Ahmad Mazhar Sa’du

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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"In the environs of Damascus and its countryside, there were areas that were considered to produce delinquents. This was due to their disastrous reality - their populations suffered from poverty, drugs and state neglect."

Ahmad Mazhar Sad'du graduated from secondary school in 1980 and moved out of the city of Jericho located in Idlib's countryside. He then went on to Damascus to study sociology. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor employed him, which helped him with living costs while studying. Mazhar came from a middle-income household and his father was not able to afford the education of all his eight children.

Ahmed graduated from university and changed his job-status at the ministry to "social worker". He started working with deaf and mute people for a short period. Later in 1989, he was appointed to run the Ghazali Institute for Juvenile Delinquents situated in the Qudsaya area in rural Damascus. The institutes’ boarders were youngsters aged between 10 and 16 years old.

Ahmed ran the institute for about three years. Later on, he was assigned to run the Khalid Bin Al-Waleed Institute for Juvenile Reform. He says, "The institute's residents were between 16 and 18 years old, and were dangerous and difficult to deal with".

Ahmed had a strong base of previous practical experience and reading related to the field of social work. He designed a modern rehabilitation program for juveniles based on the assumption that they were children and that society bore a large part of the responsibility for what they had done in the past.

Ahmad also says, “even the driver at the institute had to meet special criteria. It was not permissible to send us a regular driver or policeman who had not undergone specific humanitarian and social training that equipped him with the skills to deal with incidents in a correct and thoughtful manner.”

A program of family meetings was among the interventions provided for the juveniles, since gathering the youth with their families was of paramount importance for their conditions to be better understood.

Ahmad also says, "Among the daily chores of the social worker is to communicate with friends and families of the juvenile in question. As such, we assigned specialists to go to the place where the teen came from in order to understand the nature and causes of his situation. In Damascus, there were areas we called delinquency production areas, such as some neighborhoods in the Yarmouk camp, Hajar al-Aswad and Rokneddin. In the environs of Damascus and its countryside, there were areas that were considered to produce delinquents. This was due to their disastrous reality - their populations suffered from poverty, drugs and state neglect.

Ahmed thinks that Arab regimes, including the Syrian government, did not pay attention to the issue of juvenile delinquency. Consequently, budgets that were allocated to juvenile rehabilitation institutes were very meager. In addition, Syrian society was not aware of the importance of such matters to the extent that many would refuse to donate money under the pretext that such institutes harbored what they would describe as "scoundrels”. "We worked hard to change the prevalent social views about juveniles, and we tried to partner with local and international humanitarian organizations in order to provide material and scientific assistance in this area," says Ahmed.

The percentage of misdemeanors committed by juveniles pertaining to theft amounted to more than 65 percent of the total, while the remaining was accounted for by drug offenses, homosexuality, quarrels etc. This was the reality when it came to the types of misdemeanors. However, when it came to the underlying causes, a 2008 study completed by the Institute showed that the main one was familial disintegration, followed by other factors such as poverty and school dropout. "In marginalized neighborhoods, there is a severe lack of services, such as schools and playgrounds, that can accommodate these children. In addition, the security situation in these places is neglected," Ahmed says.

There was a rehabilitation center for female juvenile delinquents in the Bab Musalla area in Damascus but the number of girls was very low. It reached a maximum of 40 at any one time.

Ahmed worked at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for more than 30 years, during which time a large number of ministers changed. Most of those, however, did not respond to the requirements and needs of existing juvenile delinquency institutes, which exacerbated the problems.

"Many of the juvenile delinquents faced social rejection by their peers and even their families after they left the institute" he says. "A large segment of the population did not accept the employment of former juvenile delinquents, especially those who had been involved in theft or drug related misdemeanors. In such cases, we used to help the juvenile find suitable work so he could earn a living."