Ahlam, 14, struggles to shut out the bitter childhood memories when she was molested and raped by her father. She looks forward to barry her disappointments to save what she can from her childhood innocence, defying desolation and shame.Despite how the past injustices and scars of ‘disgrace’ left by her aberrant father, on her physical and mental upbringing, Ahlam bravely stood before the judge and told him “I have forgiven my father… I want to major in child psychology… to help my daughter/sister.”When answering questions put forward by the judge, Alham stated that she “Was not aware of what was happening to me, or that my father was abusing me, nor that I should have refused his doggedness”.The case of Ahlam reached the Jordanian courts.Unlike many other similar cases that go unreported because of inadequate legislations that is rooted in a patriarchal, conservative society. Moreover, Ahlam was lucky enough to received psychiatric treatment.Her tragedy is one of 2,454 cases of sexual abuse that have been handled by the Family Protection Unit since its establishment in 1998 till the end of last year.
However, various other cases are kept behind in the shadows, due to the taboo associated with sexual abuse, in addition to the absence of acceptable statutes which are supposed to protect individuals and children from such abuses– especially from those closest to them, as stated by law experts.Furthermore, the absence of a reliable and consistent database makes it difficult, if not impossible, to measure the magnitude of cases relating to abuse.Yet, independent studies reflect that there is indeed an increase in numbers when it comes to these grusome incidents, especially among the poor, the unemployed, the least and/or uneducated, and within extended and bigger families. (See chart 3, 4 and 5)According to forensic physician Hani Jahshan, 25% of sexual abuse cases are mostly domestic. Another 25% is perpetrated by a non-relative, and 50% of these cases are executed by an individual who is well-known to the victim (See chart 2).Mother and daughter are having a child from the same father.
During his interrogation before the Higher Criminal Court, Ahlam’s father, 38, who works at a factory in Al Toub stated the following “I thought that my daughter and her body were my own property and I wanted to do whatever I like with this body”. He added that he had warned Ahlam against exposing her abuse, especially to her mom.
The belly of the unmarried girl started to grow at the same time as her pregnant mother. The scandal came into the open accidentally, when Ahlam’s mother took her daughter to the doctor after she complained of pain in her abdomen.
Concerned authorities put Ahlam in one of the care homes run by the Ministry of Social Development until after she gave birth to a baby girl in December 2005. The newly-born was taken to another care home and completely separated from her mother, as stipulated in Paragraph 7, Article 31 of Law No. 24 of 1968, which relates to minors.
The child’s mother does not know the name of her illegitimate baby. This causes an increase in the number of abandoned babies due to unknown parentage.
End of a family
The child’s grandmother, gave birth to a baby two months later, bringing the number of family members to four, this number excludes the teenager who stayed at a juvenile care center.
In her statement to the judge, the 30-year-old mother described her sexual relationship with her husband as “good”, and said that “the new-born is a plain proof of that”. She added that he was “an ideal father”.
When asked by the court to confess his crime, the father refused. He showed no signs of fear or remorse. But the DNA test proved that he was the father of a baby who, supposedly, should be his grandchild. (chart 1)
For family and humane reasons, the mother, who is the victim’s legal guardian, abandoned her personal rights. However, the court did not take into consideration the discretionary mitigating motive, and sentenced the father to 15-year imprisonment with hard labor, instead of the minimum 7-year term.
In this ruling, the court used the stipulation of Article No. 285 of the Punishment Law and Amendments No. 16 for the year 1960– which relates to attempted rape repeated 10 times, and the felony of ravished or forced sexual intercourse repeated 20 times– to pass their judgment.
Other crimes go unpunished
This six-month investigative report scrutinizes a great deal of sexual offenses committed by the father or brother, and it is clear that inconsistent legislation regulating penalties remains a problem.
Law experts speak of a legislative vacuum and a legal weakness in handling domestic sexual abuse. Moreover, the laws enacted are outdated; some of them are over 50 years old, and are therefore inadequate to control the ramifications of these felonies. Children are left with permanent psychosomatic disorders, which, psychologists argue, might turn them into criminals.
Following are but a few examples of domestic sexual violence documented by court registers and care centers.
Bassem turned nine when his father, a taxi driver, forced him to have sex in a room inside their house. The boy warned his dad that one neighbor had been glancing furtively at them. But the father was quick to defend his act, “You are my son, and I can do with you whatever I like… let them mind their own business.”
A brother and sister, Ayham, 7, and Rawya,10, were physically and sexually abused by their father and stepmother, who forced them to take part in an orgy by threating them with severe punishment if they did not agree.
Khadija Al Bitar, head of the Public Relations Department at the Jordan River Foundation, which is incharge of running Dar Al-Aman (The Child Safety Center), said that Ayham and Rawya did not complete their psychological rehabilitation because they feared retribution by the aggressors who remain at large.
She voiced concern over difficulties in finding a “substitute family” or temporary foster parents for the two children, because, as she put it, there is no guaranteed protection from biological parents to claim their children back.
Dar Al Aman rehabilitates physically and sexually abused children. Being a pioneer in Jordan and across the Middle East, the center seeks to become a role model, training social workers, and professionals from various countries on how to carefully handle molested childrenAbuse and murder
Court testimonies reported the case of an adolescent, 16, who raped and then killed his six-year-old half sister to cover his crime. The killer received a reduced, seven-year, prison term with hard labor because his father ceded his personal right.
Retrospective Psychic Effects
Samah, 34, told the Family Protection Unit, which is run by the Public Security Department, that she was sexually abused by her father when she was 13. She said that her father made her his concubine for 21 years.
The father used to take Samah to the family ranch after making up a fight with her mom and her six younger sisters whom he disliked. There, he had a chance to “enjoy his immoral act in quiet surroundings” and away from the family, who was shocked when hearing the victim’s retrospective confession.
Samah did not reveal the secret of her awakened consciousness. Ironically, she spoke out when her father stopped his sexual activity because of old age.
She looked around only to find that all her sisters were engaged and married while she lost everything.
At the end of the prison term, the convict and the victim lived together under the same roof. The sentence was reduced to seven years because the girl ceded her personal right.
Law experts insist that existing legislation should be modified, or that a new one should be set in place with the aim of protecting the children. They urged the setting up of express courts– headed by qualified judges– to look into cases of domestic sexual violence and video-record relevant hearing sessions, with the intention of easing the emotional and mental effects on the child victims.
After court hearings came the role of protection centers that house abused boys and girls under or over 18, and treat their psychosomatic disorders.
Forensic medicine expert Hani Jahshan called for speeding up litigation procedures and raising public awareness in order to save time.
A study carried out by the National Center for Forensic Medicine revealed that one in five convicts of domestic sexual violence are freed for lack of evidence.
Dr. Jahshan advised that the number of qualified interviewers should be increased and a special committee for big felonies be entrusted. He stated that the latter committee should only deal with settling cases related to family protection.
He also said there was only one hall in the Higher Criminal Court equipped with the video-recording device utilized, primarily, to hear witnesses in privacy– hence, creating a peaceful environment for the children.
Lieutenant Fadil Hammoud, chief of the Family Protection Unit, asked for the formation of independent family courts, that should be run by trained and proficient jury.
Lieutenant Hammoud also called for the institutionalization of the latter, as well as the establishment of a network on the concerned governmental and non-governmental bodies.
Since its inception in 1998, the Family Protection Unit has exercised “discretion and privacy”. In an attempt to secure a peaceful milieu for the child victim, and to protect him/her from any possible mental harm, it uses private rooms and video records testimonies. Lieutenant Hammoud said 7,079 boys and girls benefited from the Unit’s branches in Amman, Irbid and Al Zarqa’ between 1998 and 2005. He also said that reporting domestic sexual violence has increased, due to the growing public awareness in relation to laws in general.
Ms. Bitar, from the Jordan River Foundation, mentioned the need for measures to improve the mental health of the aggressors, saying that there are “no applicable one-on-one counseling sessions to help this category of people”. Al Bitar recommended that progressive laws be drafted to monitor this group following legal action, and pushed for a swift passing of child rights’ laws by parliament.
Like all governments worldwide (except for the United States), Jordan signed the International treaty on the Children’s Rights in 1991; along with reservations on the freedom of thought, religious conviction and the child’s right to a substitute care system or adoption. Lawyer Rihab Al Qaddoumi said that the Kingdom supports sponsorship, not adoption, in accordance with Islamic Sharia.
The Cabinet finally endorsed the treaty along with its reservations in 2005, and published it in the official gazette, thus rendering it effective.
Qaddoumi said she contributed to drafting the Child Rights’ bill in 1997, which is expected to address legal shortcomings in the law and toughen penalties associated with felonies of child sexual abuse, namely rape, from 15-years of hard labor, to a 25-year jail time sentence.
More importantly, is the fact that the ratified law integrates articles concerning health, sexual and education thus regulating child protection, instead of keeping them scattered.
Ten years after the law is ratified, the bill will give the child the “right to a personal identity card stating his name, kinship, nationality, religion, place and date of birth. It also gives him the right to kinship, health care, education, living with a family, and not separating him from this family, unless by a judicial verdict.”
While the present law allows a grievance to be filed, the projected bill binds any person who witnesses the abuse or ill-treatment of a child to report the incident, making the aggressor accountable for his or her criminal behavior. Moreover, when a child testifies or files a complaint stating he or she was physically or sexually abused, a “public right lawsuit” is brought against the parents of the child, who, being underage, cannot file a complaint directly – unless attended by a relative.
The bill also sanctions a so-called substitute care system giving the foster family guarantees that forbid the abusive father amd/or mother from interfering or trying to claim their children back.
Qaddoumi said the draft law was sent to parliament in 2003, but it is yet to be debated. She said the National Council for Family Affairs, formed in 2004, has set up a sub-committee with UNICEF and the National Center for Human Rights, to speed up the passage to the bill.
A lawyer specialized in child care affairs revealed that some conservative bureaucrats within the state were also “delaying the amendment of certain legislations because of their traditional way of thinking, or because they wanted to fight Western ideas, regardless of their usefulness”.
In Jordan, there is only one law concerning “juveniles” and another one for “child care”. The Kingdom has approved and signed three international treaties, one related to the rights of the child in 2006, law no. 182 of the year 2000, which calls to an end all forms of child labor, and law no. 138, signed in 1997, which is concerned with ending the exploitation of children.
What Religion Has to Say
Both Muslim and Christian clerics are demanding the incorporation of sex-education in the school curricula, as long as it keeps a distance from sexual stimulation.
Jordan’s General Mufti, Sheikh Saeed Al Hajjawi, said that the Ifta’a Council is deliberating a “formal legal opinion” supporting the inclusion of sex-education in the national curriculum set by the Ministry of Education.
Both father Nabeel Hadad, head of the Jordanian Center for Religious Co-existence and Dr. Ahmad Al Awaisheh, head of the Islamic Center, also called for integrating sex-education in school programs.
Religious leaders stressed their role in persuading the legislature to endorse laws that regulate and protect the rights of children. They underlined the need for a national campaigns to fight violence and consolidate the role of family within society.
The tribal judge, Fahd Maqboul al Ghabbein, spoke of a package of so-called tribal punishments in cases of domestic sexual violence stating that “The penalty of family sexual abuse is isolation, contempt and prohibition of affiliation by marriage to the convict”.
“This can be seen in meeting the offender with disrespect and not greeting him or her back, or deciding not to offer him or her the traditional cup of coffee in honor of the guest”. Chastisement could be justified by killing the offender, and not avenging his or her blood.
Tribal jurisdiction, however, stopped handling such instances decades ago.
According to the Ministry of Justice Spokespesman, Jihad Al Utaibi, the ministry “does not have detailed statistics establishing the nature of kinship in rape cases registered by courts”. He said this was due to the “absence of a judicial register”. Yet, Utaibi mentioned that an automated indexing of these cases is being set up.
There are 24 government and volunteer child care centers housing around 1,300 children. These centers, however, do not classify their beneficiaries under the category of “domestic sexual abuse or abused”.
According to head of the Family, Woman and Child Department at the Ministry of Social Development, there is no record for the total number of children who benefited from the ministry’s services since its inception in 1946.
Chief of the Greater Criminal Court, Judge Mohamad Ibrahim, put the number of settled lawsuits of sexual abuse or those still in court at 1,297.
Such cases vary between murder, attempted murder, accomplice to murder, rape, attempted rape, accomplice to rape, and consenting sex including someone underage and ravish. (See chart 6 indicating the number of cases examined or not examined by the Greater Criminal Court).
Limited Legislations In a bid to contain sexual aggression within families, judges demanded that only article No. 285 of the penal law of 1960, concerning domestic sexual abuse, to be ratified. In 1988, this article was changed, raising the minimum prison sentence from two to seven, and the maximum sentence from three to 15 years.
Chief of the Higher Criminal Court, Mohamad Ibrahim, head of the Special Committee on Domestic Violence, Nazir Al Hiyari, and Judge Azzam Ubeidat, suggested an even stricter amendment. They said they believed law makers ought to increase punishment to permanent prohibition (for the father or brother), rather than a temporary divorce or separation penalty.
Judges criticized incompetent legislation regarding cases of consenting sex with underage girls, pointing out that the court benefits from an “independent judgment” in the absence of a clear legal text that describes the act of intercourse.
Based on a decision published by the Court of Appeals in 1998, ravish or sexual assualt, is classified as a felony and therefore gets 15 years of imprisonment with hard labor as a maximum punishment– even if it is a blatant case of rape that requires the death sentence.
Appeal rulings are viewed as decisions with a binding force of law.
Judges also acknowledged shortcomings in legislations, namely those related to recorded testimony of the aggrieved party, where there is no legal text that permits technology-aided hearings via a closed television circuit, or a pre-recorded video session. They demanded Paragraph 3 of Article 158 of the penal code be changed, allowing a pre-recorded video hearing of the aggrieved party’s testimony and accepting it as such in the courts registers.
The chief of the special judicial committee for domestic violence disclosed that state-of-the-art rooms occupied by the committee have handled about 400 cases of domestic abuse (around 15 cases a month).
In order to step up litigation measures, judges suggested a text authorizing the court to overlook testimonies of secondary witnesses if the opposing parties in the lawsuit agreed to drop the prosecution. This includes members of the juristic police and forensic medicine departments, especially since judges tend to accept the filed reports, with the assumption that the party who presented them made their testimony under oath before the public prosecutor.
Noting the right of the criminal court to accept the optional unconditional act of ceding personal rights, the appeals court, however, can return cases to the criminal court, binding it to revise them in light of reconciliation and the act of ceding personal right.
Human rights activist and lawyer Asma Khader advised enacting stricter penalties than those stipulated in Article 285, in addition to providing health and psychological services for both the victim, the abuser, and all the family members involved. She urged the Secretary General of the Jordan National Commission for Women, who also is member of the National Council for Family Affairs, to help abused children by passing a law that protects the latter from domestic violence and prohibits their biological parents from reclaiming them, especially after their rehabilitation.
Khader also called for setting up special “family courts” to treat the social, rather than the legal aspects. She underlined the urgent need to raise awareness, with emphasis on “school education”, and the “privacy of individuals”. This, in addition to providing concerned parties with the essential legal, psychological and institutional assistance. Psychology Psychologists argue that a child victim has a tendency to nurture crime. According to the appointed psychiatrist at the Family Protection Department, Dr. Mohamad Al Habashneh, the chances a child victim has in committing homicide or rape, are ten times higher than those of a normal child.
There is no study at hand in Jordan that analyzes the relation between unusual sexual behavior and behavioral disorders. But daily interaction and international research show early sexual experiences and improper sexual activities, namely prostitution, among the victims. This is usually associated with bad temper and introversion, which, as a result, encourages victims to violate conventions and laws, and sometimes might go as far as hurting themselves or others (masochism or sadism). They effortlessly steal, and might very well commit suicide.
Husein Al Khuzai’, sociologist at the Al Balqa’ University for Applied Studies, blamed domestic violence on what he described as the “lack of minimal sexual education, intrusive tendencies within the family as well as with the direct milieu. Added to this, is the growing cultural gap within society and the absence of an integrated scale of values or principles that govern and regulate the behavior of all members of society.”
A study prepared by Al Khuzai’ reveals that 95% of married women abstain from reporting abuse. This unfortunate “cultural legacy” is passed on to the children, whoeventually fail to report any physical, sexual or mental abuse committed against them, because they were taught to avoid talking about such abuses for fear of social retribution”.
Meanwhile, Ahlam is getting ready to go back to school after taking leave because of pregnancy and birth. She is determined to finish her studies and help her sister to become more well-informed and strong.