Hundreds of children were subjected to torture, unjust detention and governmental neglect over the past year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced in a Tuesday press release.
“This is a revolution in which one of the main demands is police reform, and there have been no steps to address this,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, a children’s rights researcher at HRW.
The New York-based organisation said Egyptian police and military officers arrested and detained over 300 people under 18 years of age during protest-related events over the past year and said it possesses “strong evidence” that many of security personnel beat these children and subjected them to torture, including electrocution.
HRW pointed out that President Mohamed Morsy’s decree last month granting amnesty for offences linked to the revolution resulted in the dropping of charges against and the release of many children. However, the decree did not include events linked to the clashes around the United States Embassy in September.
During the embassy clashes, at least 136 children were arrested, standing as the single event resulting in the most arrests of children over the past year.
Motaparthy stressed that many of these children were arrested in downtown Cairo and not all were necessarily linked to clashes at the time. “We have reports of children being arrested while leaving Abdel Moneim Riad bus station or a Metro station downtown,” she said. HRW said police often target vulnerable individuals during unrest, especially street children whom are often subject to abuse.
The judiciary and security forces have also chosen to detain children together with adults, a clear violation of both domestic and international law.
Most arrested children have been sent to adult prisons and have stood as adults in court.
“It’s not clear why prosecutors and judges have disregarded the law requiring them to send juveniles to child court,” said the HRW researcher in the press release. “Judges aren’t supposed to pick and choose what protections to offer children, but it seems that that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
The police have often neglected to notify families of their children’s whereabouts, or even providing them incorrect information as they had interrogated the children before they had access to lawyers or visits from family.
Many organisations, including the National Council for Women, HRW itself and others, criticised Egypt’s draft constitution last month, which provides no specific articles protecting the rights of children. These groups asserted that the draft constitution as currently proposed is inconsistent with international laws and treaties.
“The message for police reform needs to be loud and clear,” said Motaparthy. “And there should be no backsliding.”