UAE residents panic over spate of balcony deaths

Several parents request government bodies to step up and pass a law and allow them to erect higher railings in balconies to protect their children

The tragedy that has engulfed the Jumeirah Lake Towers district, with the recent deaths of a five-year-old boy and his mother from the balcony of the MAG 214 high-rise, has rung alarm bells for many who live at such dizzying heights.

Parents of small children particularly are concerned over the dangers of having their young ones within hand’s reach of an open balcony door or an unlocked window, who are too innocent to realise the perils of leaning out too far over an unprotected landing.

Tuesday’s deaths at JLT were an unfortunate reminder of such a game gone too far, when a 33-year-old Iranian mother found herself staring helplessly from the bus stop below when her five-year-old lost his balance over the balcony balustrade and was dangling from the 8th floor.

The hysterical mother rushed upstairs to save him, but was too late; overcome with grief, she too leaped to her death, while her 14-year-old daughter looked on in a state of shock.

“I can’t even begin to describe the fear that has gripped me since the JLT incident,” said Kumari Lata, a JLT resident and mother of a three-year-old. “I pray for the mother and son who lost their lives, but I also utter a prayer of thanks that it wasn’t my child.”

Lata, who works in a IT solutions company is Jebel Ali, leaves for work every morning at 7.30am and leaves her young daughter under the watchful eye of her house help.

“I know my daughter is at home under adult supervision, but the constant fear that has been gnawing me these last 24 hours refuses to go away,” she said. “No one can keep a constant focus on a child for nine hours straight, until one of us – my husband or I – come home and all it takes is one second for tragedy to occur.”

The concerned parents, who live on the 20th floor, are now practicing vigilance in checking the locks on the balcony door and the bedroom window before leaving home for work.

“Ever since I’ve heard the news, I call my maid three times daily from work to run a check again on the locks; but I think the time has come for us to consider moving to a ground floor apartment or a lower floor at least,” she said. “It may not solve matters, but it may give the mother in me some peace of mind.”

Tragic times

Lata and her husband are not alone in their concerns, what with the spate of balcony deaths across the UAE that has been occurring almost monthly across the country.

Earlier in September, three other deaths have occurred under tragic circumstances, with two involving adults. A week prior to the JLT incident, a woman in Ajman plunged from a hotel balcony when she lost her balance; she was lucky to survive the fall, but her unborn baby wasn’t so lucky.

Prior to that, two other tragedies occurred in Sharjah this month, one involving an Egyptian mother of two who also lost her footing in the balcony and plunged to her death from the 20th floor because the railing was at a much lower height.

The other death involved a teenager who fell from the 21st floor of a tower in Sharjah when attempting to snap a picture of the Khalid Lagoon.

“This is the reason why I refuse to live at a height, with the mother in me always opting for the first or second floor of any apartment complex,” said Karama resident, Anita Pai, who currently lives on the second floor with her husband and two children.

“My son is 11 and my daughter only four; with both being so hyper, as a parent I need to take that extra precaution to ensure they are safe in their homes,” she said. “After all, even if you, as a parent, educate your child in the dangers of leaning out of an open window or over a balcony railing, you can’t read a child’s mind and one fine day, even your luck can go bad.

“The Sharjah incident involving the boy who was attempting to take a photograph was after all a teenager who must have known the dangers.”

In fact, the young boy’s death was the second teenage tragedy this year, with another involving a 13-year-old Indian girl who fell from her 11th floor apartment in Abu Dhabi this January.

Practice vigilance

Several parents believe vigilance on their parts, and a little help from governing authorities may help make residence a safer place for young and old, alike.

“While a mass move to a lower floor may be a little extreme for some, the onus of responsibility does lie on the parents and adult supervisors to ensure that all precautions have been taken to ensure the kids are safe at home,” said Sharjah resident Priyanka Chakraborty, who lives on the 40th floor with her husband and a three-year-old child.

“When moving in, we ensured that the balcony height met the requirement of 1.5 metres. Aside from keeping the access points locked all the time, my husband and I don’t allow our three-year-old to venture alone in the balcony and ensure no chairs or stools are nearby for her to drag over and climb up on.

“Even as adults, both my husband and I also ensure we ourselves are practicing precaution when venturing out over the balustrade,” she said.

Chakraborty added: “I’m sure the mother who died yesterday in JLT with her son had a good enough reason to leave her son unattended when she ventured downstairs to drop her daughter; but the need for vigilance is imperative and as parents we need to ensure we don’t leave our kids unsupervised at any point.”

The mother also added that she knows they will have to sit down with their daughter, as she grows older and have the talk, explaining about the dangers that occur.

Pai, however, added: “I agree that as parents we need to take all precautions, but kids will be kids and all it takes is a minute for a tragedy to occur.

“Case in point is yesterday’s death, where the poor mother may have been forced to leave her child unattended because he was asleep, while she rushed to drop the other one downstairs.

“While adult supervision is needed at all costs when young children are at home, sometimes circumstances can dictate otherwise. In such cases, you need more than just a hope.”

Pai believes that it should be mandatory for all towers to have higher railings to ensure the safety of young and old. And if that isn’t possible, then the government should force landlords to exempt parents from safety proofing the outdoors, including allowing them to erect an additional railing on top of the present one to increase the height.

“My father did that when I was growing up, calling in a carpenter to erect bars on top of our railing,” recalls an 18-year-old Bur Dubai resident, Samara Suri, who lived on the fourth floor. “I used to wait for the afternoon siesta, when my parents and the house help would nap and drag the chair over to the balcony to peek over.

“Luckily for me, once I leaned too far and the shopkeepers down below caught sight of me. One of them rushed upstairs and woke up my parents. Yes, I wasn’t too happy about the thrashing I received but ultimately both, my folks and I, came to an understanding when he called in a carpenter the next day and had bars erected on top of the railing.

“There was enough gap for me to see outside to my hearts content and the chance of tipping over was next to none. As for landlord permission, I didn’t think my father cared when his child’s life was literally hanging in the balance.”

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