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Jordan’s child rights bill is finally here

child rights family
(Photo: Envato ELements)
child rights family

Ruba Saqr

The writer has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

It took Jordan 33 long years to bring its first-ever child rights bill to light, but the day has finally come for at-risk children to lead a life of dignity and safety under a proposed law that obliges teachers and doctors, among others, to report cases of child abuse to authorities.اضافة اعلان

The issuance of the draft low for children’s rights for the year 2022 can be described as a truly pivotal moment for social justice in the country. It is one of 12 laws to be deliberated upon in Parliament during the extraordinary session slated to start on July 20.

The bill comes more than three decades after Jordan’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989 as an international human rights treaty that guarantees the youths’ right to a healthy childhood. Shortly after, Jordan signed the convention in 1991.

Because of delays in translating the convention into a domestic piece of legislation, the Millennials, born roughly between 1981 and 1994, and a good portion of Generation Z (1995 to 2012), have already missed out on the protections included in the draft law.

Child abuse is an acute problem in Jordan. According to a study published late last year by UNICEF and the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA), an alarming 74.6 percent of children experience at least one form of physical violence, not to mention other forms of abuse. Children make up around 40 percent of the population, according to 2019 statistics.

Unlike other pieces of legislation, the children’s rights bill steers away from legal jargon — with a writing style that is akin to a policy paper of guiding principles. It offers specific institutions and ministries in the educational, health and law enforcement sectors a roadmap on ways to treat children with dignity while having their best interest in mind.

Moreover, the bill does not shy away from notions that were once taboo in the Jordanian society. Clause A of Article 46 stipulates that “anyone” can report threats to a child’s “health or physical and moral wellbeing” to authorities. Clause B, on the other hand, makes it “obligatory” for service providers in the educational, health, and social sectors, in addition to labor inspectors, to report such violations to the relevant establishments. This means that if teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and officials who spot child labor fail to report abuses of children’s rights, they will be fined JD300–JD500, in accordance with Article 60 of the proposed law.

The same penalty applies for anyone who exposes children to “negligence, violence, mistreatment, exploitation”, bodily harm and harsh behavior that “could affect the emotional and psychological balance of the child” (Article 44, Clause A). Legal guardians who prevent children in their custody from accessing mandatory education will also be fined.

In a way, these stipulations challenge Article 62 of the Penal Code, which exempts parental disciplinary action from being perceived as a criminal act. More importantly, it puts an end to social norms that enable predators who betray children’s trust and commit their crimes against childhood in the name of upbringing or education.
Unfortunately, witnesses of child abuse are often predisposed to side with the perpetrators in a society that values image and reputation over the actual wellbeing of its most vulnerable.
The child rights law has the potential of effecting change across a range of sectors and laws, including those pertaining to cybercrime, health and education. For example, it emphasizes the right of children to “participate” in the design and implementation of “entertaining, cultural, artistic, and scientific” programs, which gives children a voice in crafting extra-curricular activities that expand their horizons and the confidence to assert themselves at an early age.

All in all, the bill promises nothing less than a paradigm shift in a society that continues to keep child abuse cases under wraps. It has the potential to dissipate the culture of silence and complicity surrounding all forms of violence against children. Unfortunately, witnesses of child abuse are often predisposed to side with the perpetrators in a society that values image and reputation over the actual wellbeing of its most vulnerable.

This said, the child rights bill is balanced in the way it demonstrates a sensitivity toward the context of the Jordanian society, including its conservative propensities, all while pushing the envelope in the areas that need improvement. For example, it emphasizes the importance of the nuclear family and its reputation, however, it tactfully gives plenty of room for children to access legal support if their needs and safety are being compromised, including by their parents and legal guardians. The wording, however, is drafted in a non-provocative manner to get those ideas across as delicately as possible.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s such notions were seen as foreign to society; dramas aired on Jordan TV and wire stories picked up by local newspapers zoomed in on stories about Western children being snatched away from their families because of an error in judgement by social workers.

But things are different now. Al-Ghad News, with its fleet of female reporters, has been spearheading its own awareness campaign on issues related to violence against women and children. Jordan News, launched last year, has followed suit with bold and assertive pro-social justice articles.

One other interesting feature of the law is its gender-neutrality; the bill makes repetitive reference to “the child” without ever using the words “boy” or “girl”. In a phone conversation earlier this week, NCFA Secretary General Mohammad Miqdadi responded to a question about this particular point by saying: “A child is a child, … who is entitled to things like health care ‘as a child’, regardless of whether they are male or female.”

The NCFA is part of the technical committee that drafted the law, along with the ministries of education, health and justice, as well as the Public Security Directorate and UNICEF, among others.

The remarks made in this article are pertinent to the original draft law they prepared, as posted on the Legislation and Opinion Bureau’s website for the year 2020. According to Al-Ghad News, the Cabinet in April approved an amended version of this bill for 2022, where it removed clauses that made pre-school learning mandatory education. By the time this article was submitted, the Cabinet-approved draft was still missing from the bureau’s site.

Adamant on pursuing child welfare in all its forms, the bill gives the NCFA the mandate and the tools to follow up on the implementation of the law through “periodic reports” to be submitted to the Cabinet. It also gives the council the power to request the support it needs from the relevant authorities to fulfil this mission.

This will hopefully ensure the full activation of a well-written law that offers Jordan’s current and future children a way out of harsh treatment and violence, and, ultimately, the space they need to dream and flourish.


Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.


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