Physical and emotional violence against children in the context of discipline and punishment is the most common form of violence in Libya: three out of four children in a study by UNICEF's Child Protection Division reported that they were abused whether at home, school or by alternative care.
Intellectual extremism, physical enslavement, and sadistic monarchy, when all these factors come together in one story and a bold headline for a human who has lived through the worst kinds of psychological and physical torture which some Libyan families master, here lies the real dilemma of many victims of domestic violence in Libya.
Here, and among many cases, Numidia hesitates to tell her story. She fully believes that the issue of child violence, including girls, is rampant and exists in society and we must talk about it but cautiously. Because for them, she is disobedient and rejects the rituals and customs of her family.
Numidia Mohammed (Nickname), 21 years old, high school graduate - did not complete her university studies, an amateur painter and designer.
Numidia lived in a family of one sister and three brothers, accompanied by her mother and father, a businessman who has close ties to statesmen and armed militias, as she describes him. Numidia says that her father was suffering from a specific phobia towards girls. He always hated them and wishes their death, even with his daughters to the extent that he asked Numidia's mother to abort her during her pregnancy.
Since her childhood, Numidia's father used certain methods of terror against her and her sister. He used to shave their hair like boys, which is motivated by the belief that girls are the cause of shame and misfortune for him and his family. Nomedia and her siblings were not allowed to go out of the house, visit friends or even their relatives and were not even allowed to make any kind of friendships. Even studying was an issue since her older uncle tries every year to convince the father to let them finish, and without him, they would probably had dropped out of school and stayed home with no degree or educational background.
Numidia's father used to beat and torture for the simplest things, even a delay of a few minutes to make a cup of tea or coffee may cost a punishment of sleeping overnight in the garden of the house (Jenan) or beatings with whips and belts .. Etc. In most cases of combat or beatings that occur, the mother had a very negative attitude and doesn’t do anything because she is (vulnerable) as described, and she also does not prefer to seek help from others, she is afraid of people’s talk and the reputation of her family and daughters.
The walls of our home were literally like a painting since he frequently threw lunch at us
With a blue face and dusky features that controlled Numidia while speaking, followed with sporadic breaths, she assures that her father was a man with religious and conservative values and he was praying in parallel with beatings us, while beatings and violence are not limited to his children only, but even my mother had the biggest part of it. where Numidia stopped and wondered: Why is he praying?
Suffering was almost daily, whether in claiming the most basic rights or obtaining them, the phone was forbidden, going out to friends is prohibited and even the right to decide what to wear was also prohibited. It is the imposed policy that was prevalent in the house and dominated by the permanence of the problems and the frequent doubts and fights with the family members, which inevitably ends with violence and blood.
Here at this station, where there are many reasons for girls to escape from their families, whether for personal or social reasons, domestic violence or forced marriage. Numidia considers her cause gathered all of these factors, since she is being violated inside her house by her father and getting provoked every now and then to be forced to marriage, the sentence (I will marry you to this or to that one) was dominating his threats as a means of intimidation as it considered a complete restriction of personal freedom and the right to self-determination.
When asked if she thought about reporting violence against her by her father, Numidia said she did not even think about it. She doesn't know if there are places or institutions where she can report. Or even places the victims go to for them to be safe.
She also says that even if she knew that there were places to report, she will not do so for the fear of adverse consequences.
I live in a male society, and at the end they will say he’s your father after all!
Regarding the attitude of the family and relatives, Numidia said that her uncle was a witness to the physical and verbal violence and deprivation practiced against her and her siblings on more than one occasion. The furthest he did was to talk to her father in order to alleviate the violence, and the reaction was always the same response from her father:
They are my children and none of your business! You are free to raise your own as am I
The idea of escaping was always on my mind, but I could only apply it recently
After cautious planning and confidentiality Numidia tried for three months to apply for the Turkish visa C1, which does not require a personal presence with the help of her friend who provided a certain amount of money for the reservation of the airline ticket and some basic expenses in Turkey, and she somehow tried to crack the PIN code of her father's bag in which the family's passport was hidden and managed to do so minutes before she escaped - so she doesn’t drive her father's attention that something was missing.
At five in the morning, last January, Numidia managed to collect some of her belongings and papers and escape through the window, and with the help of a friend who drove her to (Imitiga airport). at dawn Numidia managed to reach her plane safely at nine in the morning, and from there began her first days in Istanbul for a limited period of approximately two weeks in which her father found out the whereabouts after reaching the friend who helped her to escape, and in his own ways was able to investigate and get all the information from him while he was imprisoned for almost two weeks after they fabricated a charge of (organizing an international prostitution network), which he was able to acquit himself from.
A week after Numidia arrived to Turkey and was unable to seek humanitarian asylum in Ankara - for political reasons - her father was able to travel and follow her there but without any trace, and this made him hopeless to ever find her and bring her back or even consider her as a part of the family again.
He tells my mother and siblings to consider me dead
After only two weeks, Numidia moved to another country - she doesn’t want to reveal - and from there she began her life as an independent person who’s able to freely determine his fate.
Numidia mentions simple details but fills her with joy. She says: In this country for the first time I swim in the sea and get off the streets freely and alone, I go out to discover or spend some time outside or even go to the supermarket, and I am also able to decide what to wear and eat and how I sit, maybe some people see these things as simple, but they mean a lot to me. I think being in a state governed by the law is the greatest thing. I always feel protected and no one else has power over me but the law itself.
The main domestic legal stop on child protection in Libya is the Child Protection Act No. 5 of 1997, also referred to as the Child Protection Act. This law, which applies only to children under the age of 16, does not explicitly prohibit physical punishment. Even Libya's new constitution draft does not contain a ban on all forms of physical act either. Until writing this article, it is not clear whether the Children's Bill will contain provisions prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment of children.
Libya is also a party to a number of international treaties and conventions stating children protection from violence, the most important of which is the UN Convention on child rights, to which Libya acceded in April 1993 without reservations.
Many aspects of domestic legislation in Libya are consistent with their international legal obligations, but there are still some differences and gaps that do not fully guarantee the protection of children.
The most important laws and legislation of Libya and the conventions and treaties ratified by Libya in relation to the protection of children.
Top Libyan laws and legislations and agreements approved by Libya regarding Child protection
Despite all obligations under international law, corporal punishment of children is still legal under domestic legislation in Libya, given that the punishment occurs at home, in alternative care centers, in penal institutions or crime punishments.
On another side, inside Libya's borders, in Benghazi, in a locked house at the northern corner and through its corridors and cabins, a Benghazi family of five females and two males who lives with their mentally unstable mother, as her daughter describes. This family lost the father in 2005 which was the sponsor during their entire childhood until they reached adulthood.
Fatima Nadir (not her real name) a 29-year-old English graduate who works independently as a private tutor to teach children.
The interview with Fatima was very cautious, as she used English language even in giving her testimony and telling her story so that no family member can understand the fear of any backlash. Despite the positiveness that Fatima was trying to regenerate, she did not hide her desire to go far and move on to a new life.
Here, Fatima tells us the story of her family, who has suffered and continues to suffer from physical and verbal abuse since her childhood by her mother and young brothers who are controlled by the power of drugs and its effects.
She says: We grew up in a family where the mother is outside the equation, my father was the carer of all of our needs, my mother was always away from us, sometimes she leaves us to my grandfather's house for years and do not even bother to ask about us, we only visit sometimes under our father’s insistence, without him we wouldn’t even think of doing so.
My father used to make us laugh and play, he cooked and took care of all our needs. My mother was the opposite in everything. His food choices for us were healthy and accurate in everything. My father was a school for us, he was responsible for everything that concerned us. While our mother was careless and would punish us madly for doing something that was barely against her wish.
Fatima describes that the daily environment of the house is a disturbed environment full of anxiety and exchange of insults, screams, and beatings, as her mother lives with them today after her father passed away, and she tries to ignite strife between her children and sometimes adds grudge or tension between them, where it sometimes exceeds this limit to prayers sickness, madness, and death.
I hope you get malicious, in god’s will you crash you criminal “in Libyan southern dialect”
This is a simple example of the sentences and words that Fatima's mother circulates in the house on a daily basis where she described that her mother does not call her or the rest of her siblings by their names, but the names of animals and certain stigmas such as the criminal, leprosy and black orcs, and she rarely calls them by their real names.
Fatima 's brothers beat them with a lot of tools. In many cases, they use iron tools and wooden sticks and hit their heads against the wall. One of them has often asked Fatima and her sister for money at their workplace in front of their colleagues, which forced the company to fire her sister. Fatima attributes the reason for her brothers' attitude to her mother's aggressive behavior, which encourages them to bully and beat the sisters and prevent them from pursuing their careers and schooling, the mother often even declares that they deserve isolation and death.
Fatima is not alone in this. Many Libyan families suffer from the bitterness of domestic violence and lack of security with their parents, as well as the state of anxiety and psychological breakdown that these people are currently experiencing because of their disturbed childhood periods. Plus they can’t seek help from centers that receive complaints publicly or confidentially due to the lack of a clear and direct mechanism to report such attacks.
Children who experienced violence are often reluctant to tell others about their stories for various reasons, including guilt, timidity, fear of disbelief, or even reprimanded for what happened. Moreover, service providers, if any, are not always available or equipped to deal with situations of violence. One of the most important factors affecting any response to violence against children is the victim's knowledge of where to seek help.
Government’s (official) support services for child victims of violence are minimal in Libya, with no referral or reporting systems in general or largely ineffective.
According to the 2011 analysis of the situation of children's rights in the Middle East and North Africa conducted by “Save the Children”, child protection provisions are not well implemented, and there is a lack of programs as well as referrals and rehabilitation services for abuse victims.
In March 2016, Save the Children and Handicap International conducted a protection assessment in Libya, focusing on the situation of IDPs. The overall purpose was to assess urgent and intermediate protection needs in Tripoli and Benghazi. According to this assessment, it is worth noting that hospitals are one of the very few places of service providers from government institutions in a context where other government support services (such as those normally provided by the judicial system) are “powerless” due to armed conflict.
The non-governmental support of local and international NGOs was not able to provide effective and sustained assistance due to the ongoing armed conflict in Libya, in addition, international NGOs, in particular, are rarely contacted for protection assistance because they either do not exist on the ground or because victims are unaware of the services available.
Speaking about UNICEF's role as a UN children's organization in Libya, UNICEF Libya spokesperson Mustafa Omar said: `` The study conducted by UNICEF's Child Protection Section on violence against children in homes and schools has produced alarming figures, '' He pointed out that the Libyan society considers violence as a form of education, as often considered by adults as a form of nourishment, whether inside the home or in schools.
Sometimes teachers are asked by parents to abuse their children
He added that the UNICEF office in Libya doesn’t work on the ground directly, but always works through local and international partners such as local and international NGOs or in partnership with government institutions such as the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Along others.
For example, UNICEF has concluded a two-year working agreement with the Ministry of Social Affairs, which has been in effect since May 2019, under which the Ministry, in collaboration with UNICEF, will implement systems to provide protection for children by proposing legislation and policies that contribute to ending cases of violence against children within the community. generally. He also referred to other projects previously carried out by the organization in cooperation with government institutions where the establishment of family and child protection units in coordination with the Libyan government in 2014 to be activated protection units by the Ministry of Interior after the training of officers and social workers and judges In particular to deal with abused children and provide a means of communication. He stressed that the most important step UNICEF is currently working on in Libya is to monitor the situation in order to understand and assess the Libyan situation and deal with violence against children.
Despite all attempts by UNICEF Libya to contribute to the provision of ways and systems for reporting cases of violence against children, Libyan government institutions remain directly responsible for implementing any protection or reporting systems that protect children, especially domestic violence.
Weak arguments are the only way to escape social responsibility provided by the ministry, and in light of the hundreds and possibly thousands of cases in Libya as a result of domestic violence in which the Ministry of Social Affairs takes the role of indirectly shirking responsibility on the grounds that it does not have the means and budgets for incubating and taking care of violence cases.
Advisor to the Ministry of Social Affairs Zahra Oweid said that the Libyan society - which she described as "conservative and puritanical" - considers the family a red line for it, who tries as much as possible to keep problems confidential and hidden from people, which she considers positive to maintain the privacy of the house and family. she explained that confidentiality and containment to try to remedy problems internally may be effective in order to preserve the family fabric and prevent its disintegration.
I am proud that I’m from the Libyan society, a strict closed one which maintains its customs and traditions, and preserves the social fabric. Which means the family is a red line
Oweid says that the ministry uses a secret mechanism to identify victims of violence residing with their families, which are often heard through reports from anonymous or close people to those families, which often pushes the ministry's social workers to go to those families. Pretending to be committees of population, large families or endangered houses, this speeds up the ability of these families to deal with these specialists without knowing their true identity. Through the process of observation or search inside the house, we check whether there are visible injuries in children or victims, and therefore ensure that there are cases of violence and re-visit them officially and clearly many times. In spite of these attempts and methods applied by the Ministry of Social Affairs, they seem useless and limited to provide advice after confirming the presence of violence, where it is not possible to implement systems to provide protection for children in domestic violence, especially with no clear mechanism for reporting or Transfer cases through police stations, for example.
She also adds that the only solution to reduce or eliminate domestic violence is to have direct or indirect partnerships between all government institutions involved, as well as to cooperate with non - governmental organizations that are concerned with children's rights. she considers the current state of government institutions as fragmented and there is no mechanism for joint action, which makes each institution work separately and modestly without real results.
When asked if the ministry has any statistics or figures about child victims of domestic violence in Libya, Oweid assured us that the ministry does not have any statistics or figures in this regard because there is no communication between them and the Ministry of Interior where no cases are referred to them. From police stations.
Child victims of violence in Libya face significant obstacles to access justice in Libyan courts. In order to file for a criminal case, the person must reach the legal age, which is 18 years. Consequently, child victims of violence have access to justice only if their legal guardian proceeds on their behalf in accordance with Libyan laws and regulations. The exception to this rule applies when a minor seeks legal action “against his or her guardians because of the actions taken during the custody period,” but disagrees on whether this applies to children who are abused by their biological parents. The lack of any complaints makes access to justice for child victims of violence more difficult.
All figures and statistics used are from a study on violence against children in Libya conducted by UNICEF’s Child Protection Section Office in Libya.
The total sample size is 2,887 from middle school students in 22 different districts with a total of 46 public schools. The pupils surveyed were between 11 and 18 years old. 55% were Females participants, while 45% were males.