Support groups urged understanding and assistance instead of condemnation of parents forced to leave disabled children home alone.
There have been cases in the expatriate and local community where children and adults with disabilities were locked up at home because parents could not afford full-time care.
The new Child Protection Law makes it clear that those who put children in danger, abandon, neglect, leave them without supervision, do not enrol them in school or register their birth, will face a prison sentence or a fine. The law applies to all children up to the age of 18.
“If a parent is denying a child with special needs education while sending their other children to school, that is abuse and someone has to speak up for the child,” said Gulshan Kavarana, founder of the Special Families Support Group. “Some parents think, ‘What is the future of this child anyway, there is no point in teaching him’. A child with autism could have a meltdown, children get wild being locked up the whole day and then are beaten to control them.
“I have confronted parents and asked them to change. But I also empathise with that parent because I can’t imagine having a violent child who puts faeces all over the house. He needs to be trained, needs the right medication and behaviour therapy.”
Authorities said the aim of the new law was not to punish parents but to counsel and educate them on safety and the rights of disabled children.
But many parents cannot afford regular medication or an in-depth diagnosis of their child’s condition. High fees and long waiting lists at schools for children with disabilities are other challenges. “Parents can’t afford a full-time maid, which is a necessity,” said Ms Kavarana, whose daughter, Zara, 19, has Dravet syndrome, which is characterised by severe epileptic seizures. Her daughter stays home with a nanny while Ms Kavarana and her husband are at work, but they take her out in the evening.
Ms Kavarana called for affordable, safe centres for children and adults with disabilities and free sports clubs.
Bedour Al Raqbani, director and founder of Kalimati Communication and Rehabilitation Centre for the hearing impaired, said she had heard of children and adults with special needs in rural areas being locked up.
“There has to be a clear strategy for parents who cannot afford care. We have to form a coalition and liaison for such families,” she said.
“One of the basic rights of a child is safety, so we must have a system of protection – even if it’s a day care centre, it does not have to be a proper therapy centre.
“The private sector can take part to give back to the community, it doesn’t always have to be the Government.”