Beyond the Typical “Slap on the Face”

Vanessa Herro

Children rights

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When someone has consciously decided to become a parent, they have automatically experienced a life changing event that has no return. However, In the case of unwanted or unintended pregnancy, taking responsibility over the bearing child is not only crucial but mandatory.

 

Unfortunately, in a world where humans are multiplying and spreading in masses, humanity is degrading. Studies and statistic around the globe have shown that millions of children are being subjected to violence, abuse and denied their rights to a safe and healthy childhood.

 

As reported by a UN study, in over 100 countries, children in schools suffer legalized corporal punishment. Moreover, in at least 30 countries sentences of beating are still being imposed on children in penal systems, and in most of the countries parents are lawfully allowed to physically punish their children. This harsh reality affects the Lebanese society as well. The official figures released by the ministry for the total number of reported cases of child abuse in Lebanon is a total of 21 cases of child abuse for the year 2001, and 22 cases in 2002. Extensive studies are being conducted currently in order to publish narrow results, taking into account that a significant number of child abuse cases still remain unreported, especially if the child is handicapped in some way and has troubles expressing himself or is traumatized by the caning incident where it is almost impossible to wheedle information out of him.  

 

But then again, even if a child did say he or she was abused, it is usually dismissed as the ranting of a spoiled child or a liar. Also, bearing in mind that the majority of child abuse cases include neglected children, who found themselves strolling the street of Beyrouth with no one to turn to, awaiting the sympathy of a kindhearted stranger or a rescue from an NGO.

 

“Every week there are reports of at least three abused children, give or take a case," confirms Rita Karem, a social worker at the Nour al-Hayat, an NGO working with abused children. In contrast to the deceitful general assumption that poverty is the major contributor to child abuse, Karem affirms, "Class and money have nothing to do with it as there are rich kids being abused”. She adds, “While reasons vary as to why someone would hit his or her child, it is the general belief in most Middle Eastern countries that is "O.K. to hit a child till he or she is blue because the mother or father had a bad or stressful day”.

 

On a more positive note, it is uplifting to acknowledge the efforts of the Ministry of Social Affairs and all officially registered NGOs in Lebanon, who are working efficiently in order to improve the system of reporting child abuse in Lebanon.

 

 According to the Lebanese constitution, a child is defined as any individual aged between 0 and 18 years, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, sponsored by UNICEF in 1989. In fact, law number 422 was the first law to be issued concerning child abuse in the history of Lebanese constitution. It was issued in 1991, date which coincides with Lebanon’s adherence to the Convention on the Rights of Child abiding by the definition of child abuse, and the goals set by the convention to help decrease all forms of maltreatment.

 

Law number 422 in its article 24 till 25 abides by the convention and defines child abuse as “any act that would expose the child to the risk of exploitation or threaten his/her health, wellbeing, morals and development.” As a matter of fact, law 422 was amended several times, the most recent draft, which was approved upon by the government, talks about creating two separate systems, one for social protection and one for legal protection, which will handle each case of child abuse on basis of severity. Law 422 clearly states that the judiciary is obliged to interfere according to “a notification presented by the child, his/her parents, caregivers, legal guardians, or the individuals responsible for him/her, social assistants, the public prosecutor, or any proclamation conveyed by an anonymous.”

 

As mentioned above, abuse is dealt with according to the severity of the incident. In cases of sexual abuse or life-threatening events, anyone should call the police (on the hotline 112) or UPEL Union for the protection of Juveniles in Lebanon (on +961-1-427973). Therefore, the informed party has the obligation to send a social worker or a police officer to investigate. They will then inform the juvenile court before further action is taken. In cases of physical abuse that are not life threatening, the reporter should call the MoSA (Ministry of Social Affairs) on the hotline 1714.

 

Reporting abuse cases usually starts by calling one of the many NGOs involved in children rights’ protection. These NGOs constitute the link between victims/their families and the legal authorities in Lebanon. The director of Kafa, an NGO renowned for the protection of women and children's rights in Lebanon, stated that incidents of child abuse could be reported anonymously by anyone via phone calls.  

 

The other less common way that the Social Welfare Institutions receive reports of abused children is through anonymous phone calls from neighbors or friends of families that are suspected of abusing their children "beyond the typical slap on the face."

 

Even though the system is present, major gaps lying at the core of the good functioning of the system remain unchanged. For instance, the number of public personnel involved is limited, their training is minimal, and their availability to receive reports ends at 4pm, when most incidents take place during nighttime when the parents are back from work. In these cases, when the situation is of utmost severity and in some cases deadly, it will be too little too late for the abused child since he/she will not have anyone to refer to.

 

Furthermore, citizens are also unaware of their right to report and access the system that currently exists but is not yet fully efficient. Besides, what contributes to the gaps of this system from a public standpoint is the lack of organization of the work of NGOs under the sponsorship of the government. In fact, half if not more, of these NGOs receive very minimal financial contribution from the MoSA.

 

In neat conclusion, reporting child abuse in Lebanon seems to be a novel promising system with the apparent work of NGOs and private hospitals. Yet, like every other imperfect system in Lebanon, there exists an inconsistency in its operation management that necessitates refinement in every aspect. It is important to know that for a highly efficient process of reporting, the child is the key target to inform and empower for starting the chain of action. Projects such as the kidproof program must establish a yearly ritual for raising awareness among our youth. Awareness campaigns must be financed by the government to help spread the message all across the country, hoping that it would resonate in every home that is housing an abused child where he/she would be initiated into a world where they are welcome to start playing happy records again. Not to mention, the importance of increasing the exposure of this omnipresent issue prevailing in our society, with an aim to start a social stigma in order to understand the need of awareness and change. 

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