Rewriting the future

Protecting children and adolescents in the justice system

“I had to wait for nine years, but at last, my son is back home with me and not in an orphanage” – Sami’s father.

In Amman, 9-year-old Sami, Jordanian, is put in an orphanage for being born out of wedlock. Although his father has tried to claim him back, he failed to follow the complex legal procedures, and is now resigned to see Sami only through visits at the orphanage. In Jarash, 17-year-old Lina, Palestinian, is physically and psychologically abused by her newlywed husband, who got to the point of locking her in her room for days, with no access to food and water. In Irbid, 17-year-old Khaled never received a birth certificate and has never been able to access education, health services or have a long-term job. In Zarqa, Mahmoud and Omar, 14-year-old Jordanian twins, are detained in a juvenile center with the accusation of sexual harassment. Although they believe to be falsely accused, they are ready to plead guilty, looking for a plea bargain. In Madaba, 17-year-old Ahmad, Jordanian, is arrested on the charges that his religious commitment may lead to dangerous or terroristic behaviors. Although he is not affiliated with any terrorist group, he is detained for two months in an adult detention facility and questioned without the presence of his caregivers.

Through our awareness activities targeting children, we aim to build a generation who is aware of their rights and has the power to claim them. – Malak Ali, Awareness Unit Team Leader

All over Jordan, children of different nationalities come in contact with the justice system every day, as defendants, witnesses, parties to disputes and victims. While the Jordanian justice system allows juveniles to access legal counsel, in practice, this is only applied at the trial stage excluding pretrial investigation. Pretrial is the most critical stage of the process, as it is the child’s first contact point with the justice system, intensifying their vulnerability and need of protection. Further, the system does not regulate the right to legal aid for children and adolescents in any non-criminal matter. Becoming involved with the justice system, while trying for most adults, can be a traumatic experience for children and adolescents. The future of children, their development and growth are highly dependent on their experiences and state of mind, and any kind of trauma experienced as a child is likely to affect their adult life. Legal aid, by safely accompanying the child through their legal journey, has the power to rewrite a likely predefined future and turn a dreadful story into one of hope.

Between 2018-2020, JCLA helped shape the future of over 1,700 families by providing legal services on family law issues directly impacting children, including custody disputes, issuing of birth certificates, paternity ratifications and other legal documentation matters.

Further, JCLA’s specialized Juvenile Justice lawyers assisted over 700 children and adolescents involved in criminal cases. The early intervention of legal aid in a juvenile’s journey through the justice system is essential in limiting the period of time spent in detention, promoting a swift reintegration into society. This, in addition to legal awareness, contributes to combating recidivism, whose likelihood increases proportionately to the time spent away from society.

In a country where the age of criminal responsibility is 12 years, legal education for the younger segment of society is crucial. In its experience, JCLA has found that many children, including convicted juveniles, ignore laws, procedures and the different enforceable punishments. For this reason, JCLA has designed a comprehensive awareness program targeting children, their families and key figures interacting with children. Between 2018-2020, JCLA has reached approximately 33,000 children and adolescents, raising their awareness on several topics, including children’s rights, bullying and cyber-bullying prevention, protection from sexual harassment and early marriage. The same knowledge, by adopting different modalities, was shared with over 8,500 adults, ranging from families, to teachers and school counselors. Given children’s vulnerability, it is essential that the adults populating children’s environments are equipped with the necessary tools to protect them.

By assisting children and adolescents, JCLA seeks to reshape their story, providing direction on the path to take and intervening when risks arise, in a plot twist aimed at reaching a brighter future.