Jordan's dark side: how the government brands its orphans

Published July 25th, 2012 - 10:16 GMT
Alaa shows us his tainted ID card
Alaa shows us his tainted ID card

At first glance, a protest by orphans looking for equal rights sounds like a no-brainer. But in Jordan, there is a more sinister explanation for why a group of 20-somethings have spent the last 4 years camping out on the roundabouts of the capital. 

Jordanian orphans is actually a misnomer: the people we find gathered round late at night on Abdoun Circle, one of the nicest areas of Amman, are neither orphans nor Jordanian.

These are the illegitimate offspring of Jordan and most of them are originally Palestinian. They have spent decades going through care homes, some worse than others and have been fighting the Jordanian government for the last four years.

In the meantime, they have been issued ID cards with the sinister three zeros on each of them - identifying these people as different. None of them can tell you why they have been ‘tagged’ with these digits but they all know what it means for them.

Alaa Oteeb, 24, is the unofficial spokesperson for the ‘bastards’ and adult orphans, people born outside of the traditional family structure. He sits calmly amongst a gaggle of mostly young men:

“The three zeros started appearing on our ID cards from the year 2000 onwards,” he tells us.

“The sheer fact that we have these numbers make big employers like factory owners hesitant to give us a job. They know.”

This week, the Jordanian government admitted that there was indeed a specific set of numbers issued just for the illegitimate people of Jordan but they have yet to justify their decision to segregate ‘bastards’ in this way.

Alaa estimates there are 80 of them crowded round the circle although according to him, there are 1800 like them in Jordan. Mingled in with the young men are a few families sharing out traditional Ramadan drinks and sipping coffee.

There are clearly women suffering the same issue but Oraib Taleh, 26, still stands out from the crowd.  She has cropped short hair and a long oversized coat to cover her.

“I cut my hair short to try and protect myself because I sleep on the streets.” She tells us the more she looks like a man, the less likely she is to get raped. 

Oraib ‘graduated’ from SOS Village orphanage when she was 18 but didn’t know where to turn so kept returning to the center to sleep.

“SOS sent me to the police after I tried to sleep there. They told me I couldn’t after I turned 18 but I didn’t know where else to go.”

The police decided Oraib should be sent to jail, which is where she has been on-and-off for the last seven years. 

“After a while I preferred being in jail because at least there is food and shelter there. I only came out eight months ago.”

She tells us that SOS has promised her money in exchange for keeping her bad experiences to herself but she has been undeterred:

“They threatened me after I spoke to Al Haqiqa TV station about my story but I don’t want their money.” 

When Al Bawaba spoke to the SOS Village today they said they could not comment on any of their current or former wards because of privacy constraints. 

Alaa tells us that around 85% of these people don’t have jobs and he blames both the sinister number tracing and the lack of education provided by the orphanage and care centers.

Most of the men who are employed, have low paying jobs, working in construction or at supermarkets whereas the illegitimate women frequently work in the nightclubs as prostitutes.

Taima Raed Ali Omar is one of the youngest illegitimates that we speak to. At 16 years old she has been married for just over a year. She says the managers of the orphanage center she was at forced her into it.  

“The late King Hussein had me transferred to one center and that was great but the next one they sent me to was awful. The seniors at the center told me I had to marry the man. He was another orphan but he’s 29. I don’t know how it happened.”

She looks numb as she tells us her experiences. Others in the group interject to tell us that her husband is often in trouble with the police and by the looks of Taima, he is not providing her with a household income.

This same rabble of people, some of the most vulnerable in Jordanian society, are determined to keep protesting until they get their demands answered.

Top of the list is an end to the number tagging that identifies them for everyone from employers to police as different from ‘normal’ Jordanians. But they want more government support too, as Bakr Samir Abu Hajah, 21, explains:

“If we get the numbers issue solved and the government agree to pay for health insurance and shelter then we will stop protesting.”


By Helen Brooks

What do you think about the secret numbers on ID cards? Is it fair? Tell us what you think below. 

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