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Jordanian Legislation Fails to Protect Children from Abuse

[Amman, Jordan] Five-year-old Yazan’s nightmare began with the imprisonment of both his parents on charges related to the rape of an Asian worker.

Under the guardianship of his aunt, who had custody during his absence of his parents, Yazan and his younger brother Ayman were regularly tortured by his aunt and her husband.       

According to police officials familiar with the investigation, the uncle and aunt would stub out cigarettes on Yazan’s arms and legs, lash him with an electric wire and beat him with a stick.

Last month Yazan was rushed to hospital in a coma. His aunt told police he fell from a wall, but an examination revealed the frail little boy had been hit on the head with a hard object.

Yazan spent 10 days in coma before succumbing to his wounds.

His death and the tragic events surrounding his demise, from parental neglect to torture, sent a shockwave across Jordanian society.

Police arrested the uncle but released him within 24 hours for lack of evidence. The aunt, too, was detained briefly but then released on bail.

Yazan’s aunt denied any wrongdoing throughout the investigation, claiming the little boy enjoyed a "happy life with her " and was treated as if he were her “own son."

The story of Yazan’s short life is the latest in a string of violent incidents involving children in Jordanian families.

Activists say Yazan’s case has exposed the kingdom’s impotent legislation, which fosters an environment in which it is easy for family members to get away with harming children.

Scores of mourners descended on a candlelight vigil in downtown Amman last month to commemorate Yazan’s death and urge the crafting of new legislation that would take a tough stance against child abusers.
Jordanian Queen Rania, a champion of children rights, made a brief appearance at the vigil, where she issued an emotional plea to individuals and institutions across the kingdom to “shoulder their responsibility in protecting children.”
A conservative society, violence against children is often brushed under the carpet in Jordan. Doctors and police are known to turn a blind eye to rampant abuse.
Only 1 percent of child abuse cases are reported by doctors, as compared to 75% by police, 10% by relatives, 9% by government ministries and 5% by schools. Child advocates report that staff in public hospitals often fail to notice instances of abuse.

Ministry of Health official Ali Abdullah says hospital staff are often encouraged to be “courageous and forthcoming" when it comes to suspected cases of child abuse, as it is known that early detection is vital to recovery.

But experts warn that with poverty and unemployment child abuse in Jordan may be on the rise, despite official statistics that fail to reflect the reality on ground.

The reported cases of child abuse rose from 661 in 2002 to 1,423 in 2004.

According to Zina Khoury, development manager at the Dar al-Aman child-safety center, this figure "is probably higher, as many cases go unreported."

Officials say that "poverty and ignorance" play a major role in the lack of reporting, with broken families standing at the heart of the troubles facing children.

“Every society tries to idealize itself,” Majduddin Khamesh, professor of sociology and Jordanian society studies at the University of Jordan, told The Media Line. “In the case of Jordan, this is true… people are kind at heart; nevertheless, in all societies there are a few cases that deviate.”

Khamesh says child abuse is largely a result of difficult economic conditions, the frustration of parents and ignorance of the consequences of such behavior.
“In lower classes and in poor areas,” the professor said, “people have a strange interpretation of disciplining of children… that the child should always be hit and that it is to their benefit to be physically punished."

“There is a subculture of aggression which is found among the lower classes, which tends to be violent in dealing with children and interaction among family members" the professor added, calling for awareness campaigns in impoverished areas to highlight the impact beating can have on children. "We need to penetrate this subculture and convince people to re-interpret the behavior of children in a way which is conducive to a peaceful existence.”

The Jordanian government recently launched a project with the assistance of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to establish child-protection committees in 10 hospitals. Dozens of nurses and doctors have been trained by the project to spot abuse and help abused children.
Queen Rania’s office has funded an organization called Dar al-Aman, which provides abused children with psychological, medical, social and educational services.

Nancy Najar, director of Dar al-Hanan, says activists admit they face an uphill battle in the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse. "What we want is that whoever sees violence should tell us about it," she told The Media Line. “We have a hotline for family protection and particularly for child abuse, and staff are ready to take calls at any time… We should all act together to put an end to violence against children."