Determining the full extent and prevalence of child sexual abuse (CSA) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a challenging task, as many cases seem to be unreported or under-reported. While several studies shed light on the prevalence of CSA in the country, such as reports that the Dubai police responding to 539 cases of child abuse in 2022, such information is only intermittently available. As a subject-matter expert in the UAE suggested during a research interview with FP Analytics, “A gap that needs to be addressed to better prevent and combat CSA in the UAE is a better understanding of the social and cultural barriers to reporting—both for Emirati and non-Emirati families. Families are hesitant to report cases of abuse due to fear of deportation, imprisonment, or loss of employment. . . . There are different social and cultural understandings of what sexual abuse is, and differential treatment of gender issues. Male sexual abuse may be underplayed.”
Efforts to protect children from abuse and promote children’s welfare and safety in the UAE have grown in recent years. In 2021, Federal Decree Law No. 34 on Combatting Rumors and Cybercrimes was passed to protect children from online offenses and pornography, while the Federal Penal Code (Federal Law No. 3 of 1987) was amended by Federal Decree Law No. 31 of 2021 to include individuals under 18 as minors. In 2019, Federal Decree Law No. 10 was passed to protect children against any form of violence or abuse through a Family Protection Policy. In 2016, Federal Law No. 3 on Child Rights, commonly known as Wadeema’s Law, was enacted as a comprehensive law designed specifically to safeguard and protect the rights of children. In 2003, Federal Decree Law No. 1 created the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, which launched the National Strategy for Motherhood and Childhood 2017–2021, the country’s first national framework and strategy for child protection and rights.
In the UAE, the key ministries involved in addressing CSA are the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Community Development, and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Interior plays a key role through its Child Protection Centre, working in collaboration with both governmental and non-governmental organizations. The Child Protection Centre develops policies and strategic plans, implements prevention and awareness programs, and conducts investigations into cases of abuse. The Ministry of Community Development and Ministry of Education also contribute through initiatives that focus on prevention, raising awareness, and establishing reporting mechanisms within communities and educational institutions.
The ministries and councils responsible for preventing CSA fall under the “Social development” and “Government affairs” sectors of the UAE’s six-sector budget. The most recent data available on UAE’s official government website also features social protection spending for 2016–2020, allocated to the Ministry of Community Development, “the entity responsible for the social protection sector in the country.” While the Ministry of Community Development has undertaken various programs, such as co-launching the Child Protection Specialist Training Programme, the 2016–2020 social protection budget does not include funds allocated toward addressing CSA in other federal ministries and the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood. For example, the Ministry of Interior’s Child Protection Centre, focusing on CSA prevention and investigation, and the Ministry of Education’s Child Protection Unit and National Child Protection Policy in Educational Institutions in the UAE, all of which are relevant to addressing CSA, do not fall within the social protection budget.
The Ministry of Finance forecasts general budgets and actual expenditures on its Federal Budget page and Federal General Budget page for FY 2018 to FY 2022, although these figures only provide overall budgetary information concerning different federal ministries and the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood. (See Figure 1.) Specific budget allocations or expenditures for programs or initiatives targeting CSA within individual ministries or councils are not provided in a detailed breakdown. For the FY 2022 federal budget, an additional report from the Ministry of Finance indicates that the federal government allocated AED 19.4 billion, accounting for 32.9 percent of the total federal budget, to the social development sector. (See Figure 2.) These allocations include AED 4.8 billion for “Healthcare and community protection” and AED 3.5 billion for “Social rights and social integration program.” (See Figure 3.) However, specific information regarding the allocation of this budget to individual ministries or dedicated child-protection programs or initiatives, let alone those specifically to address CSA, is not publicly available. Moreover, federal budget summaries offer rudimentary insights into allocations toward different sectors and lack insights into expenditures related to CSA.
General Budgets and Expenditures for Select CSA-related Entities
Data source: Forecast General Budgets (for all ministries): 2018, 2020; Forecast General Budgets (for Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood): 2018, 2020; and Actual Expenditures: 2019, 2021, 2022.
UAE Federal Budget Allocations, 2022
Data source: UAE Federal Budget 2022
Social Development and Benefits Spending within the UAE Federal Budget 2022
Data source: UAE Federal Budget 2022
Data from the 2016–2020 social protection budget, along with forecasted general budgets from other years, show that over the five-year period, the social protection budget allocated to the Ministry of Community Development remained at AED 3.2 billion. Furthermore, budgetary allocations to the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood also remained stagnant at AED 15.0 million across the five-year period from FY 2018 to FY 2022. Over the same period, the allocations to the Ministry of Interior fluctuated, falling in FY 2021 and FY 2022 compared to FY 2018–20, while the Ministry of Education’s budget grew only slightly from FY 2018 to FY 2020 before declining significantly in FY 2021 and FY 2022. Overall, forecasted budgets for the entities primarily responsible for addressing CSA—the selected UAE federal ministries and the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood—either stagnated or decreased from FY 2018 to FY 2022 despite the UAE’s overall federal budget increasing in FY 2018, FY 2019, and FY 2020.
Subnational and non-governmental entities within the UAE also play a significant role in preventing or responding to CSA; however, given that these entities are not explicitly mentioned in national budgeting documentation, the scope and impact of their role is unclear. One pertinent example is the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC), the first licensed, non-profit shelter in the UAE providing care and rehabilitation to CSA victims. The DFWAC receives limited funding from the UAE government, yet this funding is not specifically outlined in national-level budget documents. As described in an FP Analytics interview with a subject-matter expert based in the UAE, “Various sectors have implemented programmatic changes that indicate an increased awareness of CSA, serving as an indirect acknowledgment of the occurrence of CSA and exploitation. Along with the increased awareness of child abuse and other forms of violence there has been an increase in staffing, operational costs, and provision of services in multiple sectors.” Nevertheless, the absence of and ambiguity surrounding specific budgetary information concerning these efforts makes it difficult to ascertain the extent of the UAE government’s commitment to CSA prevention and response.
From acceding to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1997 to its more recent pledge to implement a number of child-protection initiatives by 2025, the UAE appears to be striving to improve its child-protection systems. The UAE’s emphasis on a fair and active legal system, safety, and social and family cohesion as priorities in its UAE National Agenda and UAE Vision 2021 underscores the country’s ongoing commitment to enhancing child protection generally. At the federal legislative level, the passage of the Child’s Rights Law in 2016 marked a significant milestone, as the law’s mandatory reporting requirements made every individual in the country a mandated reporter, thereby creating an enabling environment for CSA prevention and response efforts. In addition to national and subnational efforts, the UAE is a member of several international organizations and initiatives dedicated to combating online child abuse or exploitation, such as the Virtual Global Taskforce (represented by the Ministry of Interior’s Child Protection Centre), the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute through the project AI for Safe Children (also through collaboration with the Ministry of Interior), the WeProtect Global Alliance Taskforce, and the End Violence Against Children Fund as a Pathfinding country.
“Various sectors have implemented programmatic changes that indicate an increased awareness of CSA, serving as an indirect acknowledgment of the occurrence of CSA and exploitation. Along with the increased awareness of child abuse and other forms of violence there has been an increase in staffing, operational costs, and provision of services in multiple sectors.”
Anonymous subject-matter expert based in the UAE
These ongoing national and international efforts signal the UAE’s expanding commitment to ending and preventing CSA. However, given that these commitments are not explicitly specified in the country’s national-level budget documents, the financial commitments dedicated to these programs and initiatives remain obscured. To better address CSA and increase transparency, the UAE could produce focused budget documentation that provides more granular detail about programmatic efforts related to CSA.