Jordanian Orphanages, the Minister of Social Affairs and the Media

الأربعاء 20 كانون الثاني 2010

Written by Daoud Kuttab*

Orphanages are notorious the world over for being a very sensitive place. Losing one or both parents is a shocking and highly emotional condition. Having the same young parentless children living away from the warmth of a natural home produces even more trauma and tends to make such children more vulnerable.

It is therefore highly troubling when one discovers adults and even fellow orphans physically and sexually abusing such defenceless children with very few deterrents. This was one of the findings that a pair of Jordanian investigative journalists working for months under the supervision of the ARIJ team discovered. The journalists’ two-page report appeared in the independent daily Al Ghad on December 25, 2009. Reports supervised by ARIJ are screened and approved by a competent lawyer before being presented for publication.

The troubling report was based on hours of interviews with 20 present or former residents in Jordan’s 27 homes (four of which are run by the government). It was also based on a survey of 50 persons who have gone through the system, sworn and signed testimonies from abused children, medical records and documentation corroborating these allegations. Many of the allegations including one case of death due to negligence, beatings, sexual harassments and rape took place in past years. And while the system has improved there is clearly much to be learned from the previous and some of the continuing problems facing these helpless children.

A survey conducted with 50 randomly chosen graduates of these orphanages showed that 91% stated that they were beaten and 89% noted that they were cursed at and verbally abused by workers in these orphanages.

Research into the educational level of these workers was also revealing. Of the 287 individuals working with these children, 38 don’t have high school certificate, 43 only have a high school diploma while the others have a college education. In a survey of 25 residents of the Madaba governmental orphanage, a total of 15 gave written testimonies that they have been systematically beaten. The legislative and administrative systems don’t provide for adequate remedies for many of these problems.

These well documented detailed cases, along with replies from experts, reports conducted by governmental and nongovernmental agencies and NGOs were quoted in the investigative expose. Replies from the pertinent individuals including responses from the Minister of Social Affairs Hala Latuf were given fair and appropriate space. In the report, the minister admits to problems in previous years and she details how her administration is dealing with these problems including changing some of the directors such as the director of the Madaba governmental orphanage. She denied however that the abuses have continued in her tenure.

Al Ghad daily, which has an agreement with Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalists (ARIJ), received the article and sat on it for five days before publishing it on the 25th of December. Ironically, the publication day was three days after all ministers in the Samir Rifai government signed a code of conduct regarding relations with the media which guarantees the independence of media, commits not to carry out neither enticement nor pressure to influence the workings of the media.

These commitments, however, seem to have been forgotten once the minister and others in the government saw the two-page spread. She sent a letter to the newspaper asking for all the evidence including the names of those accused of abuse.

Staffers at the newspaper were taken aback and attempted to obtain the original documents from the journalists who worked on the ARIJ-sponsored investigation. A meeting was arranged and the various documents that were the basis of the expose were shown to the editors. An agreement was made to have the ARIJ lawyer draw up a letter stating that all information is truthful and based on properly collected evidence without disclosing the sources. This, however, was not satisfactory. The minister, responding to a column in Al Rai on January 4th and later speaking on Jordan TV, stated that she has asked for all the evidence from Al Ghad and that she is waiting for it. Al Ghad demanded the evidence and after many meetings with lawyers and journalists present it became clear that the editor of the independent daily was not interested only in seeing the evidence but wanted to keep it with the idea of giving some or all of it to the ministry. The continuous demands to keep and not just to see the evidence worried the journalists and made them refuse to let the editors of al Ghad keep it.

The journalists involved in the investigation were worried that if exposed these vulnerable orphans would be unable to withstand the pressures from the ministry to change their statements. The buzz inside the ministry was one of trying to figure out who was the source of the information and who had signed the testimonies rather than one in which the ministry is trying to resolve the problem. Social affairs officials were asking anyone coming to the ministry if they were the source for the article. Rumors were also flying from the ministry that the journalists had paid the orphans 100JD to make up the allegations.

Ironically officials from the company registrar made a phone call to the office of ARIJ asking for details of the NGOs registration papers under the guise that they wanted to make sure that the not-for-profit status of ARIJ was ok. A staff person working for the Ministry of Social Affairs also made the rounds to Al Ghad and other media outlets saying he was an orphan who felt insulted and humiliated by the article. He never told media outlets that he was actually a worker at the ministry.

The tug of war peeked on January 16 when the journalists and ARIJ were given an ultimatum. Either surrender all the documentation including written and taped testimonies or Al Ghad will suspend all relations with ARIJ. The journalists and ARIJ refused to allow such evidence to be kept overnight at the newspaper and Al Ghad carried out its threat with an article published on page two in which the newspaper apologized to the ministry and to the orphans who may have felt humiliated by the article and ended its relationship with ARIJ.

Fostering an independent and vibrant media requires clear protection of sources and a special law protecting whistle-blowers. The attitude of the Minister of Social Affairs and her staff has been unfortunate and gives negative rather than positive signs about the attitudes of the Samir Rifai government regarding freedom of the press and the government’s commitment not to interfere in media’s independence.

* The author is the chairman of the board of the Amman-based NGO, Arab reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ)

  • kinzi

    Bravo to Daoud Kuttab and ARIJ for covering this sensitive topic affecting the most vulnerable of all Jordanian children: orphans. And calling out those who weren't willing.

  • Mohanned

    First of, I applaud you and ARIJ for their excellent work. The piece about the orphanages opened the eyes of many Jordanians and was a disillusion for many of them. The fact that the appointed government and its tools were more concerned with the “how” rather than the “why” is nothing new. The signals that are being sent by the appointed government are discouraging at best, and anyone who sees it differently is in fact delusional. Just yesterday, Saleh Gallab, who is well known for his extreme positions was chosen to lead the Jordanian “TV”, this further politicization of an already government controlled medium adds to the evidence that things will go from bad to worst-Worse was intentionally skipped, because as we all know we leap backwards and we crawl forward.

    The fact that the minister and her staff and those who were responsible for appointing them are able to sleep at night, knowing that orphans are being abused physically,psychologically, and sexually, is telling about the mentality that is entrenched in the government and those in leadership positions. It is an elaboration of the trickle down schizophrenia we got so accustomed to..

  • I'm curious though as to why the evidence was refused to be submitted to Alghad and kept overnight? Is it out of concerns that the integrity of such information might be compromised, etc? Alghad's article's phrasing was (obviously) different, implying that alghad cannot be sure if the information is correct and the conclusion is proper. I understand that most probably, this might not be the case, but I still don't understand why refuse to give the records to alghad? Is it considered offensive? Risky? Does it pose a privacy invasion? etc..

  • Thank you so much Daoud for writing this article and the work everyone is doing in ARIJ, keep up the good work. The article in Al Ghad was great and it shined a light on something no one thinks about much in jordan and the Minister should be ashamed of herself for the way she reacted to and handled the situation. The publication and print law guarantees the right of a journalist to protect his sources and strictly protects him from being barred from publishing or losing his job, does that matter in this case ?

    @eyas Dude you just ran over the Media law a gazillian times the past week and now you forgot the part about how the journalist (the people that did the report) are intitled to keep their source anonymous ? it's clear in article 8 (e) of the media law but does that matter ?

  • Its not about the anonymity of sources. From alghad's article, they say that the editor in chief is entitled (or its his duty to) verify the sources as well. I never got the impression that alghad was going to publish the sources, but rather verify them.

    Still, if ARIJ believe that the issues are very sensitive and sharing them with even alghad will be an invasion of the subjects' privacy, I'd consider that a good justification.

  • daoudkuttab

    Editors are supposed to check the facts before publishing, he had it for five days and didn't ask for the documents. When the article was published, the minister demanded documents and names, even said in the media that she has asked for all details. When the editor was given a chance to see all the documents he wanted to keep it for two days to put his heart to ease while at the same time refusing to commit in writing not to share with the minister. The aim was not to verify for himself the facts but to share them. The law specifies clearly the issue of protection of sources. The testimonies which were in audio and signed documents were made available to the editor at the last meeting but he didn't even want to hear them, just wanted them kept at his office for a number of days.

  • Pingback: ordanian Orphanages, the Minister of Social Affairs and the Media « News2you Weblog()

  • I see, that answers my question. Thanks!

  • Mohanned

    Dr. Kuttab,
    I read this report by chance..Can you comment?
    http://allofjo.net/web/?c=117&a=17397
    My thinking is that he was pressured to file the case..Even without reading into it, it is pretty obvious that this is just one of the usual cheap tactics..Shameful..

  • daoudkuttab

    when he sent his original letter to the editor he hid the fact that he is an
    employee of the ministry. Our information is that he had been disciplined
    and was “encouraged” to defend orphanses, we feel he was again encouraged to
    reply. this is a problem that the ministry has yet to publicly reply even
    though they have used surrogates to reply for them

  • Victoria Dickinson

    1/22/10 – USA
    Hello. Excellent article, and very, very truthful! What I want every innocent person in the Middle East to KNOW is this about what is going on here in the usa: not only have these exact horrors been happening in ALL of our orphanages since they began and are still continuing, but NOW this is happening in EVERY “family court room” in every “court house” throughout the usa! The abusers and molesters, 99% of the time, being the “fathers” and step-“mothers” who act in the exact capacity as your government and ministries via our “family” court systems against the innocent, excellent, loving biological, protective Mothers. In the usa it is a matter of the perfect collaboration of fraud, corruption, and racketeering between the judges, the attorneys, the forensic psychiatrists/psychologists, and the illegal “guardian ad litems [supposedly the counsel for the child/children = hatchet person for the batterer/molester father].”

  • Pingback: Hareega and HM King Hussein on Orphans « my treasure()

  • Omar

    I know all these events first hand , was watching and saw everything …

    All the information ARIJ and these two brave journalists reported were 100% true , and this is not all , there is much more if you dig…

    There are still abuses taking place as we speak , and everything is documented , the thing is that the orphans in the past were too scared to report these abuses, as we all know , under 18 kids have no legal right of any legal action unless their guardian , who is in this case the abuser the criminal , files it or sign on his behalf .
    So they stay in the house until they are 18 and then get kicked out. the law does not allow crimes to be reported or filed after a certain period of time which also applies to the case here…

    I really never understood the problem of the Ministry , if they are so worried about clearing their names out of this ugly mess , which I totally understand , step aside and report it to the attorney general where such reports will be investigated and the responsible party will be punished…

  • Mohanned

    This is AlJezeera's report on the issue:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDPtDiUZNhU

  • Mohanned

    This is AlJezeera's report on the issue:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDPtDiUZNhU