Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, an infuriating court verdict wraps up the hasty trial of what I vote to be the most tragic incident of 2008: the death of 11-year-old Islam Badr in a public school at the hands of his teacher last October.
An Alexandria court on Thursday sentenced 23-year-old mathematics teacher Haitham Nabil Abdel Hamid to six years in prison for his role in the beating death of Islam Badr whose only crime was not doing his homework.
Apart from the fact that Abdel Hamid was given the minimum penalty in such a charge when the victim is a child; even an ordinary manslaughter charge would have only led to a maximum sentence of seven years and a good lawyer could have gotten away with a voluntary manslaughter conviction with a three-year penalty.
What was most astounding during the deliberations of the trial was the complete absence of any representatives from the Ministry of Education, despite the fact that the legal team representing the child’s family had officially requested the testimony of three ministry officials including Education Minister Youssry Al-Gamal, all of whom made a complete mockery of the judicial system by neither appearing before the court, nor sending a representative.
I am no legal expert, but it’s a mystery to me that the judge even agreed to proceed with the trial without the presence of an education ministry representative who should have been in the dock with Abdel Hamid in the first place.
Isn’t it a fact that corporal punishment was banned by ministerial decree 591 of 1998 but that it remains common practice precisely because of the ministry’s failure to monitor, investigate and punish such crimes against our children; crimes that violate, not only the unwritten codes of basic humanity, but also Egypt’s commitments contained in the UN-sponsored Cairo Declaration of 2005?
Whatever happened to the recognition that “children are citizens and fundamental partners in the democratic process and that “all policies, programs and mechanisms pertaining to combating violence against children should be in conformity with the principles spelled out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child ?
Although the family will file a request to overturn the verdict, Islam Badr is dead and the least the court should have done was to set a precedent and send a strong message to the ministry with a verdict that matches the gravity of the crime, not one that almost gives the impression that the court somehow blames the child for dieing.
I am also shocked at the near silence of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood vis-à-vis this case, despite the fact that thr council has made undeniable strides in protecting children’s rights over the past few years, especially through its 16000 hotline.
According to summaries published in March 2008 prepared by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, a study of 2,170 preparatory and secondary school students aged 10-20 years in 14 government schools in Alexandria in 1996-7, using a self-administered questionnaire, looked at corporal punishment in schools and in the home.
Almost four out of five boys (79.96 percent) and 61.53 percent of girls reported corporal punishment by teachers during one year using hands, sticks, straps, shoes and kicks; more than a quarter of boys and 18 percent of girls reported that beatings caused injuries.
More recent findings published by UNICEF last year, claimed that 50 percent of children in Upper Egypt and 70 percent of children in urban areas report corporal punishment in schools.
I’m astounded that the death of Islam Badr has not triggered a nation-wide campaign under the auspices of First Lady Suzanne Mubarak to obliterate corporal punishment in schools completely the way she responded instantly to the horrible death of another 12-year-old child Bodour Shaker during an illegal female genital mutilation procedure.
Must our endemic social problems turn into international scandals to warrant due attention?
Islam Badr’s case was just one of many court cases whose verdicts shocked the nation this year: The Salam Ferry case where owner Mamdouh Ismail, his son and five other executives were absolved of all responsibility; the illegal trial of 40 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, 25 of whom were handed up to seven-year prison sentences; and the recent conviction of 22 ordinary citizens who dared to speak out against rising food prices in Mahalla last April, to name a few.
The miscarriage of justice is a terrible thing but to me 2008, like 2007 before it, will always be remembered for the heartbreaking death of a child. May God have mercy on thier souls.
Rania Al Malkyis the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt. If you’ve missed our special year-end issue published on Tuesday Dec. 23, go to www.thedailynewsegypt.com for round-up articles on Egyptian politics, society, business and culture in 2008.