Despite having laws, regulations and tremendous efforts made by the Ministry of Social Development, as a key stakeholder, to control child abuse cases, a significant number of children and young people remain exposed to violence and abuse in their schools, community and families in Oman.
The ministry’s annual reports show a remarkable increase in child abuse cases. There are legal punishments stated in the Child Law issued by the Royal Decree No 22/2014 to stop different forms of child abuse and behaviours violating children rights.
Child abuse leads to serious social and psychological issues to families and children. Further serious actions should be taken by government and social and legal bodies concerned to stop this menace. All stakeholders concerned should join hands to combat child abuse with the support of individuals and society. In view of that, an academic study, “Child Maltreatment Prevention Readiness Assessment in Oman”, published in Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, was conducted between May and August 2016 to evaluate Oman’s readiness for implementing large-scale child maltreatment prevention (CMP) programmes. The study indicated that Oman has a modest level of readiness to implement large-scale evidence-based prevention programmes against child maltreatment. It emphasised the importance to develop a national strategy, outlining a framework for organising and prioritising efforts towards child maltreatment programmes.
On the other hand, Moeness al Shishtawy, in his article, responding to the article “Child Rights: What can we do in Oman?”, published in 2012 by Sultan Qaboos University's Medical Journal, stressed the significant action to stop child abuse and neglect, and called for developing a national strategy for protecting children. He recommended that this strategy should identify the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders concerned by protecting and promoting the welfare of children and identify measures to reduce child abuse.
Reflecting on the stakeholders’ support to serve this issue, their efforts must be strategically unified and streamlined. This must be effectively planned, executed and properly directed to target audiences through different public initiatives, programmes and media awareness campaigns. For the stakeholders concerned to change public attitude towards child abuse issue, a comprehensive national media campaign should be organised.
This campaign should be driven by various powerful tools, messages and platforms including social media, in addition to traditional media. However, to achieve an excellent exposure to media messages and fruitful outcomes, certain key factors are also required. Various media platforms including newspapers, TVs, radios, social media and outdoor media (billboards, posters, newspapers and magazines) should be intensively dedicated to serve this campaign.
Further, community-based programmes, policies that support behavioural change, public awareness sessions are needed to support the campaign too. Incorporating technology is of high benefit, including bulk mobile SMS, online advertisements and posters. Moreover, the campaign’s awareness sessions and events need to target schools, sports clubs, health institutions, NGOs and public facilities. Such a big-scale campaign could be frequently conducted in short-term with different health-related or social occasions or as a long-term national campaign extended for months. This will ensure bringing effective impacts on public attitudes, which could be measured via the tracking child abuse cases recorded by the Ministry of Social Development.
The great promise of this media campaign comes in its ability to broadcast precise social-focused messages to large audiences frequently. The messages must be very persuasive to the audience and factual-oriented. Also, the communicated messages must spotlight on all aspects related to child rights and protection, impact of abuse on children, family and society, parenting principles, child laws and related legislations, legal punishments against child violence and other relevant topics too. This could be executed via online and offline media, games, videos and storytelling for children to ensure a better impact. (The article is part of a social research conducted by the writer)