Egypt's street children worst hit by violence, experts say

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read

CAIRO: A culture where the rights of children, especially those living rough and homeless, are intrinsically protected has yet to emerge in Egypt, according to child experts and testimonies of children themselves.

A number of awareness initiatives have been launched on Nov.19 to commemorate The Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse. However, Egypt’s street children are yet to feel the impact.

“We get chased and hit all the time by all kinds of people, from police to taxi drivers to passers-by, said 12-year-old Mohammed, who spends most of his time at the gates of Cairo University but sleeps in a different area most nights.

Abla El-Badri, who heads the committee for street children of the government-run National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM, said Egypt’s half a million street children were always vulnerable to physical attacks.

“If boys find life on the streets hard, then girls, who might face more frequent sexual attacks and rape, live in near-constant fear, El-Badri said.

She also highlighted the critical importance of raising awareness in order to alleviate the problems faced by street children as the world marked the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse on Nov. 19.

“People perceive street children as being dangerous, and that if they attack them they feel they are in fact protecting themselves. This perception obviously needs to change, she said.

Part of the problem is the fact that the existing law on street children marks them as being vulnerable to delinquency, said Nadra Zaki, UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) project officer for child protection.

“At Unicef, we are pushing for a change in the wording of the law, to describe street children as being vulnerable to danger, she added, explaining that the amendment is set to be voted on soon in parliament.

However, it isn’t just children braving the streets who face physical and verbal violence.

“Of course I am beaten. Are there any children who aren’t? said nine-year-old Sherif, who complained that his parents punish him physically for things as commonplace as dropping a glass or not finishing his food.

Sherif comes from a wealthy background, attends a private school and is therefore living proof of the fact that violence against children is not confined to the poorer echelons of Egyptian society.

Despite the existence of laws and decrees prohibiting violence against children, a lack of social awareness, collective responsibility and the appropriate monitoring mechanisms often make it well-nigh impossible to limit the physical or verbal abuse of children, said Nadra.

“People are for the most part unwilling to report abuse, and implementation of the law is hard, she said.

As the law on physical and verbal violence against children currently stands, only the testimony of an eyewitness who is willing to sign a declaration can be used in a case against a given aggressor.

“One solution would be to relax the law, so that the testimony of a relative, a social worker, or an NGO can report on a given case, as a child is highly likely to confide the situation to someone he or she trusts, said Nadra.

In school, teachers resort no less often to violence as a mode of punishment. “I have to hit the children, otherwise they won’t listen to me or learn to respect their studies, said Mohammed Shita (real name withheld), who teaches in a Cairo primary school.

As for reporting incidents of violence to the police, Nadra said that awareness-raising was as important in that sector as it was elsewhere – or else the police might not take reports seriously.

In a bid to bridge the gap between affected children and a social support system, in July 2005 the NCCM launched a free 24/7 national hotline service, putting children, relatives or witnesses to violence in contact with child protection workers.

“When we identify a problem, we organize sittings for the whole family with specialized health professionals and social workers, said Manal Shahine, director of the NCCM children’s emergency hotline. “Ever since our launch, we have received over 200,000 phone calls.

Perhaps given some positive social change as Sherif and Mohammed grow up, they will be able to realize their dreams one day. “Facing my parents’ harsh treatment has only made me more likely to be naughty, to challenge them more, Sherif said. “Hitting doesn’t work. I know full well that when I have children, I will not hit them, whatever they do wrong.

For Mohammed, violence is no solution to problems. His voice is particularly valuable as violence is almost second nature to many hardened children living in the streets for months, if not years at a time.

“Many of my friends in the street are younger than I am, and I always try and tell them they should not hit each other, that we have enough with what the police do to us, he said.

No nationwide statistics are available showing how many children in Egypt face physical or verbal violence, proof perhaps of a lack of any genuine attempts to eliminate violence against children.

Giving some indication of the general situation, Nadra said that it was estimated that 50 percent of children in Upper Egypt faced violence in schools, while in urban areas it was 70 percent of children.

Share This Article
Leave a comment