By Mennatallah Fouad Youssef
CAIRO: For long street children have been subject to abuse, humiliation and immense poverty. They also face greater risks of illegal detention and are the most subjected to police brutality, experts say.
Street children make up around 8 percent of paid and unpaid labor, according to latest studies.
On April 12, several NGOs and human rights activists volunteered to mark the International Day for Street Children to kick off an awareness campaign about their rights and to shed light on their true personalities.
“This is not really a celebration of the day; our main goal is to attract as many people we can to shed light on the reality of street children and to reengage the children with a society that has shunned them,” said Mai Gad Allah, manager of the Save the Children NGO.
“The reason these children are in the street is a consequence of a series of failures our society has been committing, these children are violated everyday, they are put in very harsh conditions that even adults cannot handle and our goal is to show their childhood and that they are exceptional given the circumstances they live in,” she added.
Representatives and volunteers from Resala, Save the Children, Banaty, On the Curb and Tissue Box NGOs gathered with the children and formed a human chain extending from Mustafa Mahmoud Square to the Shooting Club in Dokki.
“I believe the event was somewhat successful; we did catch the attention of the drivers, with some even stopping to ask about our programs and supported the cause. It is this awareness that we aim to achieve in order to help those children,” said Nehal Refaat, one of the organizers.
“Also being on the street gives us more credibility to the children themselves, because these kids don’t trust us and are very difficult to open up and tell us their stories. Those who have been on the street for years are more resilient to the idea of getting back to their families, so we want them to understand that we are there to offer them shelter and other kinds of help when they are in danger.”
These NGOs offer rehabilitation programs that initially aim to re-integrate the child into his or her family and the organizations enroll them in an educational program or a crafts program depending on their needs.
“We try to get the children back to their families to get them off the street, and then to make them stay there we offer to help them make money by enrolling them in a crafts program that allows them to make an income,” said Gad Allah.
Many children run away again to the streets due to abuses they face with their families.
Amira Abdelhamid, one of the founders of the student-led organization On the Curb, believes that the problem of street children will worsen in the near future if the government does not initiate a solution.
“Right now, we have a third generation of street children and these are the children that have been born on the streets to other street children through intermarriages,” explained Abdelhamid.
“That is increasing the number of street children greatly and it’s posing a danger to those young kids. Unless the government drafts bylaws and implements them and includes the whole nation in the process of providing shelter and other rights to these children, then the efforts of the NGOs alone will not solve the problem,” she said.
Detentions and arrests
More than 200 street children were detained and referred to military court since army tanks were deployed in January 2011. The children were accused of congregating (an offence under the emergency law), carrying Molotov cocktails or ‘white’ weapons, inciting violence and burning of public property.
According to Tissue Box, an initiative formed by activists providing legal aid to street children detained by the military or police, in February 2011, Mohammed Gaber a 15-year-old mentally challenged boy was arrested by the military police on his way home to Alexandria. His cell phone was confiscated and he was blindfolded, hand cuffed and jailed in a military prison for a week in 6th of October City.
“Children that are detained by the military and taken to its courts or prisons are very difficult to find. It takes weeks to get in touch with them,” said Doaa Abbas, a lawyer and expert in children’s rights.
Gaber was able to contact his father through another inmate after he was moved to Borg Al-Arab Prison in Alexandria. After spending one month in jail he was released with injuries from being beaten constantly and electrocuted, according the testimony posted on Tissue Box’s website.
Violations of the Law
A law drafted by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in 1998 aimed at ensuring the rights of children from birth until reaching 18 years.
The same law was later amended in 2008 to secure more rights, most importantly the right to have an identity, the right to an education, medical and health attention, nutritional food, and the right to safety. The law also sets regulations for when the child commits a crime or a felony.
During the clashes between the police forces and protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud and Kasr Al-Ainy Streets last November and December, street children were an easy target for arrest and detention.
“The children that were arrested throughout the past year were violated in three clear ways,” said Abbas, “They were beaten and that is a violation to their sense of security and humanity. They were filmed and that is a violation to the law that prohibits the filming of children without their consent or forcing them to make a statement such as committing crimes, and finally imprisoned with adults and criminals, which was the case when we found the children in Tora Prison after they were sentenced by a military court.”
According to the law, children should be referred to juvenile court if they are under the age of 18 to ensure their security.
“It is very dangerous to imprison a child with adults because they are easily manipulated and assaulted; it is inhumane. We as a group of lawyers are going to fight for the rights of these children and ensure that they are not an easy catch,” Abbas added.
Experts attribute the phenomenon of street children to their families’ abuse, where children who are forced to work attempt to escape this hostile environment.
“Many children that live in the street run away from home because they are forced to work and their parents take their money and beat them. To them the street has its own glamour and adventurous spirit and so they prefer to stay on the street. Of course that is when they are exposed to rape, assault and drug abuse and they join gangs,” said Gad Allah.
“Street children are always violated, and don’t receive their basic rights. They are denied education because they don’t have ID cards or birth certificates especially if they were born on the street. They are not given good food and always have health issues and are mostly denied medical treatment in public hospitals,” she added.
Further hardships that face street children are due to people’s perception and attitudes towards them. Gad Allah told Daily News Egypt that while there was a ruling that allowed street children who do not know their biological father to receive a birth certificate with the mother’s name, employees at the registration offices refuse to comply, thus denying the child medical care and a right to enter schools.