Children Made “Illegitimate” by War
“A child, about three years old, wearing a red t-shirt and shorts,” the policeman Bassam said to the Head of the Police Department in the al-Qanawat neighborhood in the capital Damascus, stressing that a telegram must be generalized about a lost child, who passersby had brought to the department.
This was the beginning of “Mohammad’s” journey, the name he gave to the police; however, as three years old, he could not remember his mother’s or father’s name, which turned him, from the society’s perspective, into an “illegitimate” child after he was sent into a care center.
The years of war have thrown their shadows onto all Syrian people, but the largest portion of suffering and burdens was saved for children, who had no role in it; they paid the price of displacement to strange areas, far from the homes where they were born.
From Being Lost to Being Illegitimate
The number of the unregistered births, children of unknown parentage, in Syria is on the rise; these children are not necessarily the outcome of “adultery”, as people usually interpret the word, for the war has imposed on Syrians many uncommon situations, especially in the conflict-affected areas.
The last census issued by the Ministry of Social Affair was conducted early in 2018, stating that the registered number of the children of “unknown parentage” exceeded 300 children.
Nevertheless, these numbers are not accurate, especially with the communal displacement waves that are caused by military operations and the fragmentation they cause to the families in areas ruled by conflicting parties.
In Aleppo, for example, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICF) has documented 324 children unaccompanied or separated from their parents.
The children have been sent to safe temporary houses, while “UNICF,” with non-governmental local organizations, is working to trace the place of the parents, the living direct relatives, or even the indirect family members, according to a report published by the organization in 2017, as a result of the battles in the western neighborhoods of Aleppo, which ended with the regime’s control over the area in December 2016.
The First Shari’a Judge Mahmoud al-Marawi pointed out to this situation upon speaking about the lost children who are too young or have certain disabilities that prevented them from declaring the names of their parents; he also mentioned the children who are being born due to rape.
Changes in the Syrian Laws
The Director of the Family Affairs Organization Hadeel al-Asmar stressed that the Syrian crisis has resulted in the children’s separation from their parents, pointing out that there is a project for a new law that suggest cancelling the title “illegitimate child” and calling the children who do not know their parents as children of “unknown parentage”, for the word illegitimate has a negative social impact and a cruel trace on the children’s psychology, especially when they grow and start integrating into society, according what al-Asmar has told “al-Watan” newspaper.
Other children have been forced into the “unknown parentage” category, even when they are accompanied by their mothers, who failed to prove their marriage or to attribute the children to their fathers, either as a result for the fathers’ death in battles or for their presence in areas, where it is difficult to register the civil affair due to security reasons.
The People’s Council of Syria, in 2017, has discussed a draft resolution, that provides for the legalization of the children with “unknown parentage” and imposing punitive and financial penalties on the people who refuse to bring these children to the concerned entities.
The draft resolution, which the Ministry of Family and Woman has proposed to the Council, imposes a prison penalty that ranges from three to six years, on those who hide information about or refuse to deliver the children whose “parentage is unknown”.
The resolution also imposed a financial penalty that reaches 400 thousand on those who intend to hide information relating to the child with the aim of hiding the child from his/her parents, one of them or any other relatives.
The Illegitimate Child’s Rulings in the Syrian law
The Syrian personal affairs law defines an “illegitimate” child as a living birth abandoned by his parents fearing poverty or escaping the accusation of adultery.
The illegitimate child endures under the rulings of unknown parentage and is registered in a special category in the civil affairs department. The registry keeper chooses a name and a family name for the child, and any name to be his father’s. However, the title “unknown parentage” sticks to him/her in the civil registry.
According to the law, the child is sent to a care center, where he/she gets guaranteed and educated, receiving the privileges of an orphan until he/she is 18 years old, after which they leave the care center choosing whatever destination they prefer, for the center’s role ends at this point.
The law has given families the right to guarantee children from the care center under a decree issued by the Social Affairs Minister, providing that the child is not being adopted, for adoption is nowt allowed under the Syrian law, which is based on the Islamic Sharia that prohibits adoption, for some families are breaking the law by faking civil documents and registries through giving their family name to the child, to be theirs lawfully. Changing a “family name” does not change the child’s “decent”; accordingly, it does not give the child the right to inherit the family.
The title “illegitimate,” provided for by the decree no. 26 for the year 2007 of personal affairs, includes children of unknown parentage and those who do not have a breadwinner, as well as the children who get lost, without the ability to identify their parents for being young, having mental disorders or for being mute and deaf.
The Psychological Effect of the Word Illegitimate on a Child
Ahmad Shaikhani, a psychologist, explains to Enab Baladi the manner in which placing children of unknown parentage in the care centers negatively affects their psychological situation, for when five children or more are gathered with a single surrogate mother, the initiation would not be sufficient, adding that “a family is not only a mother, but it is a mother and a father, as well as social relation. It is difficult to compensate the lack which a child develops upon missing all these factors.”
Shaikhani stressed that these children are affected by the circumstances of the war; they might have acquired aggressive tendencies and therefore need special care. The presence of these children in care centers will not provide them with sufficient psychological care, which will affect them for the rest of their lives and often turn them into violent people.
As for the suggested solution to overcome the children’s, of unknown parentage, turning into violence or aggression, Shaikhani said that “the act of guaranteeing children embodied with offering money to the care centers is good, but it is not sufficient in the case of Syrian children who are affected by the war’s conditions, for safe relations is the strongest factor that can help them overcome the cruel experiences, in addition to social campaigns to enhance the concept of guardianship in the society.”
Despite this, securing a normal life for these children with families that are able to provide them with the healthy needed conditions remains a dream only, in a society that treats a war orphan or a child of an unknown parentage as an “illegitimate” child.
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