The National Conference on Child Protection in Jordan, carrying the title “We Have Hope”, was held by the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as part of the “Enhancement of the Protective Environment of Syrian and Jordanian Children” project, on October 4, 2021. The conference enjoyed the wide participation of stakeholders, specialists, representatives of local and international civil society, and legal experts who presented the situation of children during and after the Corona pandemic, and the extent to which the concerned authorities responded to their need for protection.
The conference shed light on two main aspects: the governance structure and the latest legislative and legal developments in the framework of child protection, and the mechanisms of psychological and social child protection, cash assistance and social services. It focused on the need to review and develop legislation, regulations, and influential legislation for children’s wellbeing, as well as for complementary services provided to protect children, which work to address the psychological and social effects of COVID-19, the impact of the mitigation measures on child labor and other economic consequences and how COVID-19 affected children’s access to justice.
ARDD Executive Director Samar Muhareb reviewed the situation regarding child protection and the findings of the report “Children’s Access to Justice during COVID-19: Challenges Facing Children, and Children in Conflict with the Law in Jordan”, noting that the conference coincides with the end of the project, which was implemented by ARDD over several years. She gave an overview of the challenges posed by COVID-19, such as the increase in crimes targeting children, including the spread of drugs, physical and sexual abuse, and school dropouts, in addition to weak supervision and follow-up in areas where children are in need of legal support.
The project “Enhancing the Protective Environment for Syrian and Jordanian Children”, implemented by ARDD in partnership with OCHA, aimed to contribute to strengthening the protective environment for children at risk, including children with disabilities who live in the most vulnerable communities and in those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, by providing them with legal services and monetary support.
Discussing the framework of child protection, Amani Salah, head of the Humanitarian Funding Unit at OCHA, said: “Jordan enjoys a good legislative system for child protection, and capabilities are available to provide such protection, and we need real programs that can be implemented sustainably.” Salah also commended ARDD for being a national civic organization that works with great professionalism and dedication, and that exerts great efforts in the field of human rights and pioneering community work.
Regarding the child protection mechanism, Secretary-General of the National Council for Family Affairs Dr. Muhammad Miqdadi pointed out that juvenile protection tools need to be further developed to keep pace with the developments of the society and geographical expansion. Miqdadi said that, according to a report on the conditions of Jordanian families, 42% of families in Jordan believe that violence within the family is an internal matter and should not be interfered with by any party outside the family.
On the mechanism of juvenile protection, Director of the Family and Juvenile Protection Department Colonel Firas Al-Rasheed said that Jordan established quite some time ago a family protection system that works to provide social, health, and educational services to families. He pointed out that Jordan has worked to improve legislation and policies related to child protection, and to raise the degree of awareness within the community in this field, stressing the need to raise the parents’ awareness about the need to report any harm to children. “We conducted an internal restructuring of the administration and developed tools to respond to challenges during the pandemic, and we also raised the efficiency of reporting tools through social media,” Al-Rasheed said.
With regard to child labor, Linda Kalash, a member of Jordan National NGOs Forum (JONAF) and executive director of the Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, said that some legislation is on paper only, and does not adequately protect children. She also noted that the last survey on child labor was in 2016, which means that there is a major problem in counting the number of working children, and called for expanding the social protection umbrella, especially for those under the age of 16. According to Kalash, organized begging has become part of the crime of human trafficking, but the word organized is not defined in the law, which means that many acts may not be considered begging because of this problem. A child trying to sell a box of tissues is not considered a beggar, but a working child.
Meanwhile, JONAF member and President of the Jordanian Association for the Care of Juveniles and Orphans Mufida Al-Zawahra said the need to increase civil society funding to improve health, psychological, educational, and legal services provided to children. She also stressed the need to raise parents’ awareness about child protection and for community solidarity to ensure the protection of people, especially in refugee camps.
Head of the UNICEF Child Protection Unit Mariyampillai Mariyaselvam spoke about the rights and protection mechanism of children, noting that children faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially violence against them and high rates of child labor. He said “we were not prepared for this crisis at all” and stressed the importance of building the capacities of protection service providers in the official sector and supporting organizations to protect children and safeguard their rights”.
Mariyaselvam added that UNICEF believes in the need for an integrated national system that works to develop a system for the comprehensive protection of children and includes all sectors. He pointed out that UNICEF is working with the Jordanian government to improve child protection through three pillars: harmonizing legislation with international standards, improving the quality of services provided in this regard, and working with communities to bring about change at the community level.
Lubna Al-Kinda, co-chair and representative of the UNHCR cash assistance working group, spoke about the need to allocate a fund for children’s resilience after the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that during the pandemic, the working group faced difficulties in providing cash assistance due to closures and comprehensive bans, and it was difficult to provide support to abused children in their environment where their abuser lives. She stressed that cash assistance is not provided separately from psychological support and that her group is working to imaging new scenarios in order to be able to address future challenges.
Stressing the importance of providing psychological and social services to children, Director of Business Development and Communication at the Hope Project Farah Samawi said that “children were more vulnerable in the Arab region”, and that, “during Corona, there are about 40 million children suffering from trauma and difficulties in the world.” She pointed out that many children undergo psychological crises, with a problem that is compounded by a severe shortage of psychiatrists and the inability to access services dealing with this. Samawi said that the Hope Project organizes different activities to help children overcome these traumas and “write their story again”, saying: “We do not only provide knowledge to children, but we give them tools and skills to help them.”
Eva Al-Assaf, a community leader from among Syrian refugees, presented her observations regarding the social services provided to the child, stressing that children went through difficulties during the pandemic, especially having to experience distant education and those material difficulties, which fell on the shoulders of both parents and children, meant that families were unable to provide modern equipment for learning.
JONAF member and CEO of Durrat Al-Manal for Development and Training Manal Al-Wazani stressed the importance of achieving an integrative approach to humanitarian work, the need for concerted efforts on the part of the civil society’s various sectors, and for cooperation with official and donor agencies, especially when it comes to funding, highlighting the role of civil society, of local organizations in reaching affected groups.
The attendees stressed the importance of having all parties continue the dialogue, of strengthening locality and coordination with regard to child protection, and the need to allocate a budget and come up with a national plan that is in line with international conventions, starting with passing the child law draft. They also stressed the importance of providing data and numbers to know the extent of the problems facing children and child protection, of effecting change at the community and family level, to help prevent violence against children, as well as of building and strengthening the competencies of protection and care service providers.