Lebanon’s Fanar Juvenile Center: Childhood Lost

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The kids come to us from broken families and are surrounded by lies. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Zeinab Merhi

Published Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Between the ages of 7 and 18, the detainees at Lebanon’s Fanar juvenile center are among the youngest in the country. Al-Akhbar reports on their lives and conditions.

In the Fanar juvenile rehabilitation center, one cannot help but notice Ali first, for he is the smallest among the detainees. Ali entered the center at the age of nine after being designated as prone to antisocial behavior by his family. He says that he is here for his own protection from his relatives.

He reverts to a true nine-year-old when he talks about his parents. He says his mother works as a maid in people’s homes, but he doesn’t know the whereabouts of his father.

It is true that the existing law regulating juvenile detention designates their age bracket as ranging between 7 and 18, but it was hard to imagine that we would actually meet someone as young as Ali at the center.

According to center director Hussein Salman, there are many like Ali who pass through this institution. He says they do their best to teach them a craft and find them work before releasing them.

Salman explains that there are two categories of children at the center: the first tend to hail from stateless families while the second come from broken ones. He says that upon divorce many couples take the opportunity to get rid of the children altogether, blaming the broken families for the fate of many of detainees at the center.

He adds that not every couple that has a marriage licence is fit to raise children, pointing out that the majority of the juveniles who are inducted into the center often cannot even read or write.

Talal has fresh signs of a fight on his face when we interviewed him. His father had brought him here – we asked him why.

“I did wrong by my sister; I did something dirty with her,” he explains. He did this five years ago when he was only nine. He is really here so as to be kept away from his mother, whom he still loves dearly and would repeatedly run away from his father to be with her.

His mother took to exploiting him sexually and otherwise for money. She would send him to men as a present to satisfy their sexual desires or to beg or steal on the streets. He is now just beginning to understand that his mother is asking him to do things “that are not right.” Although he admits that he still loves her, he adds that he will leave this place “a new man.”

The center’s guidance counselor and therapist Robert Karkash notes that 90 percent of the children leave the institution to lead a better life, describing the center’s record as successful.

“The kids come to us from broken families and are surrounded by lies. The arrive here disfigured by such an environment, and we have to wipe the slate clean and build them anew,” he recounts.

Most of them, he explains, never attended school and began working at an early age, suffering from a deficiency in education and affection, which often prompts them to commit crimes.

The Fanar center, which is run by the Union for the Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon, has a much better record than the government-run Roumieh juvenile center. Fanar’s staff attribute their superior record to working with both parents and children in an attempt to reunite the family upon the juvenile's release.

Both Salman and Karkash maintain that developing alternative institutions is a better way to look after these children than to release them to families incapable of caring for them adequately.

Salman recounts how before the civil war, the process of inducting and rehabilitating juveniles was more organized and backed with adequate resources.

Today, these children are interrogated like any other criminal in a local police station rather than in specialized juvenile divisions.

Fanar relies on private contributions to survive, although Minister of Justice Shakib Qortbawi has recently decided to designate part of the ministry’s budget to the institution.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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