BBC investigators spoke to parents and patients of care homes to get an idea of the levels of abuse at the institutions in the capital Amman and elsewhere. Image Credit: Courtesy: BBC Arabic

Amman: Nasser Sharmain trusted The Al Helal Centre in Amman and admitted his 15-year-old son Ahmad.

However, when he made a surprise visit, he was shocked when he saw his son. "His arm was broken. His finger was broken. His ear, his nose, his chin was all covered with blood," he says.

The centre says Ahmad arrived with behavioural problems and denies he was beaten up saying he deliberately threw himself onto a wardrobe.

But Sharmain believes Ahmad's teacher attacked his son. He sued him, without success. His lawyer, Bassam Al Dmor, says it's very difficult to prove cases like his.

Director Dr Shaker Abu Hatab says an initial hospital report said Ahmad had a head injury after falling and any further injuries and bruises must have happened after he left Al Helal Centre. He says: "We have reports from the Ministry of Health that the child has the tendency to hurt himself."

A BBC Arabic investigation has uncovered cases where children had been seriously injured in Jordan's private care homes for the mentally challenged.

Khalid Yousuf Abu Dagga brought his 12-year-old son Yousuf from the UAE. He had searched the internet and was impressed with the Arab City Centre in Amman. It was expensive — 1,000 Jordanian dinars (Dh5,180) a month — but Abu Dagga wanted the very best for his son.

Abu Dagga wasn't too worried when the centre rang him in the UAE and said Yousuf had spilt some hot water on himself. But he found his son had already been in hospital for more than two weeks with serious burns over half his body. He still faces extensive treatment, including the constant dressing of his wounds. Yousuf's father commissioned an independent report from specialist doctors to try and get to the truth.

It found Yousuf's injuries were so extensive they were caused by a chemical substance or burning and that it was difficult to believe that the burns were the result of an accident.

‘I thought he was dead'

The Government told reporters that complaints of abuse were rare, although there were no meaningful statistics. But the reporters spoke to numerous parents, former and serving care workers and experts and put together a dossier of cases. It shows that eight of Jordan's 54 private care homes face recent allegations of abuse. It seems there's a climate in which staff can act with impunity.

A teacher at the Al Razi Centre is filmed telling other staff about a boy in care: "I put him in bed last night. I left him for one minute. I came back and he'd taken off his cover and I covered him again. Then he got up again and refused to go back to bed and he wanted to go where I was and be with me. Then I said to him to sleep and he wanted to come with me because [he] is still awake.

"Then imagine he took the sheets off and then he turned his bed upside down and sat on bare metal. And then I caught him and when I get angry I'm a disaster. And then I covered him and went on top of him and then I kept jumping on him. And then I didn't feel him breathing anymore and I thought he was dead. After that he went to sleep."

In a classroom at the Al Razi Centre a young boy is tied to his chair for most of the day; ignored by staff. He has nothing to do but sometimes watch television or just stare into space.

At the same centre, a young blind woman is left alone on her bed most of the day. Staff come only at meal times or occasionally to take her to the toilet. Our reporter found her in exactly the same position a year earlier when she first visited the centre.

At Ibn Khaldoun a boy with a foot infection needs some acetone — a teacher says the head has "taken it home". When this reporter asked about medical supplies she was simply mocked by the staff. A teacher at the Ibn Khaldoun centre said: "How do think they are going to stay in one place and be quiet? Not by calling them love and dear but by grabbing the kid like this... They are not normal."

The man responsible for Ibn Khaldoun and Al Razi care homes refused to give an interview after being presented with a dossier of evidence. Owner Zaid Sakkijha denied there was any abuse.

Lack of regulations

The Jordanian Government is responsible for licensing private care homes and it sets out regulations for what they have to provide. But surprisingly most of the rules to get a licence are only about the building — such as the height of rooms and the size of the water tank. There is very little mention of how children should be treated or what education they should receive. The Ministry of Social Development says inspectors visit private centres regularly.

The government says of the abuse: "Even if there are only a small number, they are severe in terms of their significance because it is a matter of human rights. It is the disabled who need to be protected and therefore we have red lines. Even if the abuse is done by an employee we will not tolerate it and the court will have its say."

 Louay Esmail is a senior producer at BBC Arabic, and Hanan Khandagji, a Jordanian freelance journalist who worked on the story for more than six months, and who did most of the undercover reporting on the project.