Stabbed four times, twice in the stomach; Iman* was 23 and pregnant with her first child, when it happened. This was her brothers' reaction. She had never been married before.
“I lived in a home where there was immense pressure on a girl; everything was forbidden. And so I ran away with a boy I got to know. When I became pregnant, I was too afraid to tell anyone,” Iman tells Raseef22.
But, as fate would have it, a relative of hers would propose to Iman, and her family would accept. And so, she had to break her silence, and in a fit of rage, her brother tried to kill her.
She was taken to the hospital, where they found that the fetus had been harmed by one of the stabs. She was in her final trimester, and so it was decided that a caesarean section would be performed on her, and so she gave birth to a baby boy.
The nurses allowed her to look at him from afar, but she was denied the right to hold him, or even choose his name. He was taken to a nursing home before she could lay a finger on him, and she, in turn, was taken to Juweida Women’s Prison, while the child’s father was also taken to another prison.
There, the two of them remained, for five years, in “administrative detention”.
Despite there being no legal basis for imprisoning the mother, Jordanian authorities justify the procedure by claiming that they are protecting her from the potential risk of being killed.
Imprisoned for Their 'Protection'
Iman’s case reflects the same reality experienced by many mothers who have born children out of wedlock in Jordan. Security forces often resort to separating mother from child moments after birth. The child is then registered without the name of a father or mother, before being sent to a nursing home. The mother is then held in administrative detention under the pretext of “protecting her life from danger”.
Authorities customarily resort to such procedures with any women who are deemed “under threat”, such as the potential victims of honor crimes, in a country in which eight such crimes were documented in 2016.
Article 157 of Jordan’s Personal Status Law stipulates that a child’s parentage is registered to the mother upon birth, and that her name is listed in the records. The law moreover provides the mother with priority rights to raise the child.
Yet, there are other, contradictory laws that counteract this right, such as the Civil Affairs Law, in which Article 20 stipulates that an “illegitimate” infant is not registered under the parents’ names in a birth certificate, unless a written request is filed by both parents, or by one parent with the support of a final court ruling.
In such cases, the notary chooses the parents’ names, and any birth registered in violation of the provisions of this article with regards to citing the parents’ names is considered void.
State authorities justify the article by claiming that it is consistent with the social norms, which are unaccepting of children born out of wedlock.
The average number of infants born under their mother’s name, without knowledge or registration of their father’s names, is 70, all of whom have been sent to the Al-Hussein Social Foundation for Orphans.
Dr Fawaz Al-Ratrout, the official spokesperson of the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development, affirms that “the ministry, as an executive authority, is responsible for providing care for those children until their situation is resolved. The ministry receives the children from the security authority involved in the case.”
An Unfulfilled Dream
Mizan Law, a human rights law group, intervened on Iman’s behalf after five years of her detention. She wrote to them, expressing her wishes to get out of prison and marry the child’s father, and hoping to recover her rights to her child.
The organization provided her with legal aid to obtain an annulment for her first marriage (to her relative), and to marry the child’s father. They also concluded a reconciliation with her family after they had been estranged for the entire period of her detention.
Stabbed by her brother, detained for five years, and denied the right to see her son, all because she gave birth out of wedlock
In Jordan, women who have children outside of marriage can be imprisoned for up to 20 years under the pretext of "protecting them"
Iman believed that her release from prison would be the end of her suffering and that she would find her child and build a normal family. But this was not the case.
Her husband refused to assume parentage of their child, deeming that he had been “born of an impassioned impulsiveness”. When Iman searched for the child, the Ministry of Social Development informed her that a foster family had already taken the child. It was then that she knew that her dream was over.
“The chances that my son will be returned to me are nonexistent. His father refused to confirm his parentage, and without that I won’t be able to get him back. The only positive thing is that I know he is safe. Maybe after years, when he grows older, he will ask about me. I hope he will be able to forgive me then,” she says.
Up to 20 Years of Detention
Director of Mizan Law Eva Abu Halawa affirms that mothers who give birth out of wedlock suffer a great deal of discrimination. “They can be detained for up to 15 or 20 years under the pretext of protecting their lives, and they’re deprived of their children and the ability to provide them with their basic needs on unconvincing bases,” she says.
The legal organization has launched a program called A New Life, which helps release women from administrative detention by providing the necessary legal aid, as well as helping them regain the rights to their children. The organization had recorded some success in cases concerning proof of parentage, according to Abu Halawa.
However, the program has faced countless obstacles, most notably the fathers’ refusals to recognize their children. And so, the women remain in prison, and the children in nursing homes.
Protecting Children… From Their Mothers
Another problem that Abu Halawa points to relates to the fact that women who have born children out of wedlock are prevented from using the nurseries in prisons.
Despite there being an area specified to provide care for inmates’ children near their mothers, in order to allow them contact with each other, women who have given birth outside of marriage are denied the right to use these areas.
Though there are no specific instructions for the exclusion of children born out of wedlock, the nurseries are nonetheless bound by conditions to ensure the absence of “risk factors” for the children. Thereby, the Ministry of Social Development and the prison authorities deem the mothers as threats to their children, who must consequently be separated from them, as the child is believed to have been born of an unwanted pregnancy.
The government justifies separating the mother from her child and detaining her on the basis that they are protecting Jordanian women from a society that will not accept her. However, foreign women are subjected to the same treatment, whereby they are also detained for bearing children out of wedlock, and are only released upon an order to deport them and the children.
In certain cases, some of these women reside in Jordan illegally, such as domestic workers. This significantly complicates matters, as they first have to rectify their status in the country, and during this period, the women are denied the right to care for their children.
Linda Kalash, Director of the Tamkeen Center which provides legal aid for migrant workers, says there are thousands of female domestic workers in Jordan of different nationalities and ethnicities. In many cases, these women come from cultural backgrounds in which single mothers are socially accepted, and are not separated from their children.
“The mothers are unable to provide evidence of their children’s registration, and so are denied the right to take them back to their home countries, unless their embassies intervene on their behalf and grant them their nationality,” says Kalash.
This forces many women to refrain from having their children registered or issuing identification papers for them, fearing that they will have their children taken away from them. They care for their children in hiding, without being able to secure healthcare or education for them.
Kalash recalls the story of Mary, a Filipina domestic worker that the Tamkeen Center supported after she gave birth to a child at home. The child was fathered by a Jordanian man who refused to issue a birth certificate. When she wanted to return to the Philippines, her embassy granted the child the Filipino nationality, and she was able to take her child with her.
Over the past years, several rights organizations have issued reports condemning the administrative detention of women at risk, as well as the Jordanian National Center for Human Right, the US State Department, and the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This has pressured the government to announce the formation of a new center to shelter women at risk, rather than detaining them.
However, ultimately, such a center is little more than another prison. Moreover, the issue of separating women from their children remains, as there is no nursery nearby, and the laws do not provide allowances for children to remain with their mothers.
Even in cases where families mutually reconcile, and the couple ends up marrying after the woman escapes from prison, their children are condemned to remain in nursing or foster homes due to the absence of parental certification.
This is attributed to the dishonor perceived in bearing a child before marriage, according to a social worker, who preferred to remain anonymous.
“Thereby, there are children who live in nursing homes because they do not have proof of parentage, while their brothers or sisters live with their parents because they were registered under their parent’s names,” she says.
Such is the case with Iman. Two years after she was released from prison, after her marriage to her partner, she had another son, who is now four years old. Though she is happy with her second child, she has nonetheless been largely unhappy in her life.
Bonds have been mended with her family, after her brother spent time in prison, having been convicted on charges of attempted murder. But her guilt toward her first son weighs on her every day. She consoles herself with the thought that he is living with a family who loves him, but continues to lament the fact that he will live without her love.
The issue of childbirth out of wedlock remains controversial in Jordan, largely governed by societal attitudes that leave women exposed to murder, and children deprived of identities, with the exception of a few whose fathers deign to recognize them.
*Name changed upon request