Children's safety in Dubai debated

Mothers tell Time Out exactly how safe they feel there children are in Dubai.

What got us talking…
Children’s safety is of paramount concern to parents, but opinions on whether Dubai has a better or worse track record than other countries vary greatly. From the lunacy that is demonstrated on a daily basis on Sheikh Zayed Road to the safe havens provided by ladies-only park days, there seems to be a massive sliding scale of how much danger your kids are in from hour to hour. But are we just worrying too much? We quizzed four mums at Après, Mall of the Emirates.

Is Dubai a safe place to be on the road?
Kath: Probably not as safe as it used to be, but then again you do get used to it, and I think the RTA are really trying to do their bit; they’ve got a huge challenge and they’re trying their best to crack down. They just need to be more aware of safety belts.

Sharon: Why don’t they just make wearing safety belts a legal requirement?

Robin: I did hear on the radio last week that the RTA are thinking about making child seats law.

Kath: Yes, they are. But it’s difficult making all the different nationalities aware of how things should be.

Charlie: I know she’s only nine months old, but I wouldn’t be happy with my daughter going on a school bus to nursery or kindergarten; I wouldn’t have faith that she would be safely strapped in. When I’m on the roads, I often see school buses in front of me where kids are running all over the place.

Sharon: It’s just teaching them, though – when Daniel gets in the car, he’ll say, ‘Daddy I haven’t got my seatbelt on.’ It’s got to be instilled right from birth.

Robin: I wonder what schools do… I think they maybe do a class every now and then.

Sharon: But it comes back to the parents. The schools get blamed for too much. People say the schools should teach them that. No – the parents should.

Kath: It is the responsibility of the parents, but if you haven’t been brought up with seatbelts, then you’re probably not going to teach your children to wear one. We
need to educate the parents as well.

Robin: I can remember when I was a small child, I don’t think they had seatbelt laws back then, but we had a safety awareness week where we had to practise getting off the school bus in case there was an accident.

How do you find driving in Dubai?
Charlie: I don’t drive here. I just get a mental block about driving in Dubai because it’s so scary and dangerous. It’s so fast.

Kath: So many people are new to Dubai and they’re not sure where they’re going.

Charlie: Now I’ve got a baby in the back, I’m a lot more conscious of the fact that if someone went into the back of me, they’d get her first. I much prefer to go with drivers that I know and trust.

Kath: I think I would prefer to drive my child knowing that I’m getting her safely to school. But it’s not always how you drive, it’s how everybody else drives.

Sharon: I think in Dubai people drive much less safely than back home. People are more considerate on the roads in the UK.

Do you talk on the phone while you’re driving?
Sharon: I never even answer the phone if I’m driving. Let it ring, I’ll call back later.

Kath: I don’t, I will always pull over.

Robin: To be honest, at a red light, I’ll probably answer the phone and say I’m in the car.

Charlie: If I’m in a taxi and their phone rings and they answer it, I ask them to put it down.

Do any of your children ride bikes on the roads?
Sharon: Only round the Lakes and the Springs and the parks. It’s safe round there, but not on main roads. Even in the Springs where there are speed bumps, you still get people who whiz down cul de sacs far too fast.

Charlie: There are also motorbikes that actually go on the pavement. On Al Wasl Road, the amount of times that I’m pushing the pushchair along the pavement and a motorbike or little scooter thing is coming along the other way is terrifying.

Kath: I wouldn’t let them cycle on a main road. But there again I don’t think they enforce the helmet issue enough in this country. I let them ride in parks where you know people are aware that there are children on bikes.

Charlie: I grew up in a place where you could strap the baby into a little seat on the back of the bike and go on lovely country bike rides on a Sunday, and there’s no way you can do that here. It’s such a shame.

At what age do you think it’s appropriate to start letting your kids go out on their own in taxis?
Charlie: Probably 16… Although I think my husband would say 21!

Kath: I have a 14-year-old and I’m still not keen for him to travel on his own. In a group it’s different, though, because so many of them have already done it.

Robin: I’d probably start thinking about it from around 13.

Sharon: What about walking to school or to the shop? What age do you let them out then?

Kath: As a parent, you can’t wrap them up in cotton wool. You’ve got to slowly let them learn for themselves – once you’ve made them aware of what the safety issues are. Probably the first dozen times you walk with them, then behind them, that type of thing. They need to feel that they’re gradually being given more responsibility.

Sharon: We only live five minutes’ walk from school and already Daniel, who’s six, is saying, ‘I’m big enough to walk to school myself.’ I’m sorry Daniel, you are not! But you do start thinking – obviously, six is too young, but at what age do you start letting them go?

Charlie: It depends on the child. You could have quite street-wise 13 year olds who are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, who can go to the shops, get some gum or whatever. Growing up in the countryside myself, at 15 I wasn’t even streetwise enough to go on a bus into the town centre! But my husband grew up in London and he was riding tubes by himself by the time he was nine.

Sharon: It’s different for girls and boys – you’d probably feel happier letting your son go off on his own than your daughter.

Does the fact that Dubai has a relatively low crime rate make you feel that your kids are safer?
Robin: I certainly feel safe in the parks. I will let Sabrina go a few yards, just where I can see her, and maybe in other cities I wouldn’t do that. It’s great for her because she’s got that little bit of independence.

Kath: I think also having the ladies’ days in the parks makes a huge difference. You do feel that bit safer.

Charlie: When I was back in the UK over the summer, I was shopping with my sister, who had a baby exactly the same age as Milly. I turned around to look at some clothes and left the buggy for a second. My sister was like, ‘What are you doing? Always keep one hand on the buggy! Someone could just be off with her.’ And it hadn’t even occurred to me – being here, you can just turn around and look at things without having to worry.

Have any of you heard of any ‘stranger danger’ incidents?
Sharon: There was one a while back where a man exposed himself to a child on the road. But these things are far and few between.

Sharon: It was in the newspaper, but I think it was pretty much swept under the carpet. I don’t know whether they found the guy or whether it ever happened again.

Charlie: I think within expat circles you’d probably hear about it. The mums’ community is quite tight here and so through a friend of a friend you’d hear about it, even if it wasn’t presented on the front page of a paper.

Robin: It’s certainly not as prevalent as it is in other large cities.

On the whole, is Dubai safer or less safe than where you’re from?
Robin: I grew up in quite a rural area, so I would say that back home was safer. There were more laws in place. But when I think of London versus here, I’d say Dubai, except for road safety – I mean there, the average speed is eight miles an hour!

Sharon: If I was thinking of my village back home then I would say my village was safer, but when I think of Newcastle, then it’s got to be Dubai.

Is there a danger that children who’ve grown up in Dubai aren’t streetwise and so will be at a disadvantage if they move to another country?
Kath: I don’t think so because I think they will learn from their peers.

Sharon: You still teach them to be careful.

Charlie: When I was back in the UK a few years ago I remember there was this little girl in Ikea alone and crying. I went over and asked if she was lost, and she just pointed at me and started shouting, ‘Stranger, stranger!’ I was mortified. It wouldn’t occur to me to teach my daughter at that age that if you’re lost and someone’s trying to help you that you have to point and shout.

Sharon: Daniel likes to go off and look at the toys when I’m in Spinney’s and I always say, ‘If you get lost you must go up to somebody who works in the shop – not anyone else though – and say “I’ve lost my mummy”.’ You’ve still got to be careful, but you can’t go too mad with it.

Robin: I remember being taught in school not to talk to strangers, there were even commercials on TV about it, but here people are so friendly with little ones.

Kath: But then again I suppose you’ve got to watch it because the city’s growing at such a fast rate that safety will automatically become more of a concern as more people move here.

Sharon: We used to have a policeman come in and teach us the green cross code, and we found it so exciting to be talking to an authority figure. Kids’ safety here probably is taken for granted. We could be getting a bit complacent about how safe Dubai is – maybe we should be educating kids more.

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