Protecting children and adolescents in the justice system

Rewriting the future

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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.

It is not just about the numbers: it is all about the impact

While numbers play a major role in monitoring the extent of work efforts, they can only provide a limited picture of the real impact and long-term change affecting the lives of many individuals.


Through its services, JCLA empowers children who are abused to seek help, it informs them of their rights and duties, and it provides parents, caregivers, teachers and other relevant figures with the tools to protect children and act in their best interest.


“I used to hide to eat my lunch for fear that the other kids would beat me and steal it from me. Now nobody beats me anymore, I am strong like the others”.

Like Rami, the over 10,000 children reached through anti-bullying awareness activities between 2018-2020, signed a pledge committing to never bully another and report bullies to their teachers at school. In addition to creating a conducive environment at school, this is a major step towards preventing delinquent behavior. In fact, JCLA noticed that several of its younger beneficiaries facing criminal charges were bullies or bullied in the past. By informing parents and school personnel to spot bullying and take appropriate measures, JCLA contributes to the prevention of criminal actions. JCLA also trains teachers and public schools’ personnel on referral and reporting mechanisms should they suspect cases of child abuse or harassment.


In terms of legal services, the impact of JCLA is best shown by returning to the protagonists of this chapter, to glimpse into how their stories were rewritten.


Sami, after spending 9 years in an orphanage, was reunited with his father, who could finally take him home and watch him fall asleep. In Jordan, children born out of wedlock are placed under the custody of the Ministry of Social Development, as parents are deemed unfit to care for them. While this could at times be the case, the best interest of the child is sometimes lost between complex regulations and legal procedures. At JCLA, we acknowledge the gaps of our imperfect system, and take action to rectify it.


To Mahmoud and Omar, the 14-year-old twins, our assistance meant a not-guilty verdict, saving them from years in a juvenile detention center. In the absence of a comprehensive and clearly defined system for alternative sanctions, children doing time in juvenile centers often find it challenging to reintegrate into society. This fuels the cycle of recidivism, which is likely to continue through their adult life.


In the case of Lina, JCLA not only helped her get divorced from her abusive husband but earned her a significant financial compensation which allowed her to open her own business. Economic vulnerability often drives families to marry off their daughters at a young age. By helping Lina generate her own source of income, we ensured that her financial sustainability is dependent on nobody but herself.


After 17 years of invisibility and fear of being stopped and arrested by the police, Khaled was referred to JCLA. His mother, when signing her marriage contract, did not use her official name, and his father left soon after she became pregnant. With no means to either prove or rectify the marriage certificate or the paternity of the baby, Khaled’s mother never registered him as a Jordanian citizen. JCLA proved its paternity and finally Khaled obtained a birth certificate. He is now taking professional classes while working under contract. Documentation issues affect Jordanians and non-Jordanians alike, with the same result: children are stripped of their rights, because they are invisible in the system. Through our intervention, we ensure that all children, no matter their economic vulnerability, enjoy equal rights and protection under the law.


In Ahmad’s case, JCLA intervened when the judge had already sentenced him to five years in jail. We appealed the decision arguing that Ahmad’s statements were not admissible in court, as he was questioned without the presence of an adult. The judge annulled the sentence and Ahmad went back to complete his education. The prosecution of national security crimes, such as terrorism and drugs trafficking, often does not differentiate between juveniles and adults. Through its intervention, not only did JCLA free a child, but also created a precedent for strategic litigation.


These stories are not dissimilar from the other thousands of children reached by JCLA. The protection and legal empowerment of children and adolescents is essential to build a society where citizens are accountable. Through its services, JCLA offers alternative future scenarios for vulnerable children, in the effort to achieve an accountable and just society.

Together, we help shape justice

At JCLA, we believe that real change cannot be achieved by any organization alone. For this reason, JCLA has been working together with its partners in civil society for more than ten years, not only by leveraging its network when leading access to justice campaigns, but also offering its expertise to strengthen civil society efforts from a legal perspective.


JCLA is part of the Network for Children Deprived of Family Ties, where multiple civil society actors work together to assist children born out of wedlock and orphans. Through its active partners’ network and referral mechanism, JCLA is able to identify trends and create a safety net for children relying on civil society actors. JCLA is also part of the Coalition of Children of Jordanian Mothers, advocating for equal rights for children born to foreign fathers and Jordanian women (who are not granted the right to Jordanian nationality). Further, JCLA actively engages with schools, universities and youth centers to disseminate legal awareness on child protection, widening and strengthening children’s safety net.

Placing people’s needs at the top of the policy agenda

The engagement and participation of government and public institutions is paramount to the accomplishment of long-term sustainable change. For this reason, JCLA has built strong partnerships with several stakeholders to achieve the establishment of a legal system that is effective, inclusive and accountable towards vulnerable groups.


JCLA invests significant efforts into the development and enhancement of child justice. As part of these efforts, JCLA is a strong advocate for the enactment of the Child Rights Law. An appointed member of the Child Rights Law Drafting Committee, JCLA presents legislative proposals and recommendations to produce a law that holds the best interest of the child at its foremost priority. In a country with approximately 76,000 working children, JCLA leverages its position in the Child Labor Law Committee to advocate for legislation that reduces labor for children below the age of 16 and regulates it for those above.


At the global level, JCLA periodically presents shadow reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, contributing to push for change through the international community.


In addition to its legislative work, JCLA also focuses on harmful practices for children such as early marriage. The complexity of early marriage calls for a holistic approach, which JCLA has adopted to advocate for legislation that is less lenient towards granting marriage licenses for children below 18.


Enhancing the juvenile criminal system is also at the top of JCLA’s agenda. JCLA holds training for the Juvenile Police on child protection and rights and enjoys an active partnership with the Ministry of Social Development. Through its cooperation with MoSD, JCLA builds the capacity of its case and social workers whose reports and recommendations are essential for lawyers to argue cases in court. Further, JCLA is the first national NGO to have staff permanently located at a juvenile detention center. This has allowed JCLA to develop a concrete strategy to enhance the center’s policies and practices, that will be duplicated and cascaded to other detention facilities.


Adopting a bottom-up holistic approach, JCLA relies on its in-depth understanding of the legal context to concretely affect long-term decisions aimed at protecting children according to their best interest.