Children in Conflict with the Law:A chance to be born again! [Archives:2004/749/Culture]

June 24 2004
Lola Saeed Ali
Lola Saeed Ali
Samples of drawings by children in the Juvenile Center
Samples of drawings by children in the Juvenile Center
Handicrafts made by the Center children
Handicrafts made by the Center children
Interviewed by Nadia al-Sakkaf
Yemen Times – Aden

Lola Saeed Ali is the Head of the Juvenile Center affiliated to the Social Guidance Office in Aden. She is a teacher and a sociological superintendent in the Ministry of Education since 1987. She graduated from the College of Education in Aden, specialized in philosophy and social sciences, and she attended a number of courses in social services, human rights and social care and guidance in addition to courses in general health and first aid.

Q: Do you find dealing with children in conflict with the law difficult and different from your previous experience with school children?
A: Yes and no. My work as social superintendent in schools required that I face and solve many problems and issues of students, both males and females. Some of those issues were critical and required very sensitive care and specialized attention. Although many people and unfortunately even school principals do not know the extreme value of the social care teacher in their schools, his or her job is quite important for the welfare of the students and their success and personality building. However, I find that dealing with my children – as I like to call these children in conflict with the law in the Juvenile Center – different and relatively more difficult because those children have certain particularities and are much smarter and more intelligent than normal children.
They are unfortunate children who have been subjected to certain environments and circumstances to which they objected and wanted to change, yet due to misguidance they acted in illegal ways to change their reality.

Q: So what does the Center do for those children? And who supports the Center?
A: The main purpose of this Center is to rehabilitate and educate those children so that they can later integrate into society and become useful members of their communities. Currently we have 17 children in the Center ranging between the ages of 10 to 16 years old. They are sent to us from police stations, Juvenile Courts or the Juvenile Attorney. Most of them have come to us for shop lifting, and small thefts. Other crimes include begging, misconduct in public places and fighting. Most of them stay a day or two until their issues are solved and some are sentenced to stay with us longer, according to their crimes.
This current center does not have much room or enough facilities to accommodate a large number of children. We only have two permanent staff and two volunteers, whilst a number of social workers, health and psychological specialists visit us regularly to assist in rehabilitating those kids. The social workers and specialists come to us from the Yemeni Mental Health Association, the Mental Health Hospital in Aden, Department of Social Services at the College of Arts and Psychological Sciences Department of University of Aden. We receive support from UNICEF, Al-Shariqa Association through the Social Development Fund, Save the Children (Rada Barnen), The Military and Economic Foundation, Ministry of Health's Office in Aden and the Association for the Disabled, which is the association in charge of this center.
The moment we receive a child who was caught breaking the law we register the case, and record the personal details and the offense and deal with the child carefully and individually, until he is in a condition that would allow him to mix with the current children in the Center. This is because when they come to us they are generally depressed and overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. We try to calm them down and assure them then we hand him clean clothes, toiletries and show them to their bed and introduce them to the rest of the children.
We arrange with the social and psychological specialists to sit with the minor and investigate his health, mental and psychological conditions to decide further treatment if needed and his course of rehabilitation.
The social activities and education depends on the report by the specialists, and according to which he joins a defined group in the center. Unfortunately we just have space for 20 children at this center, and that is why other than the individual sessions most of the activities are general and common.
We provide the children with education, training them to do handicrafts as we take them to study carpentry regularly and they have made beautiful small chairs and round nursery tables. We provide them with entertainment as they are integrated into trips with school children and also on their own. They are taught to draw and express themselves in drawing. We teach them good behavior and prayer and how to respect others. In general we try to build their character again and give them confidence in order to integrate them back into society.

Q: From your experience, what makes those children misbehave and break the law?
A: Those children are victims of harsh circumstances, poverty and family disputes. Poverty is one of the most common causes for their misdemeanors. Family circumstances play a very significant role also. Most of those children have separate parents or have unstable families, and in many cases it is their parents that push them onto the streets for begging or for theft. When they are released from the Center, many of those children refuse to go back to their families. Their characters have been modified and are made proper to the extent that they refuse to go back to the negative circumstances that drove onto them the wrong path in the first place. We do not have the capability, resources or the authorities to help whole families, but we try to maintain the change that was created in our children through continuous contact with them, even though they are no longer obliged to stay in the Center.
Our capacity is very little here, and there are hundreds of other children in need of such help and there is no similar center for female children in conflict with the law. We have new premises that are designed to accommodate more than 200 children, and are divided into two buildings, one for males and the other for females. However, it lacks electricity and we are unable to move there because of this reason. The male section is fully furnished and if electricity is connected then we can move instantly and the children would have better life and we could help others also. We still need to furnish the female section though, but it is very frustrating that it's been three years since we requested electricity to be installed in the new premises, but in vain.