Children in Jordan face various forms of violence and abuse, sexual or otherwise, including child marriage, child forced labor, and corporal punishment. The National Study on Violence against Children in Jordan 2019–2020 found that 27.3 percent of children ages eight through seventeen had experienced “sexual violence” in their lifetime, most commonly the use of “obscene, shameful or indecent speech in front of a child.” The high number of children who experience such indecent language contrasts with relatively low overall reported numbers of other types of sexual abuse, such as exposure to sexual videos or images (<6 percent), sexual touching (<4 percent), or forced exposure to genitalia (<2 percent), though, as in many other countries, such abuses are thought to be under-reported. Child sexual abuse (CSA) is also thought to be more prevalent among Jordan’s sizable refugee population, who are at high risk for sexual abuse, especially child marriage.
A number of Jordanian laws center on child protection, which sometimes incorporate protections relevant to ending CSA. Most recently, the Jordanian parliament passed the Child Rights Act in late 2022. The bill aims to provide improved access to child-protection services and prohibits the exposure of children to any form of violence, abuse, or exploitation, as well as to “any forms of human trafficking, prostitution, exploitation, pornography, or any other forms of sexual abuse.” Jordan’s Penal Code criminalizes various forms of CSA and was amended in 2017 to address further sexual offenses against children and again in 2020 to address online child sexual exploitation during the pandemic, and the Information Systems and Cyber Crime Law of 2010 targets crimes related to child pornography.
A range of government and non-governmental entities bear responsibility for fighting CSA in Jordan. The most prominent government entities include the Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) and the Juvenile and Family Protection Department within the Ministry of the Interior, although others, such as the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, also play a role. Separately, the government-funded National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA), chaired by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, plays a key strategic planning role, facilitating collaborative efforts among the government, NGOs, and international actors that have an impact on CSA. Overall, however, the extent to which government efforts directly engage with the issue of CSA is unclear, since programs and planning documents—including the Executive Plan for National Priorities for Strengthening the Response to Gender-Based Violence, Domestic Violence, and Child Protection 2021–2023—rarely call out CSA specifically.
Although there is data detailing the government’s broad efforts to protect children and families more generally, budgetary commitments pertaining to combating CSA are murky. Government-wide spending is broken down in a way that highlights allocations for “Family and children,” namely under the category of “Social protection.” This amounted to an estimated JOD 5.7 million in FY 2022 and will total an estimated JOD 27.0 million from FY 2020 through FY 2024. (See Figure 1.) In FY 2022, this accounted for just 0.28 percent of all social protection funding. (See Figure 2.) While other activities relevant to CSA are likely included under the category “Social protection n.e.c.,” which totaled JOD 354.8 million in FY 2022, further details about the allocation of this funding was not specified within the analyzed budget documents. Dr. Ibrahim Aqel, director of the non-profit Institute for Family Health, acknowledged major budget transparency issues in Jordan during an interview with FP Analytics: “We’re facing an issue in Jordan of really figuring out the costing of certain programs. If you go to the public health sector, and you want to calculate the cost of service per beneficiary at a certain health center, we cannot do that. There is an issue with linking health information systems in the public health sector to costing, considering that we do not have a national health information system.”
Public Expenditures According to Functional Divisions and Groups for Fiscal Years 2020–2024
Data source: FY 2022 Budget.
FY 2022* Budget Estimates for Social Protection
Data source: FY 2022 Budget.
The MoSD is charged with providing social services and ensuring essential protections to vulnerable groups such as women and children. In 2022, 15.6 percent of MoSD’s total budget was directed toward expenses related to “Family and childhood,” which is tasked to “improve social services provided for groups in need of protection and care, including girls, children, and the elderly.” The program is allocated between JOD 2.0 million and JOD 2.7 million per year from FY 2020 through FY 2024. (See Figure 3.) Separately, the Social Defence Program—tasked to “improve the protection and social welfare services provided to juveniles and women victims of gender-based violence, victims of human trafficking, working children, people in correction and rehabilitation centers, and beggars”—is allocated between JOD 1.1 million and JOD 1.6 million annually from FY 2020 through FY 2024. Within Jordan’s budget documents, these two categories of spending are called out as “Estimated allocations for child [sic] distributed according to programs for the years 2020–2024.” However, because these categories are not broken down further into constituent issue areas or projects, their exact contribution to fighting CSA is unclear.
MoSD Estimated Allocations for Children, FY 2020–FY 2024
Data source: FY 2022 Budget – MoSD.
Elsewhere, the Ministry of Interior/Public Security plays a role as the key enforcer of Jordan’s CSA-relevant legislation due to its mandate to “protect lives, honor and money” and “prevent, discover and track down crimes and apprehend the perpetrators of crime and bring them to justice.” Within the ministry’s Public Security Directorate, the Juvenile and Family Protection Department (JFPD) has a role that is clearly relevant to countering CSA. In particular, the department is charged with investigating cases of sexual exploitation on the internet, countering child pornography, and building automated procedures to deal with domestic violence cases, among other targets. Yet, there is no detailed breakdown of how much funding the JFPD receives within the Ministry of Interior/Public Security budget, and unlike MoSD’s budget, there is no indication of spending relevant to children. Similar investigations into the budget documents for the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, which play a role in helping to prevent or respond to violence against children, revealed no mentions of funding explicitly related to CSA, nor “family,” “gender,” or “child/children” in the context of violence or abuse.
The entity with the greatest impact on the strategic direction of issues related to CSA in Jordan appears to be the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA), an independent, non-profit organization with close ties to the Jordanian government. The NCFA was established by a royal decree in 2001, is chaired by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, lists the government as one of its primary sponsors, and works closely with government ministries and departments. The NCFA seeks to improve the stability and well-being of Jordanian families and works on gender-based violence (GBV) and child protection from violence, exploitation, neglect, and abuse on the “legislative, institutional, service, and awareness levels,” including working to institutionalize professional practices for dealing with GBV, family violence, and child protection. The NCFA has played a key role in strategies and programs of varying relevance to CSA in recent years, including pushing forward Jordan’s Children Rights Act of 2022, which specifically prohibits any form of violence, abuse, or exploitation against children, as well as co-publishing an executive plan on gender-based violence, domestic violence, and child protection for FY 2021–23. The NCFA published “Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Prevention and Response to Violence in Jordan” in 2018 to guide management of GBV, family violence, and child-protection cases, including instances of sexual violence, with a particular emphasis on engaging with survivors and victims, including children. In 2017, NCFA also helped organize “Allem La Tallem,” a twelve-week social media campaign seeking to stop violence against children.
Though national-level data on the prevalence of CSA is scarce, it is apparent that CSA represents an important aspect of protecting Jordan’s children. For example, the Child Rights Act of 2022 delivers important protections to children, prohibits sexual abuse of both girls and boys, and may be followed by concomitant efforts to ensure enforcement and action. At the national level, the most relevant efforts appear to be guided by the NCFA, which is the driving force behind efforts to stop violence against children country-wide. Despite some higher-level documents that have specific relevance to CSA, such as standard operating procedures for the prevention of, and response to, violence in Jordan, most efforts related to violence against children appear to address CSA as one target among many. The Multi-sectoral National Plan of Action to End Violence against Children in Jordan 2019–2021, for example, focuses on physical violence, particularly in schools and at home, and is not focused on CSA. Likewise, the Executive Plan for National Priorities for Strengthening the Response to Gender-Based Violence, Domestic Violence, and Child Protection 2021–2023 similarly fails to mention CSA as a target issue area, while the government’s National Social Protection Strategy 2019–2025 fails to mention CSA or the abuse of children more generally, and only mentions domestic violence once.
“There has to be a strong focus and mobilization of resources on social behavioral change.”
Dr. Ibrahim Aqel, director of the non-profit Institute for Family Health
In terms of nationwide funding, the government’s commitment to counter CSA is hard to follow. Budget documents do not specify how money is allocated within relevant programming. For example, the MoSD, which plays a key role in responding to and managing cases of CSA, offers no specification of budgetary allocations beyond funds committed to the social protection of families and children and “Social defense.” Likewise, while the JFPD maintains a law enforcement focus on CSA issues, available budget documentation does not clarify the resources at its disposal. Much more detailed and transparent information is also needed on how much the government contributes to relevant non-governmental programs, such as the NCFA, as part of its overall commitment to implementing policies and laws designed to end CSA and improve child protection. Dr. Ibrahim Aqel asserted that while budgeting information is sparse, “The child protection system in Jordan is very well established and integrated.” However, one major challenge, like elsewhere, is to change attitudes. “There has to be a strong focus and mobilization of resources on social behavioral change.” Building a more complete picture of budgeting for CSA response and prevention in Jordan will be essential to tailoring a national response that appropriately resources prevention, mitigation, awareness, and enforcement.