- The opening of Dar Amneh shelter for women at risk is a significant step, but more action is needed
- Women detained without charge or trial for leaving home without male family members’ permission or for a relationship outside marriage
- Women taken by the police for “virginity tests”
- Unmarried women forced to give up “illegal” babies
Jordanian authorities must stop colluding with an abusive male “guardianship” system to control women’s lives and limit their personal freedoms, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.
Imprisoned women, stolen children: policing sex, marriage and pregnancy in Jordan documents how women accused of leaving home without permission or having sex outside marriage risk detention and humiliating “virginity tests” if male family members complain to the authorities. Women pregnant outside marriage also face forcible separation from their newborn children.
“The time has now come to end the detention and ill-treatment of women simply for disobeying their male guardian or transgressing gender norms” – Heba Morayef.
“The Jordanian government should urgently address these shameful violations that national women’s organisations have been battling for decades, starting with the zealous use of detention powers by provincial governors, and the discriminatory male guardianship system that allows adult women to be arrested for leaving home without permission,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Over the past several years, the government has adopted several important reform measures to address gender-based violence, including through the opening of the Dar Amneh shelter for women at risk, but the time has now come to end the detention and ill-treatment of women simply for disobeying their male guardian or transgressing gender norms.”
Amnesty International interviewed a total of 121 people in Jordan between June 2018 and October 2019 for the report. The organisation also met with 10 governmental officials in February 2019 and shared key research findings with the Prime Minister. The Jordanian government’s response, received on 14 October 2019, is provided as an annex to the report.
Imprisoned for disobeying male authority
Provincial governors in Jordan misuse a draconian piece of legislation, the Crime Prevention Law, to administratively detain scores of women at any one time. The Prime Minister’s office’s response to Amnesty International stated that there are 149 women in administrative detention, and that 1,259 women had been released from administrative detention over the first six months of 2019. They are detained for a number of reasons including being “absent” from home without their male guardian’s permission and sex outside marriage (zina).
“The Jordanian government should urgently address these shameful violations that national women’s organizations have been battling for decades, starting with the zealous use of detention powers by provincial governors, and the discriminatory male guardianship system that allows adult women to be arrested for leaving home without permission” – Heba Lorayef.
The Prime Minister’s office told Amnesty International that 85 women have so far been administratively detained in 2019 for zina, but denied that women were ever imprisoned for “absence”, unless they were also suspected of an additional offence.
However, Amnesty International’s documentation and the work of Jordanian lawyers shows that governors order the detention women for “absence”, often based solely on the request of the guardian.
In February 2019, Amnesty International visited Juweideh prison, the main women’s prison in Jordan, and met 22 women jailed without charge or trial who said they were arrested for “absence” or accused of zina. Most said they had been imprisoned for months and were waiting for a male family member to “bail” them out. As recently as September 2019, informed sources confirmed to Amnesty International that at least 30 women remained detained in Juweideh for “absence” and zina.
Almost all described fleeing abusive environments, or said they ran away after their guardian blocked their choice of marriage partner. According to Jordanian law, women under the age of 30 require the consent of their male guardian (normally their father, brother or uncle) to get married.
*Sawsan told Amnesty International she had been jailed for over a year after her father complained to the authorities that she had run away with a man. In fact, she had run away to escape his abuse.
“I was stopped on the street in Amman and the police asked me for my ID. I didn’t have it, so they said I had to come to their station, but when I got there they found a warrant for my arrest because I was ‘absent’. The two police officers there beat me… I was taken to the governor’s deputy in [location withheld]. He said I would go to Juweideh prison until my father bails me out,” she said.
Four women that Amnesty International met in, or after their release from, administrative detention said hospital staff called the police because they were pregnant outside of marriage.
*Ola, in her twenties, explained:
“I got pregnant and tried to marry the man. But the marriage wasn’t approved because I have no guardian. My parents are dead, and I just have younger sisters, no brothers… I went to hospital and gave birth. The hospital asked if I was married and I said no, so then they called the police. That’s how I ended up here.”
Two unmarried pregnant women separately said they were being held in administrative detention until they gave birth so the authorities could collect DNA evidence from their baby. This was because the alleged father wanted to exonerate himself from zina accusations.
Positive steps, but ongoing concerns
Ministry of Interior officials told Amnesty International in meetings in February 2019 that governors detain women for “absence” and zina for their own protection, as their family members may want to kill them. They added that the newly established Dar Amneh shelter would end “protective custody”.
Civil society organizations have widely credited Dar Amneh for reducing the numbers of women at risk in administrative detention. As of mid-September 2019, the facility had hosted 75 women. However, as noted above, Dar Amneh has not ended the practice of women being detained for “absence” and zina, many of whom appear to be detained to punish and coerce them to return to their male guardian.
Women are also at risk of being prosecuted for the crime of zina, which carries a prison sentence of 1-3 years. While both men and women may be prosecuted if their spouse complains to the authorities, a woman can also be prosecuted following a complaint by her male guardian. This gives male family members another tool to punish and control women.
*Rana, in her mid-twenties, told Amnesty International that she was arrested and prosecuted for zina after she ran away with a man she loved but wasn’t permitted to marry, and her father pursued a case against her.
Humiliating ‘virginity tests’
Unmarried women detained for “absence” told Amnesty international that they were taken by police to do a “virginity test”. This is an invasive examination performed under the unscientific belief that it can determine if the woman has had vaginal intercourse and violates the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment under international law.
*Hanan, aged around 20, told Amnesty International she had fled her abusive home on three occasions with her sister and explained:
“Every time we ran away, when we were arrested the police would take us to the hospital and my father would insist that they do the virginity tests on [us]. We agreed to it each time, as we knew we had to show our father that we were virgins. Family Protection [police] made it very clear anyway, if our father asks us to do the test, we have to do it. It is his right”.
“The use of ‘virginity tests’ by the police in Jordan reinforces a discriminatory idea that male family members have a right to monitor and control women’s sexuality. Such unlawful practices must end in all circumstances” – Heba Morayef.
Some women described being ordered to submit to the tests by Family Protection or family members. Even in the absence of obvious forms of coercion, women who are in detention cannot give free consent.
“The use of ‘virginity tests’ by the police in Jordan reinforces a discriminatory idea that male family members have a right to monitor and control women’s sexuality. Such unlawful practices must end in all circumstances,” said Heba Morayef
Cruel forced removal of ‘illegal babies’
Women who are pregnant outside marriage face the added risk that their child will be forcibly taken into state care. While the Prime Minister’s office told Amnesty International that a child is only removed where he or she is assessed to be at-risk, women’s rights activists and lawyers told Amnesty International the opposite: that Family Protection take the children of unmarried women to Ministry of Social Development care homes as a matter of institutional practice, in the absence of individualised assessment.
Five women who gave birth while unmarried told Amnesty International that their newborn children had been taken away by police without their consent. A Ministry of Social Development-run kindergarten in Juweideh prison allowing women to keep young children with them excludes “illegal babies”.
At best, unmarried women can seek to be reunited with their children as a foster parent.
Two migrant domestic workers told researchers they gave birth at home to prevent their child being taken away from them. An NGO told Amnesty International they knew of 20 such cases. Unmarried women struggle to register their children’s birth and gain legal identity for them.
“Forcible removal of children from unmarried mothers amounts to torture and must immediately stop” – Heba Morayef.
A woman who married an abusive partner, who had raped her, in order to register her children said she did so on the advice of an NGO, given her lack of other options.
*Amy told Amnesty International: “I didn’t want to marry [my husband] but I was advised to do so. I am worried one day he will beat me to death. But I have no choice, I must stay with him. The lawyer said I had to marry him so I can register the [children].”
Heba Morayef said: “Sadly, we have documented several cases of unmarried women who became pregnant as a result of rape, who were then imprisoned, forcibly separated from their child or denied birth registration.
“Forcible removal of children from unmarried mothers amounts to torture and must immediately stop. Instead of actively contributing to the stigma attached to children born outside of marriage, the authorities must work to eliminate it and help unmarried women who want to bring up their children.”
Urgent need for reforms
Amnesty International is calling on the Jordanian authorities to double-down on their efforts to protect women’s rights, in collaboration with civil society organisations.
“The opening of Dar Amneh is a positive step that appears to have resulted in less women being detained in so-called ‘protective custody’ and shows political will to protect women’s rights” – Heba Morayef.
“The opening of Dar Amneh is a positive step that appears to have resulted in less women being detained in so-called ‘protective custody’ and shows political will to protect women’s rights. What is needed now is a comprehensive review of laws and policies to ensure women are trusted to make free decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives; rather than being criminalized, punished and marginalized,” said Heba Morayef
* Real name withheld to protect her identity