Illegitimate orphans in Gaza on the rise: report

Poverty, unemployment, cultural change among causes


A human rights organization in Gaza released a report showing a rise in the number of children abandoned in Gaza and warned that the problem of abandoned and illegitimate children holds grave consequences for Palestinian society.

According to statistics issued by the Gaza-based al-Dameer Association for Human Rights, 165 cases of illegitimate children have been reported since 1993, eight of them are in 2008 alone. Rising poverty and unemployment along the social and psychological pressure of living under occupation – and since January an Israeli blockade.

In a statement al-Dameer called for eliminating the phenomenon but also called for respecting the rights of those children and helping them become efficient members of society by encouraging families to adopt them.

Social ostracism

Just last month the police found an orphan and delivered him to Mabaret al-Rahma orphanage, the orphanage director, Moemen Barakat, told

Barakat noted that after the child is accepted by an orphanage the hospital and the Ministry of Health issue a birth certificate with fictitious parent names. The orphanage then becomes responsible for all the child's expenses.

Children from illegitimate relations face social ostracism, so many countries issue birth certificates phony parent names instead of leaving it blank to help them lead a more normal life.

Psychiatrist Fadl Abou-Hayen attributed this rising rates of illegitimate orphans to a cultural change brought by Gazans who lived in liberal societies as well as the recession of the family's role and the subsequent laxity in adhering to values.

He said the tribal community characteristic of Gaza means that “everyone knows everyone” and thus knows the parentage status of children, which can cause problems in a conservative society.

"The media has an effect, too," Abou-Hayen told "Licentious movies arouse people and encourage them to fall prey to vice."

The media has an effect, too. Licentious movies arouse people and encourage them to fall prey to vice

Fadl Abou-Hayen, psychiatrist

Social norms and adoption

Sex outside marriage in not permissible in Muslim societies so resulting children are often placed in orphanages by their parents or abandoned. In many cases children have been found in the streets, especially at mosques.

Many illegitimate children in the Arab world are also a result of temporary marriages like motaa (pleasure) and mesyar (convenience) marriages.

Adoption is a possibility but is conditional upon proof that one of the foster parents is incapable of having children, said Barakat. The couple must own a house and have the means to support the child.

According to the U.S. State Department, the Palestinian Authority opposes adoption by foreign parents since Palestinian children must remain in Palestine.

"We also have to make sure of the psychological factor. We took many kids back after they were mistreated," he said.

Islam encourages adoption only in the case of orphans and even then the term used – kafala – means guardianship, indicating that the child does not formally become part of the family and is thus not able to inherit from the foster family.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)