[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 22:03 GMT
Arab meeting tackles child abuse
By Dale Gavlak
BBC News, Amman

A conference aimed at preventing child abuse in the Arab world has been taking place in Amman, Jordan.

It is the first meeting to gather professionals from 18 Arab countries who are trying to tackle violence against children head on.

They want to draw public attention to an often hidden yet pervasive problem.

The silence surrounding abuse exists on many levels, participants argued, and it must be broken if covert violence against children is to be stopped.

We have to conclude that more than half of the children are, in one way or another, victims of violence
Gert Kapelari
Child protection specialists said the fact that there were no fixed statistics on abuse in the Arab world was shocking, particularly because they know it is widespread.

The number of reported cases is very low, they argued, and that belies the truth about what is really going on.

Gert Kapelari, a delegate for the United Nations children's agency Unicef, said a survey among school children in eight Arab countries showed that the numbers were staggering.

"Where we asked children to what extent they have been victims of abuse or other forms of violence, what comes out of the preliminary findings are really shocking," he said.

"We have to conclude that more than half of the children are, in one way or another, victims of violence and even sometimes of severe abuse," Mr Kapelari added.

Family problems

Unicef said it was helping local Arab groups to set up safe places where children could talk about what they were experiencing and get help.

Dr Hani Jahshan, who works at Jordan's Family Protection Unit, said he saw 560 reported cases of physical and sexual abuse among children in the country last year.

He said family problems, such as financial hardship and disability, increased the chances for abuse to take place.

"You need to work on all these risk factors to eliminate it. That's why I said it is very difficult," Dr Jahshan said.

"The most important thing is to educate the whole society, to work on the primary prevention level, to change the attitude and the mentality of our people, because in our culture we have more violence than other cultures," he added.

"They think it's okay to hit their child and it's accepted and this goes on to become an abusive situation."

Taboo subject

Apart from changing attitudes, Dr Jahshan said there were other ways to combat child abuse in the Arab world.

Putting the issue at the forefront in the media helps break the cultural taboo and brings the problem out into the open.

It was also critical, he said, to develop services to help victims and perpetrators, and to train teachers and social workers to recognise abuse and treat it.

It was important to inform families how to raise children without resorting to violence.

This would eventually help to eliminate abuse, he added.

As the conference came to a close, child protection specialists said it had enabled them to create a resource network that would help tackle the scale of the problem.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific