Facebook photo of allegedly abused child leads to parents’ arrest
The photo had been taken by the wife of Jameel Al-Khwlani, a local law advisor, and it quickly went viral after he posted it on his Facebook account, eventually leading to the arrest of the child’s parents, who now await prosecution.
Police investigating the case and officials at the Interior Ministry believe the four-year-old sustained severe bruising and third party inflicted burns, at the hands of her step mother, Fathia Al-Jubahi and her father Salim Mohammed Al-Jubahi.
The girl is currently in the custody of Brigadier Suad Al-Qatabi, the manager of the Family Protection Department at the Interior Ministry, following an order from the general attorney’s office.
“I am responsible for [her] until investigations with her parents are done,” Al-Qatabi said.
Al-Khwlani’s wife, Najat Al-Murisi, originally obtained the photo posted on Facebook when she was approached in the Shumaila neighborhood by the child’s grandmother and invited into the girl’s uncle’s home, where the child and her family are believed to have been staying. Al-Murisi said the grandmother had asked her if she knew of anyone who performed virginity tests. The grandmother explained that her granddaughter had been burned and was afraid that it might affect her virginity.
Al-Murisi explains that she was trying to be neighborly and brought a women to perform a check on the girl. She says she was not prepared for what she saw.
When prompted with questions on the girls’ burns and bruises, Al-Murisi says the grandmother revealed the child had been allegedly abused by her stepmother.
There are no hospital records of the girl ever being treated for injuries, and Al-Murisi says the grandmother said they were too afraid of repercussions to ever bring the girl to authorities.
Al-Murisi asked to take a photo of the young victim with the grandmother’s permission, who obliged.
After returning home and at the insistence of her husband, Al-Murisi posted the photo on Facebook and informed local law enforcement at the Alaya Police Station of what she saw. The photo was quickly reposted prompting a storm of on-line chatter about the graphic images of the black and blue scars and burned flesh on the little girl’s backside.
Police arrived the next day at the uncle’s house. Officers say they were denied entrance, and the owner of the house said no one including the child, her stepmother or father were there. No female officers accompanied the male police officers. In accordance with Yemeni social and cultural customs, the men were not permitted to enter as women were living in the house.
After pressing the uncle, Officer Fathi Jaber, the deputy at the Alaya Police Station, said the child’s father turned himself into the station three days after the photo went viral on July 25.
However, Salim has denied having abused his daughter. He told authorities where to find the child and her step mother. The girl was then placed in the custody of the state and Fathia was interrogated and detained in the women’s section of Central Prison. Salim is also being held at central prison while the couple await charges on child abuse.
Under Yemen’s Crime and Penalties Law, which includes children, the parents will be prosecuted and could face three years in prison.
According to the deputy of prosecution, Khalid Haza, the couple’s first court hearing has not been announced yet.
The Yemen Times met with the child, who will remain with Al-Qatabi through her parents’ trial. Although young and not quite able to articulately express herself, she said she had been beaten by both her parents in the past.
The step-mother denied the accusations against her.
“I did not burn [her] bottom. [She] burned herself with the iron,” she said in an interview from where she was being held at Central Prison.
Jaber said a forensics team is working to determine what may have been used to cause the burns. According to Jaber, the prosecution is building a strong case against the parents as they have changed their stories several times.
During initial questioning, the stepmother said that the girl had burned herself with hot tea, Jaber said.
When the Yemen Times asked about the inconsistencies in her story, the woman replied, “I lied during the initial investigation because I was afraid as I have never been prosecuted before.”
The accused couple said they have not found a lawyer to defend them yet. They will remain in central prison until their trial begins.
In the meantime, Al-Qatabi is focused on helping the child.
“[She] is in need of good care and a follow-up,” she said.