الاثنين، 9 أبريل، 2012

Do streets bear children ?

Children of the streets ?
by Alia Mossallam

“Huwwa el share’ beygeeb welaad?” Nora, 16 years old[1]
“Tell me, do streets bear children? Do they?”

In an interview with a girl who lived on the street in 2008, she asked that she not be referred to as a street child. “Afterall…” she asked with scorn “do streets bear children? Where did you get this term from then?”[2].

Hers was a significant questioning of the name given to street children, and whereas the English term, ‘children on/of the streets’ may work better, a term that appeased all stakeholders involved with the issue was less easy to coin. As was a commonly agreed upon definition.

The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and other government institutions preferred ‘atfal bela ma’wa’ : children without a shelter. But the truth is most of Egypt’s street children do indeed have homes and families, but they are either families who encourage them to spend more time on the street for income, or drive them to it through physical and often sexual abuse.

The widest definition in Egypt, is that they are children under the age of 18 who spend all or most of the time on the streets. According to a study by the population council in 2008, 65% of children are driven to the street by the situation at home, whilst 23% are forced to leave the house by their parents.[3]

Street children in Egypt are mainly offered protection services by street-children NGOs (mainly in Cairo and Alexandria), as well as the Ministry of Social Solidarity under the shelters of the institutions of defense. The highest government body concerned with children’s issues has been the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

A long battle was waged by civil society organizations, supported by UNICEF and eventually sponsored by NCCM to amend the child law to protect children of the streets rather than incriminate them.

The child law of 1996 was amended in 2008 to reflect that street children were;
- Children at risk, rather than “children vulnerable to delinquency”[4]
- That street children can be criminalized (as juveniles) from the age of 12, rather than seven
- That children born to a single mother, can be issued a birth certificate in her name alone
- That minors are to be segregated from adults in detention centers[5] (criminal penalties are to be imposed for officials who jail children with adults)
- That child protection committees be established in governorates to monitor and support children at risk

Although the law was passed, legislations were not developed to ensure it was implemented. As a result children still faced the highest level of abuses inside police stations[6] and children are still detained with criminals of the highest offenses. Most of all however, was not that children were not protected by apparatus of the Ministry of interior, rather that they are constantly threatened and abused by them. Children are constantly subject to arrest campaigns, used for entrapments, and threatened with imprisonment if they did not do favors for corrupt police-men[7]. Furthermore the law entitling women to record children’s birth certificates in their own name was never enforced, thus incriminating both the women who have the children out of wedlock, and having the children born without formal identification. Causing further problems in their entitlements to health services and complicating the possibilities of their re-integration into society.
Aside from the abuse and maltreatment by the ministry or interior however, the children’s main concern and complaint, was not being heard. In a world of NGOs, National councils, state and corrective institutions, and a battle over laws and legislations; the children lived in a world of people who knew what was best for them, and little time to respond to what they saw best for themselves.
Although various service are offered by NGOs through street work, reception centers and shelters, the NGO’s main battle is to constantly protect the children form state apparatus, and protect themselves from the risk of closure. Even NCCM’s support has tended to be politically conditional. Whereas studies indicate that the number of children vary from hundreds of thousands to millions, NCCM insists on keeping it at a conservative ‘thousands’. This is metaphoric, both for the lack of accurate data on sensitive issues in Egypt, as well as NCCM’s conditional commitment to the children’s issues.
The research in this report (coming soon) is based on interviews with officials and children in 7 NGOs in Cairo; Banaty for girls, Egyptian Association for societal consolidation, Al Ma’wa, Hope Village Society, CARITAS, Bustan El Tefl and FACE. As well as lawyers from the EAFCC (Al mu’assasa al masreyya lel nohud be’awda’ al tofula), and various other human rights organizations part of the front for the protection of Egyptian protestors. It also draws upon interviews performed with 90 children in March of 2011 in an attempt to assess their experience throughout the revolution in a report for Human Rights watch.

Alia Mossallam


[1] Some of the children’s names were changed in this document as per their request
[2] Personal interview, 2008
[3] Behavrioral Survey amongst street children in greater Cairo and Alexandria. Population council regional office for middle east and North Africa, 2008
[4] Hosam el din, Taiseer. Street Children in Egypt, Research Gaps and Key Policies. UNICEF; Cairo. October, 2011.
[5] For the full amended law see: Egypt’s Child law 126 for the year 2008. Childs Rights International Network. http://www.crin.org/Law/instrument.asp?InstID=1373
[6] A study by NCCM and UNODC in 2007 indicate that over 55% of children on the streets have been abused by the police, however I believe this to be very conservative. A study by Hanna Abolghar, pediatrician and founder of the first reception centres and shelters for girls, indicate that most girls have been abused by police. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), NCCM. Guidance Manual for Protecting Street Children from Drugs, 2007.
[7] Based on interviews with 90 children in March, 2011. Also see: Charged with being children. Human Rights Watch, 2003. www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/egypt0203.pdf

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