After 24 years of deliberation, the Children's Rights Law in Jordan was finally referred to the House of Representatives to complete the legislative process. However, as soon as it was raised, it provoked a great deal of controversy and misunderstanding. Many considered the bill an attempt to eradicate the Jordanian family head system and strip children of their families; some even said that the bill incites children to leave their religion.
In opposition, others welcomed the bill and described it as a positive step to promote children’s rights, although it is still insufficient and needs several amendments.
First and foremost, it is crucial to state that most provisions of the bill are not new. They exist in many previous laws, such as the Personal Status Act (provisions related to the age of majority), alimony and custody rights, and the Education Law (provisions related to obligatory education), among many others.
However, the bill included new rights for the child in terms of health care, education, and entertainment, as well as protection from forced labour, beggary, and addiction. The bill also expanded the umbrella of legal aid for children.
When reviewing the bill, we see that it does not refer to any practice that may lead to the separation of children from their families. Article (8) of the bill guarantees the respect of children’s right to their private life and considers that any illegal intervention of his family is a violation of the aforementioned law.
The bill also considers the rights and duties of parents, as it stipulates: “Considering the rights and duties of the parents or those who replace them and under the legislation in force, no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.”
Article (12) of the bill protects the child from poverty and enables the family to play the primary role in raising the child, as it stipulates: “Every child has the right to an adequate standard of living and protection from poverty. The Ministry of Social Development, in cooperation with the competent authorities, is responsible for setting the necessary policies and programs to secure the right of all children to basic social care, and to enable the family to perform its primary role in raising, educating and providing the child with the necessary care to ensure his full normal growth.”
The bill cannot, under any circumstances, bypass the role of the family or marginalize it, as the constitution guarantees the preservation of the family’s entity and the strengthening of familial ties and values. A provision of the law cannot contradict the constitution.
Article (6/4) of the Jordanian constitution stipulates: “The family is the basis of society, the core of which shall be religion, morals and patriotism; the law shall preserve its legitimate entity and strengthen its ties and values.”
Some people believe that the bill will incite children to leave their religion, however, this involves a deep-rooted misunderstanding. The bill did not include any reference to such claims. The article that is misunderstood in this context is Article (7), which states: “With due regard to the legislation in force, the child shall have the right to freedom of expression; either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice. The views of the child shall be considered according to his age and degree of maturity.”
In fact, the article did not create a new provision, as the constitution already guarantees freedom of expression. The article only specified the form of freedom of expression that suits children.
The bill considers the privacy of Jordanian society and respects its religious views, which is emphasized in Article (5), which stipulates: “The child has the right to be cared for and to have the necessary conditions for his or her upbringing in all aspects of life; a healthy upbringing that respects freedom, dignity, humanity, and religious and social values.”
Moreover, the bill considers that giving the child a name that does not contradict religious beliefs is one of his or her rights, as it stipulates in Article (6): “It is not permissible for a child’s name to be humiliating or insulting to his or her dignity or be contrary to religious beliefs or social values or prejudice the public order.”
As for healthcare, the bill gives children rights that were not guaranteed in the relevant laws. It entrusts the Ministry of Health with the responsibility to provide health services to uninsured children in emergency and life-threatening situations and primary health care free of charge. The bill also ensures the establishment of specialized centres for the treatment and rehabilitation of children in cases of addiction to narcotics, psychotropic substances, or volatile substances, within the limits of their capabilities.
As for education, the bill obligates parents to enroll their children in school each year during compulsory education periods and entrusts the Ministry of Education to prevent children from dropping out of school, as well as provide them with comprehensive programs related to child development.
The bill prohibits the economic exploitation of children, such as forced labour and begging, guarantees children their right to entertainment–a crucial right to enhance their mental health and develop their abilities–and asserts their right to a safe traffic environment.
Despite the generally positive nature of the bill, many observations should not be overlooked–especially the provisions related to child rights in national legislation.
It would be better to integrate all the provisions related to child rights in this draft; this is to avoid conflict between the different legal provisions.
In addition, the bill did not specify time frames for activating most of its articles in as it does in Article (10), which states the commencement of implementing children’s access to primary health care within two years and the completion of the process within ten years. This would further complicate the application of the draft.
It is important to fill in the gaps related to leaving some prohibited behaviours without accountability mechanisms or penalties for their violation, such as dropping out of school, economic exploitation of children, school violence, and many others.
One of the drawbacks to the bill is that it includes some general and broad phrases. For instance, Article (19) provides for the right to movement and a safe traffic environment but does not set any specifics for it. The question here is whether it is possible at all to apply this provision in isolation from the provision of a safe traffic environment for all members of society.
Concerning health care, it would have been better to provide children with free health insurance instead of covering only some of their health needs.
It is safe to say that the Children's Rights bill in Jordan is a positive step, but it needs a great deal of refinement and amendment. It also poses a real challenge to the government in its implementation, considering the newly guaranteed rights, which require directives and decisions to apply.
The implementation includes accountability mechanisms and clear and workable timelines. Surely, everyone has the right to express their opinions regarding the bill, but a careful and calm reading of its text can overturn many of the widely held prejudices.