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Juvenile Care Institutions
Juvenile care institutions, known among the public in Palestine as “reformatories,” are facilities whereby juveniles spend pretrial detention, terms involving deprivation of liberty, or as a treatment or preventive measure. A general stipulation can be found in Article 19, paragraph 2(b.3), of the 2012 Palestinian Amended Child Law that offers basis for the referral of children to a number of social, educational or health institutions, public or private. The Ministry of Social Development manages a number of institutions that provides social care.
Article 43 of the 2016 Juvenile Protection Law provides basis for the referral of juveniles to social care institutions, besides the institutions in which children would be punished or deprived of liberty. This article is not rigid in terms of the type of the institution in which juveniles may be held. It could be “one of the social care houses affiliated with or recognized by the Ministry [of Social Development]” that the court decides to place the juvenile in. Nothing in the law prevents the Ministry from designating selected associations to host children in conflict with law to stay with other children who have social or economic needs, such as orphanages. Experience in different countries proves that the services, rehabilitation, and educational programs of such charities are often more efficient than official bodies. In such institutions, many of which do exist in Palestine, children can stay all days and nights of the week inside the institution where they study, sleep, and play. Children can go off to spend weekends with their families. In parallel, juveniles who breach the law might need to follow special treatment programs in such institutions.
The first juvenile reformatory in the West Bank, “Dar Al-Amal” (in Arabic means “House of Hope”) was established in 1954 in Ramallah. What is surprising is that this care institution is still the only boys’ institution in the entire West Bank since that time. The second institution is designed for minor females, the “Girls Care House” in Bethlehem. In Gaza, there is Dar Al-Rabi for boys. In the remaining districts, children who have troubles with the law end up in police detention centers or in prisons, as no social care institutions are available therein. This state poses serious concerns on the equality principle with regard to the treatment of children in different areas.
As Dar Al-Amal is located in the center of the West Bank, it could not logistically absorb children from other districts for three reasons. First, Dar Al-Amal, which can host maximum forty children, cannot accommodate the growing number of juveniles as its space, facilities, and employees are not prepared for that. Second, moving children from other districts to Ramallah is difficult, if not impossible, due to Israeli military checkpoints between districts that do not allow Palestinian police to transfer prisoners or detainees freely. The third reason is that detainees, who form the majority among juveniles, need to attend court hearings from time to time and it is not possible to bring them from Ramallah to courts in the north or the south for every hearing. The police alternatively keep children in jails. Hence, the key solution for resolving children incarceration is to open care institutions in other districts.
Dar Al-Amal was established shortly after the enactment of the 1954 Law and functioned until 1967. Under the occupation, it was closed as Israel kept Palestinian prisoners, including children, in its prisons. The institution was reopened after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, hosting children aged from 12 to 17 years. Most of them come from Ramallah and Jerusalem areas. The House’s staff members are public employees working under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Development and distributed for day and night shifts. Technical staff comprises a manger, deputy, social workers, vocational trainers and teachers, psychologists, and supporting staff. Children in the House cannot leave or attend school. Professional training programs are poor. Yet the situation in the House is much better than detention centers or prisons by every standard.
The Girls Care House in Bethlehem, established in 1958 in the context of the 1954 Juvenile Rehabilitation Law, has the mandate to host girls who might come in conflict with the law. It is the only girls’ institution designed for this purpose in Palestine. The House was previously called Juvenile Girls Reform Center and was exclusively in charge of hosting females in conflict with the law. Its name changed upon the creation of the Palestinian Authority and it started to host minor females who might need protection other than those who violate the law, such as threatened girls of attacks on “honor” grounds or those who suffer from domestic violence. The number of juvenile girls in Palestine is low. Most female cases are resolvable through conciliation within families. The House is an open facility. Girls can attend school. A number of educational and training programs exist: hairdressing, computer, and swing.
The Girls House’s employees work as teachers, social workers, and psychologists, all officials of the Ministry of Social Development. The House is well equipped, including with computers and internet, furnished and organized. It has the capacity to host up to 22 girls. Statistics of previous years range between 26 and 49 girls. The House conditions are much better than the state of Dar Al-Amal, but its staff members lack the experience in dealing with females in conflict with the law.
As part of its attempt to reform the juvenile system, the Ministry of Social Development looks toward rehabilitation institutions. It has for long plans to open two additional institutions for boys, one in Nablus for the north of the West Bank and one in Hebron for the south. But such proposals have not been materialized yet.
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