AMMAN — Jordan should take legal and political measures to protect juveniles from abuse and violence during investigation and detention, a study released on Monday recommended.

“Currently there is no comprehensive strategy addressing [the needs of] children in the criminal system,” said Taghreed Jabir, regional manager for Penal Reform International (PRI), which prepared the study.

Based on reports by local NGOs and government entities, the study noted that there have been cases of “abuse and violence” against children during investigation and detention.

“According to the National Centre for Human Rights, in 2008, they received 100 complaints from children, 37 of which involved torture during investigation,” Jabir told The Jordan Times.

Mahmoud, who was detained at the age of 15 for “theft” and is currently staying at the Rehabilitation Centre for Juveniles in Amman, where the PRI held its meeting, spoke of his experiences of “abuse”.

“We got beaten up during investigation. They hit us. They put us with older men. Even when we were brought here we were still beaten up,” he said during the launch of the study.

Citing Ministry of Social Development data, the study indicated that some 6,277 children were detained in 2008; approximately, 96 per cent of them were boys, and “theft” was the major reason for their detention.

In 2010, around 4,371 children were referred to the six detention centres in the Kingdom, including one for girls, after being convicted on different charges, the study found.

Abdullah Shukairat, a lawyer at the human rights law group (MIZAN), charged that juveniles are not given their “basic rights” during the investigation.

“We have noticed from our experiences that in most cases juveniles are investigated or heard without the presence of a lawyer or legal guardian. Several have reported violence and abuse during investigations at police stations,” Shukairat said at the meeting.

Lubna Dawani, lawyer and board member of MIZAN, noted that in most cases children are “driven to commit offences due to certain social conditions”.

“Most of these children are victims of domestic violence, poverty and family problems. Not to mention that they are held for minor charges or offences such as petty theft,” she told The Jordan Times.

Dawani called for specific action plans with time frames to ensure juveniles are protected under the judicial system.

“As civil society groups, we have been discussing this issue since the 1980s. It is time to take serious action and create a national strategy, with deadlines to ensure goals are achieved.”

“The guilty must be held accountable and cases of abuse must be investigated to prevent other cases in the future. At the end of the day these are our sons and daughters. We must ensure they are fairly treated and that they are rehabilitated afterwards.”

Raghda Azzah, manager of the Amman Rehabilitation Centre for Girls, said that “challenges were even bigger” for female juveniles.

“Even if a girl commits the same crime as a boy, it is considered a bigger crime by our society. We noticed that families hurry to bail out their sons, check on them regularly and visit them, whereas in most cases girls are abandoned by their families,” Azzah told The Jordan Times.

The PRI study also recommended increasing the minimum age for legal responsibility from seven to 12 years old, keeping children away from detention centres and police stations until the court hearing and providing alternatives to detention.

The study also pointed out that under international humanitarian law, the Kingdom is “obliged to quickly and with all accuracy” investigate cases of abuse against children in detention centres.

Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Jordan ratified in 1991, stipulates that “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.

In a statement carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra, on Monday, the Public Security Department (PSD) said 12 minors who were arrested during last week’s demonstrations against the lifting of fuel subsidies had been referred to court.

One of these minors, who was at the Amman centre, told The Jordan Times that he was on his way to get a haircut, when “they arrested me just outside my house”.

The 15-year-old, who was at a recent protest in an Amman neighbourhood, said the police told him it was “an offence against state security”.

“They did not explain to me how I threatened state security,” he added.

The PSD statement said minors had “only been charged with disorderly conduct and illegal assembly”.

It added that the minors, who are currently in care centres, were investigated in the presence of their parents or legal guardians.