1:07am , Tuesday 27th July 2021

Torture and Sexual Abuse at Jordan Orphanages

8 February 2010

Al Ghad By Emad Al Rawashdeh and Majdoulin Allan –

Torment, agony and tearful nights; a childhood fraught with pain, unknown destinies and lost futures. Such is the life of orphans at governmental and private orphanages in Jordan. Manifestations of abuse and neglect at the centers are coupled with the absence of governmental follow-up after orphans leave these homes when they turn 18, makes them prone to delinquencies, homelessness, and even death, according to the findings by the authors of the following investigative report.

Neglectful supervisors lead to the grave Farid (an alias), a boy at Madaba Childcare Home (Dar Madaba), and afflicted with Beta-Thalassemia Major, died on April 6, 2007 due to the facility’s negligence in providing periodic transport  transport to Al Bashir Hospital for his blood transfusions.  Farid died of a heart attack at Prince Hamza Hospital where he had been transported in critical condition, according to testimonies from his peers at the childcare center. Hatem Al-Azrui, Health Ministry spokesperson, acknowledged the incident. He said that the “staff at the childcare home would bring Farid late to his appointments, compelling Al-Bashir Hospital to notify the center of the importance of bringing him on time, especially that he was suffering the most severe type of the disease.” Graduates of the center, who at the time lived with Farid, attributed his tardiness to “the unavailability of the bus that was designated to take him to hospital because it was reserved for the personal use of the director of the center.” For his part, the director of Madaba Childcare Home denies these allegations and their occurrence around the time of Farid’s death, asserting that “Farid received exceptional health care, and that he did not arrive late for his monthly appointments, except when Al-Bashir Hospital made such a request at the time because it could not handle the large number of patients seeking care”. It seems that this neglect, which led to Farid’s death, is a common occurrence at children’s care homes (orphanages), where beatings, verbal and sexual abuses are frequent in the absence of progressive child care programs, according to results compiled by these two reporters, based on field visits and statements from over 30 orphans.

There are 29 orphanages in the Kingdom, four of them are government run. Recipients of care are classified into: paternally orphaned and/or maternally orphaned, those coming from broken families, or those with an unknown parentage. The number of beneficiaries exceeds 700, according to the Ministry of Social Development. Beneficiaries are divided into three different age groups and accordingly are distributed between these homes. The first category takes in infants – newborns to age 6. As he/she grows older, they are transferred to homes for 7 to 14-years of age, and finally to centers looking after 14 to 18-year-olds. This classification leaves psychological scars for life, “for it does not benefit the child’s natural psyche which always seeks stability. It also inflicts on the child a feeling of having been abandoned by the center, because he/she is not able to understand what is happening,” says Dr. Jalal Dhamra, the Director of Special Care and Counseling unit at Noor Al-Hussein Foundation. The foundation is a quasi-governmental body, and includes a unit for providing treatment for child victims of domestic violence and abuse. Neglect opens the door for sexual abuse “It was raining.  I went with him down to the activities hall.  I was 12 years old.  He asked me to take my clothes off.  I was scared, but he assured me that no one will know, so I consented, and he did what he did.”  That was the testimony of one of the residents.

Ahmad (also an alias) is now 16 years old. He reluctantly agreed to tell his tragic story after repeated attempts to convince him of the importance of revealing the truth. Ahmad added: “He then started to forcefully take my monthly allowance, beat me and control me.  I did not tell any of the supervisors.  I was fearful that the other boys would mock me if they found out.” Neither could Maha (23 years), an alias, erase the memories of the incidents of sexual abuse she suffered at the centers. In her words, Maha says: “children used to have sex with each other.  I was sexually abused on several occasions by older kids when I was 10 at Dar Al-Hanan in Irbid.” Maha, in tears, continues to say: “at Fatima Al-Zahra’a center where I moved when I was 12, I was subjected to sexual harassment by a female supervisor.  Fear of having lost my virginity haunted me into adulthood; to my relief, a clinical exam concluded that I was still a virgin.” For her part, the Minister of Social Development, Hala Lattouf, does not deny the likelihood of some young orphans being subjected to sexual abuse by older peers. However, she did not confirm that such incidents have been reported to the ministry. In this context, Lattouf, who took over this post end 2007, affirms her commitment to “segregating children by age, whenever possible, in order to avoid the possibility of sexual abuse against younger children.” Two years ago, the Ministry of Social Development designated Dar Al-Hanan as a girls-only facility. Before that, it converted Dar Fatima Al-Zahra’a to an all-male facility. A semi-official confirmation of the attacks A report issued by the Institute of Family Health at Noor Al-Hussein Foundation at the request of these two reporters, states that “more than ten graduates and beneficiaries of the orphan care centers who were transferred to the institute, have been subjected to physical and sexual abuses while there.” No precise figures regarding the number of graduates from these care homes are available. But the Ministry of Social Development puts the figure at more than 1200 during the last decade, and most are not being looked after and lack follow up. That above-mentioned report was produced after the orphans underwent psychiatric assessments during which the impact of childhood experiences on the orphans were measured. The assaults…a past reflected in the present According to an ex-supervisor, incidents of sexual abuse are traceable to thirteen years ago, prior to the relocation of Dar Madaba from the downtown area in the Jordanian Capital Amman, to the city of Madaba. The supervisor, who witnessed several incidents of this nature, confirms that the old location “was a destination for a number of delinquents, hooligans and ex-convicts who used to enter it during work shifts manned by weak supervisors, in order to sexually and physically abuse some of the children, in a most horrific way.” He explains that “these attacks had subjected the orphans to a vicious circle, where those who were abused when young, would later become abusers of others younger than them.”

Abdul-Elah (26 years), an alias, who was one of these children, confirms that “ex-convicts used to enter Dar Madaba (when it was still in downtown Amman) during the work shifts of weak supervisors, eat dinner and shower, then go upstairs to where the children’s rooms were, choose one and rape him.  I was one of the victims of such abuse at the hands of both ex-convicts and older orphans.” Adding to that, Abdul-Elah says: “I used to go with ex-convicts to the flea market down town to buy and sell.  They taught me to use drugs and alcohol, both of which I used to smuggle into the center.” Despite the passage of time, this young man is still tormented by these events as if they had just taken place now, for “I can’t count the number of times I got raped because they are too many,” he says. Abdul-Elah’s orphan companions, who lived with him during that time, experience bouts of depression when recalling their childhood memories, filled with scenes of bloody fights and sexual assaults, as described by them. Some of them confirmed that they “used narcotic pills and alcohol when going through these periods of depression.”The psychological impact The authors of this report asked psychiatrists to examine ten young men. They stated that “the exposure of these persons to sexual and physical abuse”, caused them to suffer from negative psychological symptoms such as “depression, low self-esteem and anxiety.” Days under torture “The child would get wrapped in a carpet until nothing but his head and feet were showing, then a supervisor would start beating his feet with the stick or an electric cable, until the stick breaks; he would sometimes replace it with another.” This is how Muhammad (16 years), an alias, and one of the current residents of Dar Madaba, describes the beating incidents he experienced when he was 14 years old. Around 15 out of 25 registered affidavits by current residents at Madaba Childcare Home, confirmed “getting beaten”.  Results of a questionnaire, distributed to a random sample of 50 graduate orphans,  shows that “91% of them have been beaten, and 89% have been exposed to offensive language in a routine fashion” at the hands of workers at the center. Prisons or childcare homes? Abuses varied between verbal, such as cursing and mockery about their unknown descent, overnight confinement in dark rooms under staircases, and the spraying of children with hot followed by cold water. In addition to this there was whipping or caning (falaqa), locally known by the name of “al-farroja”. The “farrojah” is an innovative method of beatings at all-male childcare homes, where the feet are tied to a stick that is placed between the knees, to which the hands are strapped with a rope. The child is, then, hung from an elevated place, and is beaten by the stick or a hose. One ex-supervisor at one of the childcare homes describes such beatings as “severe and arbitrary”, stressing that “such abuse is routinely committed by supervisors and principles alike.” “It is torture”, researcher and social worker, Dr. Hussein Al-Khuzai describes such incidents, affirming that “merely scolding the orphan would fall under such category.” Al-Khuzai defines torture as “any conduct which could detract from the humanity of a person, and it can be verbal, sexual, economic or psychological”. In turn, the Head of the Complaints and Legal Services Unit  at the National Center for Human Rights, Christine Faddoul, stressed that such types of abuse will leave their mark on the orphans through the feelings of “hatred, alienation and isolation.” However, Minister Lattouf confirms that the phenomena of beatings at child and youth care centers is “history”. She said recent government modifications to “civil service statutes” have tightened punishment for perpetrators of abuses against children at children care centers. New punishments range from withholding pay to firing. Weakness in the Monitoring System The tightening of punitive measures may not solve the problem as long as “the inspection and control systems for guarding against abuse is weak, and victim support services at childcare centers are lacking”, as shown by a study released in 2008 by the National Council for Family Affairs, in collaboration with   “UNICEF.” This is confirmed by the results of another Jordanian analytical research conducted during that same year, which studied care institutions specializing in orphaned youth, as well as by a report issued by the Arab Council for Childhood and Development of the Arab League which speaks in part of the Jordanian study under the title: “The Reality of Alternative Care in the Arab World.”

Hard Labor In its 2006 report, the National Center for Human Rights published the results of field visits to 11 out of 24 child care centers that existed then. The report showed “that conditions of childcare institutions vary from one institution to another.  While most of them meet the basic needs of children such as food, drink and clothing, they lack meaningful educational and social programs, and individualized plans for the care of children.” The authors of this report went to five governmental and private childcare homes, for different gender and age groups, and found out that conditions have not changed much since then. At Dar Madaba, a visitor gets the feeling he is entering a military barrack. Barbed wire surrounds the building, and  inside walls are covered with posters speaking out against corruption and nepotism, but devoid of all that is related to childhood. “The Jungle”, “the Prison” and so on are terms used by children to describe their centers. Um Al-Hussein Orphanage, the oldest and largest such facility in Jordan, lacks enough space in the children’s sleeping quarters, where between 10 and 16 children may have to sleep on narrowly spaced beds. Yet, facilities there are still in better condition than those at Dar Madaba, which lacks hygiene because “the cleaner does not perform her job, and the daily cleaning chores are the responsibility of the children at the center,” as one beneficiary confided to the authors of this report. In a survey of over 30 residents at this home, all asserted that the cleaning chores are considered part of their daily routines there, despite the fact that care center regulations require the employment of janitors. Jumana –an alias- (22 years old), who is being anonymously sponsored to study psychology, recalls the ordeals she faced while staying at the center. ”I was ashamed to interact with other girls at my school, because I didn’t want them to notice the smell of cleaning detergents and chlorine that clung to my clothes from cleaning the halls of the Dar Al-Nahda at dawn every day with the other girls.” Such daily realities may explain “the widespread sense of dissatisfaction among children residing at the facilities”, says a 2001 study conducted by the Ministry of Social Development, which looked at childcare and juvenile care centers. The results were later confirmed by a 2005 follow-up study. Conditions at some centers for children under the age of 14 seem better than those for adolescents, who are typically victims of the changing regulations and poor services at their facilities. On a field visit to two governmental centers, Shafa Badran childcare home (home for children up to six years old) and Um Al-Hussein Orphanage (from seven to 14 years old), the level of care given to the facilities is obviously better. Bright colors dominate the rooms and furniture. There are child-friendly posters on the walls, the facilities are new and clean, and attention is given to providing reading halls equipped with libraries, as well as green landscaped areas for playing. In addition, children receive health care at special health centers, and have access to a pharmacy and a nurse at the center, as well as to psychosocial support programs. These services seem absent from adolescent centers. Administrators at the two aforementioned care centers expressed concern over the fate of the children who move on to facilities for adolescents, as “conditions and services change radically, and they suffer from bullying by the teens at those centers.” Lack of continuity of standards and services at the other orphanages could harm the effort exerted at the model centres of Shafa Badran and at Um Al-Hussein Orphanage. Minister Lattouf confirms these fears but says she is striving to ”keep the children in these institutions for as long as possible and not to have them transferred to Madaba before conditions there improve.” Semi-illiterate Orphans Mohammad – an alias – asks: “Why should we care about school? Teachers treat us with either excessive pity or excessive cruelty, and when we come back to the center, there is no one to follow-up on our homework, so we  keep cleaning or playing until dinner time, when we eat and then go to bed”.

The views of this 16-year-old orphan, who resides at one of the governmental childcare centers, is supported by the results of a questionnaire commissioned by the authors of this report, and answered by a sample of 50 orphans. The questionnaire found that more than half of them have not completed their intermediate education. The library area at Madaba Childcare Home, which houses 25 children, is a semi-dark room with two plastic tables in the middle, each accommodating only four chairs. In addition to the absence of study facilities, children are given three hours to play and only one hour to study at night, according to the schedule of the center. On examining records at the Ministry of Education at six schools in central and northern Jordan in an effort to collect data about the academic results of orphans in childcare homes and centers, the grades of students at childcare facilities ranged between 45 and 50 percent. A prior study, conducted nine years ago by Queen Zein Al-Sharaf Institute for Development, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Development, had sounded alarm bells over the poor academic performance of orphans in childcare centers. The study was conducted at an orphanage housing boys between the ages of six to 12. The study revealed “that the academic performance of the children was poor, and that 15% of the sample surveyed did not know how to read and write.  In addition, they recoiled from social interaction with their peers due to their sensing the social stigma attached to being residents of such a home”.

Minister Lattouf is not surprised at such findings, as “international studies have indicated the low educational performance of children at orphanages in all parts of the world”. However, the 2004 human development report for Jordan pointed to “the low academic performance of these children in general. Their tendency to be aggressive and insecure are the direct results of having been maltreated in their earlier years”. Childcare homes … unqualified staff … and badly qualified social workers “How can you possibly expect supervisors with no more than a primary educational level to follow-up on the schoolwork of children in orphanages” an ex-supervisor wonders. Records at the civil service bureau operating under the Ministry of Social Development showed that out of 287 social workers, 38 did not have a high school diploma, compared to 43 who do have it, while the rest carry college degrees. At Dar Al-Hanan childcare center, about 10 out of the 15 supervisors hold qualifications ranging from a high school certificates to college diplomas”, according to one of the supervisors at the center who preferred to remain anonymous. In addition, personal records of staff at Dar Madaba revealed that one of the social worker there, used to be a driver at the center, and holds only a high school certificate. The irony is that one worker who actually holds a nursing degree, was assigned the position of janitor, while another assumes the role of a supervisor although he was hired as an assistant social worker, since he only holds a high school certificate. In his comments regarding the qualifications required for those employed in orphanages, Al-Khuzai demands that care-givers at the centers be “specialized in the fields of psychology and sociology, having undergone intensive training”, preferring to “draw on volunteers to fill these positions”. Pending legislation and tighter inspection and control systems, children and adolescents alike will remain at the mercy of poorly qualified supervisors, and the bullying from older peers, in an atmosphere that is closer to a “jungle” than a caring environment. Police in confrontation with children “Would you imagine that your father could call the police because you went against his wishes, or argued with your siblings?”. These were questions on the mind of 16-year-old Khaled – an alias. He recalled how police forces entered the Madaba Childcare Home, after a supervisor called them in, “for no good reason” .

On October 8th and November 1st, 2009, the authors of this report discovered that the “police had entered Dar Madaba, arrested a number of children and beat others, either because of a fight among the orphans or to force them to sleep”, according to orphans there. Despite refuting allegations of beating the children, the media office of the Directorate of Public Security confirmed that the police did, in fact, enter the center, stressing that this was “at the request of the management of the center”.

This report was carried out with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and supervised by Saad Hattar


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