A Wednesday statement from Human Rights Watch focuses on the status of children in Egypt, particularly identifying “serious violations by authorities” against minors.
The leading international rights watchdog acknowledged that some progress has been made by the government to secure the rights of children. In January, amendments to the Child Law allows foster parents to offer to support children as young as three months. Equally, Egypt removed a legal reservation to an international African Charter that holds the minimum legal age for marriage at 16.
However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights numerous instances of state violations of the rights of children, namely via the criminal justice system which is responsible for “arbitrary detention, unfair trials, and physical abuse”.
The statement references work by Daily News Egypt on the case of a nine-year-old boy from Fayoum facing military trial alongside his father on charges of attacking security forces and burning public facilities. HRW notes that the clandestine military courts are permitted to try minors in cases where they are charged with an adult in Egypt. However, the statement added that “international and African regional law generally prohibit the prosecution of civilians in military courts”.
Egyptian lawyers told HRW that children may face assault by guards and other inmates as they are commonly held in adult detention facilities, despite it being unconstitutional, as well as in makeshift locations.
In December, news broke of a detention camp in the town of Banha holding an estimated 600 minors. Though denied by the Ministry of the Interior, Daily News Egypt spoke to lawyers working with families of the children detained there who corroborated the story.
During the last year and a half at least 1,000 minors have been detained in Egypt’s prisons, according to human rights group ‘Free the Children’. The group claims that minors as young as 11-years-old are often arrested randomly during clashes between protestors and police.
Poor implementation of female genital mutilation (FGM) legislation is also identified by HRW as a key issue in failing to safeguard the rights of children. The practice, which is believed to have been performed on over 90% of young married Egyptian women, became illegal in 2008. The first conviction, however, came in January 2015 following the death of a young girl in 2013. HRW calls for a “comprehensive national strategy to end this practice that involves religious and community leaders, healthcare professionals, teachers, and nongovernmental groups”.
“Egypt’s enforcement of recent legal changes can make a difference in the lives of the country’s children,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at HRW. “But the Egyptian government still needs to do much more to protect children from serious abuse.”
“The government’s two recent steps to improve protection for children should now be followed by a sustained and serious campaign to improve the rights of all children in Egypt,” Coursen-Neff said.