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Child abuse on highlight at ‘Looney Balloony Festival’

1.2 million children in Jordan suffer from physical abuse — UNICEF

By Maram Kayed - Sep 22,2018 - Last updated at Sep 22,2018

According to a UNICEF study, 1.2 million children in Jordan children aged 7–18 suffer from physical abuse inside and outside their homes (Photo by Amjad Ghsoun)

AMMAN —  “Please don’t send me there again,” begged Hussein, a 12-year-old child, when his step-mother insisted he go back to his grandfather’s house after his step-sister accused him of allegedly breaking the television with his  football.

Hussein, who was secretly being sexually abused by one of his relatives at his grandfather’s house, decided that he would rather spend the night on the street than be molested again. The cold winter night, however, exposed Hussein to a serious case of frostbite.

After being found the next morning unconscious on the street, Hussein was taken to the hospital, but it was too late. His legs needed to be immediately amputated because of the incident.

Hussein, just like 1.2 million other children in Jordan, was the subject of child abuse at some point in his life, according to a UNICEF study. His story and those of many others was displayed at The Adventures of Looney Balloony Festival held at Ras Al Ain Hanger.

According to a UNICEF study, 1.2 million children in Jordan children aged 7–18 suffer from physical abuse inside and outside their homes. The study also indicated that 66 per cent of children were exposed to physical violence inside their homes.

The festival, whose objective was to raise awareness about violence against children in Jordan, suggested replacing abuse with “positive parenting practices”. Plays and games for children, a parenting guide and free counselling services are all offered for free at the event.

“The counselling service booths are under the greatest demand here in the festival. Parents are telling the counsellors that they desperately need advice for their parenting problems,” said Aseel, one of the event’s planners.

Posters telling the stories of abused children were displayed at the event. One of them was about Samar, a nine-month-old baby, who was a victim of parental child abuse. 

“Samar might still be alive today if her parents had undergone such counselling. Being born on the same day that her dad was fired, in addition to being born in an economically-challenging time for her parents, Samar was thought of by her dad as a bad sign,” the poster read.

“He constantly abused her, and one day when he came back from a bad job interview, he picked her up and threw her harshly on the ground. Despite being hospitalised, Samar’s baby body could not handle the shock and she died soon afterwards. Samar, whose life ended before it even started, might have never been avenged if her father did not admit that he killed her. His first claim was that she fell from a high bed on her own, and his story was believed, with no investigation opened. It was only after a few months, when he confessed that he deliberately threw her, that he was sentenced to jail.”

Based on the results of studies presented at the event, nine out of 10 children in Jordan experience some form of physical violence from their parents, teachers or caregivers. “Despite this exceedingly high ratio, laws are still loose when it comes to physical abuse,” according to Ruba Kawafha, a child-protection specialist.

“The law doesn’t consider abuse which does not result in injury as an offence. A slap, for example, is not considered as abuse. This is not acceptable,” she told The Jordan Times. However, she added, “sexual abuse is not tolerated, meaning that the parents have their custody immediately revoked and the child is directly sent to child protection services.”

“Jana, a 13-year-old rape victim, still did not see her attacker behind bars, however. As a result of living in a family that resided in a building where all their other relatives lived as well, Jana was the subject of sexual harassment and eventual rape by her 22-year-old cousin. Seeking times when her father and mother were not present, her cousin would sneak in and molest her, without anyone suspecting anything. After the rape incident, which happened after a year of continuing sexual harassment, Jana finally found the courage to reveal to her mother what has been going on,” another poster read.

“Her family filed a complaint, but the lack of evidence, in addition to Jana waiting after it was impossible to prove the rape biologically, resulted in the attacker receiving no punishment whatsoever. Jana’s words to other children: ‘Don’t be afraid to speak up about sexual harassment, even if it’s from the closest people to you.’”

UNICEF and the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA) have put in place a three-year-plan aimed at eliminating child abuse in all its forms. 

In addition to the educational sector, which works on raising awareness, the plan is inclusive of many other institutes in the fight to battle child abuse. The Ministry of Health, for example, is cooperating with the plan by training doctors to identify the signs of child abuse with health cases and report it to NCFA.

“We need everyone hand in hand to put an end to this inhumane act,” NCFA Acting Secretary General Mohammad Miqdadi, told The Jordan Times.

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