Custody case raises questions about rehabilitating abused children [Archives:2008/1156/Local News]

May 19 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, May 16 ) The Sana'a? Appeals Court is witnessing these days harsh sessions to determine the fate of a ten-year-old girl, whose parents appealed to get custody of her back.

Last December, Judge Aferah Badwilan ruled that custody of “T” be taken from her parents and given to an orphanage in Al-Saleh organization. The sentence came after the girl's claim that she had been forced by her father to commit burglary and her accusation that her parents mistreated her, said lawyer Shatha Muhammad Nasir.

According to the sentence, T will spend three years in the orphanage before being released. “Well, we are not treating T as a criminal. We are protecting her from her bad family and any kind of instigation to do bad things. Keeping her away from her family is better for her in order to have a better life,” said Aferah Badwilan, the juvenile court judge.

However, T's parents appealed to the court immediately after they heard the sentence. “My daughter is too young to be taken from her family, and I want her back home with me,” T's father Saeed said.

On March 18 the appeals court reopened the case to hear the parent's plea.

However, Judge Badwilan stated that “T will not go to her family as long as their treatment of her remains bad. Even after she finishes her period in Al-Saleh, she will stay there if her parents are not qualified to protect her.”

According to Article 24 of the 1992 Juvenile's Law, modified in 1997 by Article 26 of the same law, the government can take custody of a child and give it to another “trustworthy party who can take care of the child.”

“We are trying to protect [T] as much as we can by the law, as she is still young and not too late to be changed, and stop her parents to continue forcing her to do illegal things,” Badwilan said.

The story

The case began in November 2007, when T went to the police to confess that she was forced by her family to steal her neighbors gold. After she took the gold, she claimed that she was beaten by her father, who refused to give her money or a share of the stolen gold.

The ten-year-old claimed that she felt guilty and “wanted to go to heaven,” so she confessed, especially because it was the first time that her parents forced her to steal.

T's father, who lives in Sana'a, denied the charges against him by saying, “I never beat my daughter, and her mother and I never told her to go and steal.”

According to Yemeni law, a suspected person cannot accuse another, so for this reason T's testimony against her parents was not acceptable, as there was no evidence against them and no witnesses, said Shatha, who added, “Her parents should definitely be in jail instead of her because they are the real culprits, but because there is no evidence against them they are free.”

The juvenile court and the lawyer agreed that T's parents are not qualified to retain custody of T “as they are forcing her by torture or beating to steal.”

“The law intervenes to stop families who mistreat their children or compel their children to break the law by taking custody from them,” said Badwilan,

Common illegal activities some parents compel their children into include forcing the child to carry out crimes like stealing, engaging in prostitution, or exposing the child to any kind of sexual abuse.

Parents who force children under 14 into crime are jailed for an average of three to six years, said Badwilan.

“For example, [forcing the child into] prostitution will result in a minimum sentence of five years in jail and will sometimes result in the death penalty, according to Articles 203 and 280 in the juvenile law,” noted Badwilan.

However, she pointed out that there is a lack of resources and places that can take care of children who are victims of parental violence and abuse.

“It is time that the government must give some attention to these poor victims. So far there isn't any special program in Yemen for rehabilitating children who are exposed to violence and abuse,” she said, adding that there are many cases in Yemen which need to be investigated.