Al Balad Radio – Amman
At a corner inside a private care home for the mentally disabled, Hassan sits tied from the waist down to a plastic chair to restrict his movement. He cannot sit still and therefore may spill hot liquids on himself without feeling,” says his care taker.
Downstairs, Murad, 8, takes a shower on his own with cold water, after having been beaten by his teacher — and kicked in front of this undercover reporter — because he “unintentionally” stained his clothes while eating ice cream.
Another care taker does not stop cursing children, “That’s it! May you die for my relief?”
Her thunder-like screams intimidate children and make them freeze in their seats; for they very well know their punishment will beating, tying to a chair, depriving them from breakfast, or grounding them behind the closet.
This investigation documents physical and verbal abuses, maltreatment and negligence of children with disabilities inside private care homes in Jordan, estimated at 45, according to the latest Ministry of Social Development figures.
Each private center, including those operating on a day-care basis or offering boarding facilities, has an average occupancy of between 5 to 154 children. At Jordan’s 24 public care homes, each center has between 19 to 208 children on a daily or full-board basis.
The situation is further compounded by the trading of blame between the Ministry of Social Development (MOSD), regulating these centers, and the Higher Council for the Affairs of the Disabled, in charge of following the affairs of the disabled since 2006.
This reporter went undercover at five special education centers located in Western Amman, where she volunteered twice over a one year span. She revealed continued abuses against persons with basic and medium disabilities.
The state of Dania, 13 and suffering fromquadriplegiadid not change throughout the two phases of monitoring. The girl sleeps in her bed all the time, and her supervisor only moves her when she needs to be fed or to have her clothes changed. Her peer, Khaled, is in no better situation. He is inflicted with atrophy and stays still in bed. When his supervisor decides to release him from the cage, she takes him down from the bed and ties him to a nearby chair.
Hassan still sits at the same place, tied from the waist down so he will not move. As for Murad, his supervisor has not been able to teach him the letter “A” since last year. She always tells him, “you cannot learn! Why would I teach you! “
In a bid to verify if abuses also occur in other centers providing care for persons with disabilities, this investigator enlisted the help of another volunteer who was able to work at another private center in Western Amman. There, she documented violations against children with disabilities.
One thing was common in both centers: systematic failure to protect the handicapped.
Our volunteer met a child suffering from severe bacterial infections of his toes due to lack of attention to his hygiene.
Another child was kicked by his care giver all the way to the toilet. A third was carried like a carcass to the dining room to eat.
This reporter coincidently learnt that the two centers belong to the same owner. When confronted with violations taking place at both centers, her refused to comment.
Physical Abuse Continues
Little did Khalid Abu Daqqa know when he left his son at one of the largest private centers in Amman that he would come back to find his son at a public hospital with second and third degree burns.
Abu Daqqa did not believe the story that he heard from the supervisor – that his son spilt hot water on himself when the supervisor was taking a phone call. “I received a phone call from the center a couple of weeks ago; they told me my son had minor burns. At the beginning, I was not worried; however, I took the first flight to Amman and went to the hospital to find my son suffering from severe burns, contrary to what they had told me.”
The National Center of Forensic Medicine issued official reports (annexed to the investigation of Abu Daqqa’s case) confirming that,” the child was burnt by chemical substance orburning, not from hot water. For the distribution of burns and their nature do not conclusively indicate that they are accidental.” Abu Daqqa said he resorted to the Judiciary hoping to obtain his rights and to ensure that this will not happen to another child. The case has been in courts for seven months now. The private center’s lawyer claims that what happened to Yusef is “an accident,” and that the administration of the center has “quite humanely” dealt with the case, took him to hospital and bore treatment costs. He refused further comment on the case pending court ruling.
Like many parents, Nassar Shammain, Ahmad’s father, has encountered similar problems.. “My son’s psyche has been deteriorating day by day, ever since he was severely beaten up by his supervisor. I carry my 15-year-old son like a piece of flesh from one place to another, for he only weighs 20 kg now”.
He adds; “I used to call my son at the center regularly though they always asked me to visit the center less often in order for my son to get used to the atmosphere,” he adds.
“He had only been at the care home for 20 days when he was mysteriously subjected to severe battering. When I visited him, I was told that he was upstairs changing his clothes. After waiting for more than half an hour, I went up to his room to find his head covered with bandage. His body had several bruises,” he said with great pain. When he asked about the reason, the supervisor told him: “he fell off the closet.”
The sad father did not believe the supervisor’s account. He took his son to Al-Hussein Medical City. There, a doctor told him that his son” was subjected to severe beating, his forearm was broken, the middle finger in his right hand was fractured, and he had a cut in his scalp.”
The medical documents obtained from Al Hussein Medical City and the judicial medical reports from the University Hospital (annexed to the investigation) confirm the father’s story.
The director of the private center where the incident took place, on the other hand, describes what happened as “accidental.” He said Ahmad “threw himself from the bed towards the closet and banged his head.” “We took him to a nearby hospital where he received the required treatment”. Medical reports establish that the son “suffered head injuries”.
The tragedy of Ahmad is not really different from the problem facing the daughter of Um Jaber. She withdrew her daughter after she had registered her at a private care center for the handicapped. Um Jaber says, “One day my daughter came home and there were marks of beating and torture on her feet, when I asked her she said that the teacher hit her whenever she wanted to go to the toilette.”
Supervisor Mahmood explains that battering varies due to the reason behind it. “It either is part of therapy, or a way for the supervisor to vent out his/her feelings!”
He explains with confidence: “When a person with severe disability is having epileptic seizures and is not responding to medication or tranquilizers, the only solution we have is to beat him up so he would calm down and come out of the crisis. This is mandatory beating!”
“Optional battering, however, is when the supervisor is under stress and unbearable pressure. He therefore vents this out through beating up and insulting his students”.
Mahmood’s diagnosis, however, is not listed in any medical literature. A psychiatrist and neurologist says: “Battering has never been a therapeutic method for any illness whatsoever, not even mental ones.” He warns that, “it is likely to exacerbate seizures and epileptic episodes among the disabled.”
We monitored several statements from parents of students with disabilities confirming that their children were sexually abused by their care-givers, peers or bus drivers. We, however, were not able to verify that independently.
Ghaida’s family say the did not file an official complaint after her sister was sexually assaulted by the bus driver because they have no confidence in the procedures and are afraid of the “scandal” this will cause.
Supervisor Amjad (alias) said he witnessed several violations at a private center where he worked.
“I worked for more than two months as night supervisor. During my night round I saw male students sexually abusing one another.” He adds, “I used to document every case in a file, and if I discovered that the person was homosexual, we would separate him from his peers and put him in another room. We made sure though, that nobody knew anything about the student, because we worried about both the reputation of the center and the supervisors.”
The conditions of supervisors at these centers is very difficult, as this reporter has noted; Sumayya, “alias”, a supervisor for eight years does not think that her JD 200 salary is a motivation for her to “love” students or to show them “tenderness”. She says she works for long hours and only gets two days off a week.
It is not easy for parents and relatives to visit these centers. They need prior permission from the center’s administration. Volunteering there is almost not an option on ground that the disabled “need a trained professional to work with them,” says Sameer (Alias) a supervisor at a private center. He confirms that there are conditions for parental visits. “Some centers designate one day for visits and parents are not allowed to visit their child unless they coordinate with the administration in advance.”
“Although my brother has been at a private center in Eastern Amman for three years, we still suffer whenever we decide to visit him,” says Muna, 30, describing the situation of her forty-year-old brother with a mental disability that hinders his communication skills. She adds, “The administration prevents us from going to his room to see him under the pretext that his privacy should be respected. They make us wait at a room and then they bring him down.”
“Constant fear haunts parents if they decide to file a complaint with any formal body when their child is abused, because he/she will be under the threat of being expelled,” says Christine Fadool, head of the monitoring and complaints departments at the National Center of Human Rights NCHR.
Fadool believes such fear explains why the NCHR, set up eight years ago, has only received 2 complaints about abuses at centers caring for the disabled. After investigating, NCHR found out that the first complaint was “maliciously filed” against the center by neighbors who were unhappy at having the center in their midst. “Investigating the second complaint revealed that the financial status of the child’s family was good and they could have the child among them, however they insisted on putting him at a public center in order to enjoy fee exemption or to pay a small share of the fee rather than having the disabled live with them,” Fadool explains.
In total NCHR annually receives 40 complaints about abuses outside centers that are filed by persons with disabilities or their families. The NCHR, however, reported more than 500 cases of abuses outside the centers of disabled in 2011. These violations vary between, “their right to work, to health care, and to education.”
Although this investigation covered over ten centers where “grave” abuses took place, or where claims of sexual abuse could not be verified, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Social Development (MOSD) Fawwaz Al Ratroot says that only two centers were closed down over the past two years on account of several violations.
Warnings were given to 11 centers where violations have been detected.
Ratroot refused to define the nature of these abuses out of “respect to the confidentiality of these centers,” and in order not to give away their names. He adds, “When abuse in a certain center is proven, we refer the case to the family protection department which conducts an investigation and refers the case to the public prosecution for verification before it is sent to court”.
The MOSD is mandated to catering for the affairs of the disabled, estimated at 26,986 persons in line with the Regulation of Centers and Institutions for the Disabled number 96 for the year 2008 and ensuing instructions of 2010.
The Higher Council for the Affairs of the Disabled (HCAD), supports around 800 handicapped, distributed among 54 private centers. Boarding centers collect fees ranging between JD 5 to JD 16,000 a year while day-care centers ask for between JD 250 to JD 500 per person a year. The Secretary General of the (HCAD) Dr. Amal Al Nahhas says their families and the ministeries in charge of monitoring these centers are those in direct contact with the disabled are responsible for such abuses”.
Al Nahhas asked the MOSD, responsible for licensing these centers, to tighten monitoring over such centers “or to pass the power of monitoring to another agency.”
The MOSD spokesperson, Fawwaz Al Ratroot disagrees with her suggestion. He says the MOSD fully exercises its role. He blames the HCAD for all these problems.
Reem Abu Sida, director of the Aman Center for Special Education, says abuses against the disabled at private centers are the responsibility of the MOSD and HCAD. “They are the bodies authorized to regulate and monitor centers and this monitoring is lagging behind due to lack of coordination”.
Adnan Al Kafrini, an activist for the rights of the disabled says the HCAD is responsible for the plight of these persons. Those culprits neither given them justice nor rights.
Nuha who has been working for ten years at a private center does not deny the suffering she went through as a result from working with “disabled children who do not realize what they do”. She adds: “the profession of supervising these kids and working with them is humane and requires a high sense of responsibility. It also needs someone capable of dealing with these children”.
Dr. Mohammed Al Shobaki, a consultant on psychiatry and neurology, concludes from his experience that centers looking after the disabled “lack supervision and their staff have no training”.
He says that “the situation of some of the disabled becomes worse after they join these centers which have become centers for accommodation, rather than rehabilitation.” He demanded that they be closed down.
The rights of the disabled are lost as a result of uncoordinated approaches of MOSD and the HCAD, parents who fear talking to the media and centers searching for quick ways to make profit.
This investigation was done with the support and supervision of ARIJ, and Al Balad Radio, supervised by Saad Hattar and Majdoleen Allan. It was broadcasted by BBC and Al Balad Radio and published in al-Ghad newspaper.