Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Jordan's Child-Protection Problems

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Jordan's Child-Protection Problems

Article excerpt

Despite greater efforts to stop violence, the number of reported child abuse cases is rising.

A year ago, a video surfaced of a 6-year-old boy, Ahmad al- Saket, standing in front of a large classroom chalkboard crying, shaking and pleading for mercy. A teacher carrying a wooden stick in her hand is scolding him in front of other students for writing the number nine incorrectly.

The video went viral, and sparked a fierce debate.

"A lot of students hate school because of her and I also hate school," Ahmad said in an interview published in the newspaper Al Arab al-Yawm shortly after the incident.

A survey in 2007 by the United Nations Children's Fund, or Unicef, found that more than half of Jordanian children were physically abused or exposed to violent behavior by their parents or teachers.

"After the study was published there was real commitment brought on the issue and awareness was raised on the plight of children across the country," Dominique Hyde, the Unicef representative in Jordan, said in an interview in Amman.

More recent nationwide surveys have not been conducted, but the number of reported cases of child abuse is rising, experts say, reflecting factors that include growing economic hardship and poverty, increased awareness among abuse victims, social acceptance of corporal punishment and a legal system that condones some forms of domestic violence.

"It's not like a vaccination," Mrs. Hyde said. "Having an immunization campaign across the country is not easy -- but it is, compared to reducing child abuse in all its forms."

In 2011, nearly 70 percent of Jordan's population was aged under 30. Of that group, 37 percent were 15 or younger.

Residents in Amman and Zarqa, the two largest cities in Jordan, said they perceived poverty and unemployment as the main cause of violence in their communities, according to a study published last year by the Information and Research Center of the King Hussein Foundation, a part of the National Task Force for Children.

The unemployment rate in Jordan is on the rise. It was 11.8 in 2010 and 12.1 percent last year, according to the department of statistics, and the United Nations said in a briefing last year that it considered poverty one of the biggest challenges facing Jordan.

This month, King Abdullah declared that the economy remained a main focus for comprehensive government reform and development efforts.

"The economic situation is one of several stress or risk factors that together may lead to child abuse," said Zeina Abu Innab, manager of psychosocial counseling services at the Jordan River Foundation, a nonprofit organization that also runs a child protection program, including a help line.

Despite some progress in the well-being of children across the region, income and gender inequities remain, keeping many children in a situation of poverty and vulnerability. The Unicef study from 2007 found that at least one in eight children in Jordan was financially exploited, most often by neighborhood adults.

"The first victims of poverty are children," Mrs. Hyde said. "In all countries when you see an economic downturn, the first people to get effected are children and it can affect education, health and a variety of different aspects of a child's life."

In addition to economic factors, social attitudes that condone verbal and physical abuse as a form of discipline have endured. The study found that more than half of parents believed that it was sometimes important to use corporal punishment to maintain discipline at school and more than 80 percent believed hitting was justifiable when a child refused to perform an assigned task. …

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