AMMAN, 6 August 2004 – The sign on the brand-new police office here in Jordan’s capital reads ‘Public Security Directorate’ – not a phrase which most people would normally associate with child rights. And yet the ‘Family Protection Department’ (FPD) of the police deals with exactly that.
The “Family Protection Department” (FPD) started out in 1998 as a mere unit in a police station. Today it is a full fledged police department, part of the Public Security Directorate.
The reason for the FPD’s existence is simple: The duty of the police is to protect the community, and those who need the most protection are women and children. The FPD was created to serve children and women who have been sexually abused or who have suffered domestic violence.
Sensitivity towards children is crucial. For example, children’s legal testimonies are recorded on video, in order to spare them from having to endure potentially painful or traumatic hearings and court appearances.
A case of possible abuse
|Lieutenant Juman Mahmoud interviews Tarek (not his real name) in the Family Protection Department in Amman.|
The boy is only ten years old. He has visible scratches on his neck. His mother says her son was sexually abused by her husband and the boy’s uncle.
Officers from the FPD interview Tarek according to well-defined guidelines. A 15-minute interview takes place in a room equipped with discreet video cameras and microphones, but also furnished with children’s books and toys.
Lieutenant Jum’a Mahmoud handles the interview, while his colleague in the room next door monitors the proceedings and suggests questions via an earpiece in Jum’a’s ear. The first few questions aim at creating a relaxed atmosphere: “Do you like sports?” “What would you like to do when you grow up?”
As the officers proceed in trying to learn what happened, things become more difficult and the little boy’s hands become more agitated. Still, the police officers are not entirely convinced. “His testimony is a bit too polished, too fast,” says Lieutenant Jum’a. “And we did not see the usual withdrawal symptoms associated with such cases.” To be on the safe side, they decide that the boy should stay with his mother tonight, and that the father should be questioned immediately to get his side of the story.
Progress and international notice
Dr. Hani Jahshan, head of the forensic unit, shows the latest colboscope, a medical instrument able to show, in cases of rape against girls and women, whether the hymen has been broken. “While the very detailed digitized photos are not admissible in court,” Dr. Jahsan says, “I base my reports on such proof, which is of course crucial for the prosecution’s case.” UNICEF financed the acquisition of the colboscope and the associated video equipment and computers.
With some 1,187 cases reported last year, the FPD’s work is deemed very successful. Authorities remain concerned about “the dark number” –the unreported cases, especially within the family. Still, the Department has come a long way since 1998, when only 295 cases were reported. It now covers almost half of Jordan’s twelve governing regions. In order to cover the rest of the country, more funding is needed.
Other nations are starting to notice the work of the FPD, as the programme’s reputation spreads beyond Jordan’s border. Two Jordanian police officers were sent to the conflict area of Darfur, Sudan, in July 2004 to guide the local police on how to treat traumatized and abused children.
It was not always easy when the Family Protection Department was first created. “Some families thought we would interfere, others thought this concept was too foreign, but now the majority of people support us,” explains the head of the FPD, Colonel Fadel al-Humoud. “We have to maintain the right balance and avoid unnecessary intrusion. Otherwise a family’s reputation may be destroyed. In the end we all benefit. The police receive more truthful accounts, which facilitate successful prosecutions and encourage crime reporting. And most of all, children are treated in a supportive way and receive a better service, which helps in their rehabilitation.”