed out that this kind of violence is prohibited by sharia.

The tragic case of Wadima has brought to the fore the issue of family violence. Immediately, talk began of a law for the protection of children. In November 2012 during a symposium in the context of the "Together to protect our children" campaign, the sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktum, Prime Minister of the UAE, said that "all children, without discrimination, have the right to a safe life, emotional and psychological stability, constant care and protection against any danger and violation," and that "the protection of children must take precedence over everything; their needs and rights are essential," besides affirming that it is the duty of the State to ensure that this happens.

On January 13 it was announced that law for the protection of children had been passed to the Federal National Council for scrutiny; at the behest of the Emir, the law will be called the "Wadima law", in memory of the young victim.

This is an extraordinary event in the Arab-Islamic world, a first important step towards the rich Gulf state's adaptation to international conventions on children. Seventy-two articles and twelve sections ranging from a simple ban on smoking on public transport in the presence of children the right to study, from the ban on selling tobacco and alcohol to minors, to more severe penalties against any person who uses violence against children. The law also defines the right to protection and everything that threatens the peace of mind of children.

It is interesting to note how it refers to situations easily identifiable as those of orphaned children or children without a guardian, but emphasizing the desire to protect children "from exploitation by illegal organizations and by organized crime which spread extremist ideas, the ideology of hatred" and from violence against them. Article 34, for instance, concerns the protection of the mental, physical and moral health of the child.

This is a true act of courage on the part of the United Arab Emirates which, before a terrible event, has neither wished to deny nor conceal the gravity of the problem, but to produce a law that is a first in the area.

On the other hand, 20.5% of the population of the UAE, or nearly 1,100,000 inhabitants, falls between the ages of 0 and 14 years. Moreover, the protection of children goes hand in hand with the fight against Islamic extremism that the Emirates are leading. Adequate education, a culture that aims to protect the population that on the one had is weaker, but on the other will build the future of the nation, are necessary for a policy aimed at internal survival. Protecting the younger generation means ensuring a future in which there will be less fertile ground for extremist ideas, in which one can hope to curb the Islamic extremism that is spreading in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The hope is that the Wadima law will become a model to follow in the Islamic world, and that it leads to protecting girls from early marriages, enforced wearing of the veil, mental and physical violence, and to ensuring children in general a life worthy of the name and corresponding to the basic guarantees provided by international conventions.

Above all, the hope is that the experience with a happy ending of the young Pakistani Malala, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban just because she wanted to study, and the tragic experience of Wadima which has, however, led to a revolutionary law, is a wakeup call and a glimmer of light in a world such as that of Islam, which often sees children deprived of fundamental rights, first of all that of being able to smile, carefree about the future.