الأحد، 8 أبريل 2012

Kids in the streets since the revolution

Since the revolution

by Alia Mossallam

“El share’ ba’a gashe’…tamma’…mesh zay el awel..” Dunya, 16 years old
“The streets have become creul…greedy…worse than before”

1. Arrests and detentions

Arrests of children, started with that of civilians, starting with the rolling in of the military tanks by the end of January. What was unfamiliar about the process was the fact that children were transferred to military prisons and thus more difficult to find. Many children under 16 were arrested for not carrying a national ID (issued at 16 years of age), or for breaking curfew, and few were transferred to military courts.

The court proceedings are swift, often take place without the presence of a lawyer, and are difficult to appeal. At times, making it even difficult to trace the children’s whereabouts.

With time however the situation worsened as more and more serious accusations were leveled against children arrested during political clashes, whether they were in the events or in the surrounding areas, these started with breaking the curfew and petty theft and developed into;

- Congregating (an offence under the emergency law)
- Carrying Molotov cocktails or ‘white’ weapons
- Inciting Violence

- Burning of public property

In most of these cases the children were framed. The events started with the army’s indiscriminate heavy handedness violating the rights of children and adults alike, and developed further as the ministry of interior returned to its barracks in the summer. Systematic arrests and abuse by the ministry of interior are now procedural, along with the military. Furthermore, since November onwards, a campaign to defame the children has started, using them as scapegoats for political clashes. In December, for instance, children were made to appear on TV and confess that they had been paid by activists to raise havoc in Tahrir. This in itself is an offence and violation of the child law. Both in using the children for political purposes and defaming them.

Below are the highlights, of arrests month by month, since the start of the revolution. These numbers were difficult to ascertain, especially during the first few months, where lawyers, were at best reacting to arrests, with little time to document. More so however I focus on the stories of children who were kidnapped by military police, state security soldiers or police; beaten, abused and returned to the streets. These cases are rarely documented except when the children go to the NGOs for help or support. Thus even when estimates for arrests and kidnapping exist, they are highly conservative. And every child that is released of jail, tells the tale of at least a handful others imprisoned with him or her.

In February, 2011 , a number of children were arrested for breaking the curfew, or not carrying a national ID (even though they were under 16 years – the age upon which one is issued).

Of these was 15 year old Mohammed Gaber, a well built, mentally challenged young man, on his way home to Alexandria on the 30th of January. Mohammed was blind-folded and hand-cuffed, his phone taken away from him and placed under disciplinary detention for a week in the 6th of October military prison. There he was beaten and electrocuted for a week on end. “They hit me everywhere” he described “I still have marks where they whipped and kicked me hard on my sides”[1]. Mohammed was then moved to the Borg el Arab prison in Alexandria, and due to the fact that Mohammed is mentally challenged, he was not able to explain his situation, nor offered the possibility to make any phone-calls. Finally Mohammed managed to give his father’s number to family visiting a fellow inmate, and after spending a month in prison was set free.

Three sisters, Zainab, Sanaa and Amira, on the other hand escaped their home in Aswan, Sanaa (17) suffered a nervous break down from the extent of her father and brothers’ beating, and came to Cairo on the 28th of January. They were arrested by the military police in the station, and detained for a few days, before being let go. They were arrested again a few days later, and after two weeks of arrests and release, the girls were finally transferred to a street children NGO.

On the 9th of March, and during the first military crackdwn on Tahrir, 13 year old Mostafa Gamal El Din[2], was arrested and received a military trial, for which he was sentenced to one year. He was released three weeks later. Mohammed Abdelhady, 16 yars old, was sentenced to three years in Tora prison, and after much pressure and campaigning, his sentence was reduced and suspended, and he was released on the 21st of May, two months later.

On the 15th of May, during protests in front of the Israeli Embassy events in memory of Nakba; 150 protestors arrested, 17 of whom were under 18 years of age. They children were let out three days later, with suspended one-year sentences.[3]

On the 9th of September, during protests in front of the Isreali Embassy, demanding justice for the three Egyptian soldiers shot by Israeli soldiers, 38 protestors were arrested, including 5 children under 18 years or age, and on the 10th, 87 were arrested, 8 of them under age. All were released on the first of November, with one year suspended sentences.[4]

On the 30th of September in protests before the ministry of defense, 12 protestors were arrested, includeing one 15 year old. He was tried, pronounced innocent and released on the 13th of November.[5]

On the 9th of October, during the events known as the Maspiro Massacre; 28 peaceful protestors were arrested, three of which were under 18. All were released on the 23rd of November, but their cases continue in court.[6]

In the events during the period of 16th – 20th of December known as the ‘Ministerial cabinet’ events, 76 children[7] were arrested and detained. Two of these were children under 12 years of age.

It is during these events that the violations against the children were noted to be highest. Arrested girls (around 15 years of age) were threatened with virginity tests, and children were beaten, tortured and threatened by police. Many of the children arrested were not even within the realms of the ministerial cabinet, sit-in.

Besides the 76 children arrested and detained and documented by lawyers, many children were kidnapped and let go eventually, which makes them invisible to all records of violations. These are a few examples;

16 year old Yousri Salem, enrolled in an NGO shelter, and not one interested in protests, was walking to Saad Zaghloul metro station when he was kidnapped by civilian-clothed police in a microbus. He was taken to a building near parliament, and beaten and whipped for hours, breaking one of his ribs[8]. He was eventually released unto the streets.

Aly Abdelmaguid, 15[9], was standing with an old man, near the events, when they were both attacked by military police. The old man was let go, but even when he claimed Aly was with him, the police shouted back “Let this be a lesson, not to bring your children to the square”, Aly was taken to the parliament building where several others were detained, made to stand in a long row and beaten extensively. “Every now and then they would bring us water…I would take my time drinking hoping to keep them off me for the longest time possible. I was always terribly afraid of falling. We all saw what happened when someone fell whilst being beaten – they would almost be whipped to death!”

Dunya El Sayed, 15 years old[10] was also arrested during these events, whilst selling tea in Tahrir. She was taken with the two girls she was with, detained in a building near the cabinet, and beaten extensively for hours, before they were taken to Abdin station. There she was detained for 12 days, before she could call her lawyers. “It’s not that they didn’t give me a chance to make the phone calls, but all the beating and electrifying tasers, made me forget mama Hind (social worker)’s number…mama hind whose number I’ve known for four years…imagine?”

In February of 2012, and a year after the start of the revolution, the violations against the children achieved new records. 63 children were arrested during these events, approximately 60% of which were street children. Children arrested in this case were detained in state security camps (mu’askar amn markazy) in Tora, making it difficult for lawyers and human rights practitioners to find them. Children were beaten excessively upon capture (one child complained of four hours of beating whilst another was beaten naked on the bathroom floor), and one was arrested with rubber bullet wounds. However they were denied medical attention for up to four days of their arrest. Lawyers suspect they were kept in state security camps until their wounds healed so a case could not filed against their captors.

The children were also presented before three general prosecutors including Abdin, El Wayly, and El Sayeda Zainab, making it difficult for lawyers to be present. Lawyer Ahmed Meselhy[11] quotes a child who said he was threatened with detention should he not go out and return by the end of the day with a package of cigarettes and 100 pounds.

To date, 52 of the children were released, but nine children remain detained. All nine are school-children. The arrests as of late have been indiscriminate to street children and school children and adults and minors alike. The arrests of the street children however are being blown up to use them for the wide-spread arrests of children, as ‘thugs’ were used to justify the arrests and violations of the rights of protestors.

Finally, during the events in Portsaid on the 2nd of February, 25 children were arrested. Eight have been released, but 17 are still detained. These children are once again detained in state security camps , making it difficult to find them or assess their health. They are also presented before the prosecutors’ offices in Ismaeleyya, Suez and Mansoura.

In cases as of November onwards, the children are being used as scape-goats, to turn public opinion against the revolution – making it seem like ‘violence’ is incited by children, as it was made to look incited by thugs, and drain the situation of political purpose. The percentage of children arrested grows in each incident.

2. Military trials

The exact number of children exposed to military trials is yet to be identified, due to the swift nature of the trials in the absence of a lawyer, as well as the difficulty in documentation in the beginning of the revolution. Since the beginning of the revolution, and until the events of December however, children were systematically transferred to military courts and military prosecutors.

At the moment, the pending case known to the ‘No to military trials campaign’ is that of Islam Hassan, 17 years old, arrested in March of 2011 and sentenced to seven years in prison for theft.

3. Lack of security and NGO work

The work of NGOs, now the only active and effective institutions working with children has become difficult as of late, because of the security situation. This has meant :

- A heightened level of suspicion of street children in the streets, makes the streets even more hostile to children (they are sometimes arrested by shop-keepers and handed over to the military) as well as to street (social) workers who visit the children at night

- Mobile units which make rounds during the night have also been met with hostility and one group was arrested in November[12], and warned against operating on the streets with kids without clearing from the ministry of interior (which is difficult to obtain).

- An issue which has become exacerbated as of late is the influence of older youth over younger ones. These young ‘leaders’ seem to be manipulated by the ministry of interior as of late, which makes them comfortable in their abuse of the children, knowing they will be protected.

- Consequentially, NGOs who strive to protect the children, feel threatened by the older youth, especially NGOs who work with girls, and protect them from abuse.

Alia Mossallam

[1] Personal Interview, March 2011. Al Ma’wa NGO
[2] From : “Atfal da7aya el 3askar” “Children: victims of the military”
No Military trials Campaign:

[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Figures and details of detention and release provided by the EFACC group of children’s lawyers (El mu’assassa al masreyya lel nuhud be ‘awda’ al tofulah) 65% of this figure were street-children.
[8] Testimony documented by The Egyptian association for societal consolidation – NGO for street Children in Masr el Qadima
[9] Testimony documented by the Egyptian association for societal consolidation
[10] Personal interview in Banati NGO, Masr el Qadima, March, 2012
[11] Personal Interview in EFACC, March 2012
[12] Personal Interview with social workers of Caritas NGO, March, 2012

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