Only through one of the orphans will one be able to reach others. Lack of trust in anyone outside their tightly-knit circle prevents many from getting close to them.
Without qualifications or degrees; some have been abandoned by their families while others have no families. You find them everywhere, from the heart of the down town to Khirfan street, al-Masarweh district and Wadi al-Hadadah, all impoverished areas in the capital.
On many nights, they may go to sleep hungry; the idea of suicide is ever-present; some may decide to act on it and end the misery of what they feel is a pointless life … These are the stories of children who have graduated from the childcare homes (orphanages) in Jordan, whether private or government-run.
There is no formal database for these graduates to enable authorities to track them after leaving the childcare homes when they turn 18.“Progress on such a database is slow, as priority is given to the database for those leaving the Juvenile delinquents’ facilities,” says Minister of Social Development, Mrs. Hala Lattouf. Graduating from the childcare centers: Various beginnings, identical outcomes
“The supervisor informed me that my stay at the center is up, because I recently turned 18. I had 15 fils (piasters) when they threw me out. I found myself on the street, not knowing where to go,” recalls 26-year-old Kassem – an alias-.Bara’a (23 years) – another alias- was unable to remain in the Dar Al-Nahda for Girls until she turned 18. They was sacked at the age of 17 in 2006, to begin a year long period of vagrancy before being taken in by a benevolent woman, who sheltered her along with several other female orphan graduates.Nooh (20 years) – an alias- and his younger brother were both thrown into the street four years ago “because the management of the Madaba Children Care Home did not extend our permit to reside there,” he claims. Nooh is now without work or shelter after he was forced to leave his job, and bed, at a car paint workshop following an argument with the owner.Kassem, Bara’a and Nooh personify the hardships faced by graduates of orphanages. A total of 1205 girls and boys graduated from these centers between 2001 and 2008, according to the Ministry of Social Development. This is in addition to those who left before reaching the official age, for various reasons such as being thrown out, running away, or released into the care of ineligible relatives.A western system for an Arab country
Facing the unknown after having to leave childcare homes at the age of adulthood, defined at 18, is the result of a by-law that was adopted by the Ministry of Social Development some 38 years ago. This by-law stipulates that care is extended to a child until they reach the age of 18.Minister Lattouf has no reservations regarding this by-law. “Jordan is one of the countries that ratified the International Convention for the Rights of the Child in 1990 which clearly states that childhood ends at 18, when a person reaching that age is able to support himself,” she adds.Dr. Hussein Al-Khuzai, a social expert and researcher finds this by-law deficient. He says that “it is unacceptable to leave someone out in the cold after the age of 18, because it is precisely at this age that a person begins the process of assimilation into society. In fact, an orphan has a particular need for help to understand and accept the social, financial and class contradictions that surround him.” Khuzai continues to stress that “such western systems are appropriate for the individualistic societies from which they evolved, while Arab social structures revolve around the family and the group. Therefore, a person remains in need of emotional and family ties throughout the different stages of his life.”Suicide or Delinquency: an equally disastrous choice
M. Sh. (26 years) was expelled from Madaba childcare home while still below 18 years of age. He had to find shelter for himself and his friend. To pay for the rental of the apartment he had found in Kharfan street, the landlord demanded that he performs “sexual acts “as a substitute for the rent. The child chose to murder the landlord rather than be subjugated to such shameful acts, say his peers, and the supervisor who was in charge of following up on him after his departure. This boy is now serving a 13-year prison sentence in Sawaqa prison for ‘murder’. He will leave jail in 2014.
M.A., was handed over by the home to siblings who were not qualified to look after him in 2001, according to the testimony of one of the supervisors at the time. He decided to end his life after a long stretch of delinquency. He was found dead in a northern part of Jordan, as confirmed by the media office at the Directorate of Public Security
Tha’er – an alias- (20 years) attempted suicide several times without success, says his psychiatrist.
Those who are unable to end their lives follow a road to delinquency just to be able to survive, just like 22 year-old Farida – also an alias. To keep hunger at bay, she started singing in a night club in Aqaba after spending nights in the car park of a shopping mall. She has quit her job at the bar and returned to Amman, but is still looking for money to pay for rent.
“The violence faced by these children, both societal and familial, explains their self-destructiveness and anti-social behavior in adulthood. A person’s character is largely formed by childhood experiences,” asserts Dr. Jalal Damra, the director of Special Care and Counseling unit at Noor Al-Hussein Foundation.Handing-over: Expulsion, by another name..
After running away from her married sister’s home in Irbid, Raja’a –an alias- (17 years) was accidentally found by the two reporters while roaming the streets trying to find shelter. Raja’a was handed- over by Dar Al-Nahda care center in mid 2008. Her brother-in-law insisted on her returning to her parents who live in a tent with people who meant nothing to her. She had been separated from her parents since she was a small child, as they were considered incapable of taking care of her.
Raja’a currently lives in one of the orphanages after being handed over to the Family Protection Unit at the Police Directorate.
Farida 21 –an alias – with no parents, was forced to leave the orphanage after coercing her uncle into signing her release papers. She had to work as a “servant” at her uncle’s home, so she ran away to her brother, whose friend attempted to rape her. Farida was forced to run away for a second time.
A survey of 50 orphans that have left childcare homes indicated that the expulsion from the orphanage and handing-over orphans to unqualified patrons or relatives was prevalent. Seven of every 10 orphans said that they were released from orphanages before turning 18 to relatives, while five of 10 said they were expelled. The results also showed that females were more likely to be expelled from the homes: out of 25 girls surveyed, 20 had been expelled.
This happened despite the fact that regulations stipulate that a full study be conducted by specialists and social workers into the situation and the suitability of a relative before a child is released into their care. However, a former social worker at one of the orphanages reports that the necessary mechanisms set by the ministry which ensure the suitability of relatives, are often not enforced, and children are released into the care of unsuitable relatives.Marriage: a misnomer for expulsion
Nashwa – an alias – was expelled from Dar Al-Nahda for orphaned girls after getting an offer to marry a 39- year-old man. But the partially blind bride discovered on her wedding night that her much older husband suffered from a heart condition and a multitude of other ailments that would have, ordinarily, prevented him from getting married, as confirmed to her by his doctor.
Nashwa is now divorced. She asserts that “no one told me what marriage is about or what it would entail.” She says her ex-husband did not refrain from having conjugal relations with her during her menstrual cycle, despite this being forbidden by religious law!” This is one of the many cases of young orphaned girls, who are coerced into marriage at 18 before they are supposed to officially graduate from the childcare home.
A survey of 20 cases of girls who were married after having spent more than half of their lives in childcare homes shows that 9 out of the 20 marriages ended in divorce, while the rest of the girls endure regular domestic violence, severe beatings and lack of security.
Dr. Al-Khuzai stands against the marriage of girls who are less than 18 years old, and who have not officially graduated from the homes. He considers that this forms a “barrier against their integration into society.” Ms. Lattouf denies that her ministry may have married off any of the girls in the ministry’s care, since she took up her position as a minister two years ago. She said she prefers that an orphaned girl is educated and rehabilitated before being married.Governmental care is insufficient
After they leave the orphanages, the Ministry of Social Development attempts to provide a safety net for girls for a period of time to enable them to merge into society and depend upon their own resources.
One of the most important initiatives of the Ministry of Social Development is the “Homes for Young Women”. This is composed of two flats inaugurated under royal patronage last August, where young women are provided with food and shelter until the age of 27 at the expense of the ministry, as well as programs to rehabilitate and integrate them into society.
Only 12 young women benefit from this initiative. These homes remain in the realm of dreams for tens of homeless and orphaned girls. Narmeen – an alias – (22 years) attempted to join one of the homes several times, but was always faced with refusal from the ministry as “the homes are not able to accommodate any more girls”. The minister, Ms Lattouf asserts that “lack of funding as well as caution in expanding the project while attempting to accommodate those girls most in need of shelter and support” are the reasons for the small number of homes available in relation to the large number of female graduates from childcare homes. Until such expansion of the project, many graduating girls fall prey to vagrancy, delinquency and lack of security.
Khalida’s story (19 years) – also an alias- is a good example of what happens to these young women. On the third day of the Eid Al-Adha, this new graduate from one of the S.O.S. children’s villages called one of the authors of this report, shyly asking for help. If she does not produce the required rent, she and her friend Manal will find themselves on the street. They had no food for days as they looked for rent.
No homes for the boys
Issues of housing are no less urgent for the male orphans; particularly as they are sorely deficient in education and skills. In addition, they are faced with low wages and lack of employment opportunities. Most of them live in shabby homes, and when they are able to pay the rent, they cannot afford other life necessities.
Kassem (26 years) – an alias- left with his three brothers from the orphanage seven years ago. He now lives in a run-down house in Wadi Al-Hadadah. The four men earn a total monthly income of 300 JD, at least half of this amount is spent on transportation, while the other half goes to pay for rent and food. Kassem asks “What can I do? People don’t know that my brothers and I sometimes go without food for two days or more.”
Tha’er (22 years) – another alias- faces a similar situation; he lives in a two room home reminiscent of an abandoned shack in the Ghuwayrieh area in the Zarqa governerate. He lives in this ‘house’ with five other orphans, and spends most of the financial assistance he receives from the Orphans Fund on transportation to and from Amman.
Despite these problems, minister Lattouf refuses to provide ‘homes’ for young men, similar to those set up for the young orphan females. They are “able to manage”, she says.
However, she is not against helping male graduates by assisting some who been away from these shelters for two years, by paying their rent for only 3 months, on condition that they are working.
Temporary life rafts, but…
On the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, after being thrown out of the orphanage because of a quarrel with a supervisor, Narmeen slept under a tree inside the Jordan University campus. Being one of the beneficiaries of the Al-Aman Fund for the Future of Orphans did not shield her from spending the first night in the open. She complains that “the Fund was late in responding and did not do much until she had spent a whole week without shelter.”
The executive director of Al-Aman Fund, Maha Al-Saqqa, admits that there is no system in place to enable a quick response to emergency cases. The Fund has future plans to do so.
Al-Aman Fund .. A vicious circle
Narmeen is caught in a vicious circle; the assistance she receives from the fund does not exceed JD80 to JD 90 a month. This amount is insufficient to cover costs such as food, clothing, school books and transportation. To make ends meet, she has to work part time in a restaurant, which is adversely affecting her education. On failing one of her courses, the fund quickly penalized her by deducting the course fees from her monthly assistance, reducing it to JD40, until the course fees are paid up.
Despite the fact that the Fund is supposed to be there for the exclusive benefit of orphans who have left childcare homes, only 200 of the 800 orphans are benefitting from its services.
Only 25% of the total orphans that the fund supports were raised in orphanages. The rest had lived with members of their family. The results of the survey conducted on a sample of 50 of orphans who have left childcare homes, showed that only 2 of every 10 benefit from the services of the Al-Aman Fund.
Al-Saqqa explains the situation by indicating that “most of the eligible young people prefer to receive rent assistance or financial handouts; this is in strict contradiction to the fund’s policy which demands that a beneficiary be enrolled in an educational or training institution before receiving aid.”
She further attributes the lack of enthusiasm of orphan graduates to their “low educational and training levels while in these orphanages.” This opinion is backed up by data from the Ministry of Education, which shows that the educational results of the residents of four orphanages in central and northern Jordan stood at between 45 and 50 out of 100.
Childhood abuse leads to psychological problems in adulthood
A psychological assessment conducted in one of the psychological care centers, commissioned by the writers of this report, indicated that there is a psychological dimension to the inability of many previous residents of orphanages to benefit from rehabilitation programs run by the Al-Aman Fund.
A random sample of 20 orphanage graduates was selected. Their assessment pointed to “a very low level of self esteem among all participants, coupled with a feeling of being rejected by their society.”
The different methodologies of the psychological assessment test included clinical interviews, the Beck Depression Inventory, and the Evaluation of Mental Disorders. The assessment showed that most of the participants suffer from “anxiety, depression, aggressive and negative thoughts about their surrounding environment due to past experiences of abuse and marginalization.”
The study revealed the “necessity for some of the participants to undergo a comprehensive psychological, medical and social rehabilitation program, in order to avoid an escalation of suicidal or delinquent tendencies.”
In turn, Dr. Damra feels that young orphans “need psychological and personal rehabilitation of at least a year’s length, before being integrated into society.”
Orphans are victims of child care centers … both as children and as adults
Joumana (22 years) clearly finds it difficult to assimilate into society. Joumana – an alias – a victim of a broken home is an outstanding university student. She recoils from telling her colleagues or her teachers about her childhood at the orphanage for fear of being ostracized by society. She shakes when recalling the total rejection by the family of the young man who wanted to marry her. They referred to her as a “daughter of the orphanages”.
“Society rejects and punishes these youth for something they did not commit,” said Ms. Lattouf. She points, as evidence, to the low number of volunteers in orphanages in the country.
Dr. Al-Khuzai explains the rejection by society is due to the extended family structures, in addition to the presence of both father and mother.
Any social interaction requires an inquiry into lineage, and, therefore, any person lacking in this trilateral structure becomes an exception to the societal rule.”
However, the Islamic religion, as embodied in the Shari’a law, shuns any societal discrimination against orphans, and denounces their maltreatment. This was emphasized by a fatwa issued by the general mufti of Jordan, Dr. Nooh Al Qudah, in response to a query put to him by these two journalists.
Al Qudah clarified that it is “an error to consider an orphan the result of a sinful act or a dangerous environment; they should be treated with respect, for they lack proper care and society, therefore, has an obligation towards them. In fact, any injustice suffered by orphans translates into a sin committed by the entire society.”
The law turns orphans into delinquents
Sometimes, the ministry attempts to speed up the graduation process for the male residents of orphanages by transferring them to the juvenile delinquents’ facilities to work in return for JD50 per month, as happened with 26-year-old Ossama – an alias.
Ossama was appointed as a volunteer supervisor at age 18. His actual occupation was as a “bath-time supervisor” in the juvenile delinquents’ facility. But most of the orphans ‘hired’ to work in such a facility run away either because they are scared of the inmates, or because what little compensation they are supposed to receive for their work is not paid for months.
Although Ms. Lattouf stressed that she has ordered a discontinuation of this practice, such a procedure is supported by the articles of the “juveniles’ law” which equates between an orphan and a delinquent, in many cases.
On referring to the articles 31 and 34 of the juveniles’ law no. 24 for the year 1968 and its amendments, it becomes apparent how an orphan might find himself classified as a juvenile delinquent. Article 31, paragraph 4, confirms that the law includes orphans, while paragraphs 1 and 2 of article 34 stress the jurisdiction of the juveniles’ court over issues of the residency of orphans at orphanages, and over the extension of such stays up to the age of 20 in certain cases.
Christine Faddoul, the head of the Complaints and Legal Services Unit at the National Center for Human Rights calls for the reviewing of paragraph 4 of article 31 of the law.
This report was carried out with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) www.arij.net and supervised by Saad Hattar