To the res­cue of home­less chil­dren

Watani International - - الصفحة الأمامية -

Home­less chil­dren that roam the streets beg­ging for food or alms or of­fer­ing to do petty tasks are not pe­cu­liar to Cairo; they can be found in other ma­jor cities around the world, es­pe­cially the un­der­de­vel­oped world. Even though a por­tion of these chil­dren have nowhere to call home, many more take to the streets be­cause of ag­o­nis­ing fam­ily con­di­tions that make the streets safer for the chil­dren than their own homes.

So­ci­eties strug­gle to find a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of home­less chil­dren since, apart from the fact that they are more of­ten than not vic­tims, they end up get­ting in­volved in crime and drugs. The Egyp­tian so­ci­ety, too, is no ex­cep­tion.

Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah al- Sisi re­cently de­cided to al­lo­cate EGP100 mil­lion of the State bud­get to re­solve the prob­lem of home­less chil­dren, a move that was ap­plauded by in­sti­tu­tions con­cerned with chil­dren s rights.

It is not clear, how­ever, how the ut­most ben­e­fit can be gained from this money, es­pe­cially since there are no spe­cific num­bers of home­less chil­dren in Egypt. 81ICEF, the 8nited 1ations In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren s Emer­gency Fund, has placed their num­ber at two mil­lion, whereas sta­tis­tics by the Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity re­fer to only 16,000.

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“It is im­pos­si­ble to mon­i­tor the phe­nom­e­non as long as there are no of­fi­cial num­bers of home­less chil­dren in Egypt,” the pres­i­dent of the Egyp­tian Cen­tral Agency for Public Mo­bil­i­sa­tion and Sta­tis­tics CAPMAS once said.

In 2009, CAPMAS joined the 1ational Coun­cil for Moth­er­hood and Child­hood in con­duct­ing a spe­cific count in Cairo and some other gov­er­norates. But this proved next to im­pos­si­ble since the street chil­dren fled once they learnt that they were un­der of­fi­cial re­search. They felt fright­ened and un­safe, sus­pect­ing that if they an­swered ques­tions they could be later traced and easily caught for any of­fence.

Ac­cord­ing to the fig­ures of the Min­istry of So­cial Af­fairs, to­day the Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity, for the years 2008 2009, chil­dren in Egypt de­prived of parental care and homes were es­ti­mated at 10,796. These were the num­bers of those aged from seven to 18 and placed in homes pro­vided by 390 so­ci­eties or or­phan­ages. There were a fur­ther 42,679 who had been in con­flict with the law and who were then en­rolled in 356 so­ci­eties that acted in the stead of cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties.

De­spite the dif­fi­culty of ob­tain­ing ac­cu­rate num­bers, the latest sta­tis­tics con­ducted by civil- rights or­gan­i­sa­tions place the num­ber of home­less chil­dren at some three mil­lion. “It is hard to de­ter­mine their num­bers be­cause they are not res­i­dent in a spe­cific place but move ev­ery­where,” Doaa Ab­bas of the , lit­er­ally Res­cue me, cam­paign for res­cu­ing home­less chil­dren says.

The Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity said it would be us­ing the EGP100 mil­lion al­lo­cated by the Pres­i­dent to de­velop and up­grade 36 in­sti­tu­tions that serve home­less chil­dren, and to pro­vide coun­selling ser­vices. A fur­ther EGP48 mil­lion will be used for 25 civil so­ci­eties to be equipped to of­fer di­rect ser­vices to street chil­dren.

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The dire con­di­tions and num­bers have led to the launch of many ini­tia­tives or projects that aim at car­ing for these chil­dren. The ini­tia­tives have come through so­ci­eties or as­so­ci­a­tions reg­is­tered with the Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity, or through in­ter­na­tional en­ti­ties.

In co­op­er­a­tion with the 1G2 Ini­ti­ate for de­vel­op­ment and hu­man rights, the le­gal so­ci­ety for fam­ily and chil­dren s rights launched a cam­paign to es­tab­lish an in­te­gral town for chil­dren who had no homes and no fam­i­lies. At the same time, the Emi­rates good­will am­bas­sador Mona al­Man­souri sug­gested that a com­plete town to re­ha­bil­i­tate home­less Egyp­tian chil­dren be es­tab­lished with the aim of chang­ing the at­ti­tude of so­ci­ety. This pro­posal was ap­plauded by the Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity, Dar al-If­taa al-Mis­riyyah the foun­da­tion in charge of is­su­ing lit­er­ally re­li­gious Is­lamic ver­dicts in Egypt and other civil so­ci­eties. is also the name of a re­cent cam­paign launched by the civil move­ment that goes by the same name, with the aim of build­ing a city for home­less Egyp­tian chil­dren.

“The prob­lem of home­less chil­dren lies in that they have no place to go,” Ms Ab­bas, who is also head of the le­gal as­so­ci­a­tion for fam­ily and chil­dren s rights, says. “There are only 26 refuges in all of Egypt, and they only ac­cept chil­dren un­der 15; those over that age are en­rolled in cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties. All of which means that we have no spe­cial as­so­ci­a­tion or gov­ern­ment en­tity to care for these chil­dren. 1on-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions that work with street chil­dren of­fer only day care. Af­ter 4 00pm the home­less are left to go back to streets.” Ms Ab­bas be­lieves this ef­fort is fu­tile; it bears no fruit since it of­fers no con­trol nei­ther does it have any sys­tem.

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“We launched our cam­paign, ,” says Ms Ab­bas, “with the aim of es­tab­lish­ing a full town to af­ford real as­sis­tance and sup­port to chil­dren who have no homes. We hope to pro­tect them from the pre­car­i­ous des­tiny that awaits them ev­ery night when they hud­dle to sleep un­der a bridge, on a street cor­ner or on a side­walk. They are vic­tims merely by be­long­ing to fam­i­lies that know noth­ing about re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

In this town, ac­cord­ing to Ms Abass, the chil­dren would re­ceive the ser­vices they need in all as­pects of life food, cloth­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, and cul­ture. They would have a safe place to sleep, as well as en­ter­tain­ment and so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion to merge them back into so­ci­ety. There would be hand­i­craft ac­tiv­ity and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion, which would pave the way be­fore them to gain em­ploy­ment and homes in the fu­ture. “So as to build the town un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity, we have filed a re­quest with the Pres­i­dent, the Prime Min­is­ter, and the Min­is­ter of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity,” Ms Ab­bas said. “But, un­for­tu­nately, our re­quest was not ap­proved. 1o con­vinc­ing rea­son was given, although the re­quest fol­lows all the req­ui­site laws and goes along with the Con­sti­tu­tion which stip­u­lates a role for the State in af­ford­ing shel­ters for the chil­dren and pro­tect­ing them from abuse or vi­o­lence.”

Ms Ab­bas crit­i­cises the de­ci­sion by the Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity to use the State-al­lo­cated funds to up­grade ex­ist­ing so­ci­eties which, in her opin­ion, have failed to care for street chil­dren.

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Af­ter the Arab Spring upris­ing in 2011, sev­eral cam­paigns were launched in an ef­fort to help street chil­dren when the de­mon­stra­tors in Tahrir Square could see for them­selves the grow­ing num­bers of home­less chil­dren in the square. “2nce the demon­stra­tions were called off, we tried to help these chil­dren to find suit­able places,” Ms Ab­bas said. “But sadly, no place agreed to ac­cept them and they went back to the streets.

“Even when we as a civil move­ment signed a pro­to­col with the ed­u­ca­tional es­tab­lish­ments af­fil­i­ated to the Min­istry of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity, they only ac­cepted six of the chil­dren. There is no place in Egypt that is qual­i­fied to look af­ter home­less chil­dren, and all cur­rent as­so­ci­a­tions are in­di­vid­ual ef­forts. So, we de­cided to set up a na­tional pro­ject with a com­plete vil­lage along the line of in­ter­na­tional ones. In Egypt, the S2S re­ceives only foundling chil­dren, and oth­ers re­ceive chil­dren un­der six years old. But they all care for the chil­dren un­til they are 18, af­ter which they go back to the streets.

“This con­trib­utes di­rectly to wors­en­ing the prob­lem of home­less chil­dren” Ms Ab­bas says. “It led us to launch a cam­paign to col­lect sig­na­tures and con­vey the mes­sage to all con­cerned, whether in­di­vid­u­als or as­so­ci­a­tions, to put pres­sure on of­fi­cials to ap­prove our new pro­ject,” she added. “We would then ap­proach the ju­di­ciary, which ac­cord­ing to 2014 Con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates al­lo­cat­ing a safe place for home­less chil­dren.”

As for crit­i­cisms that a town for the home­less would ef­fec­tively iso­late these chil­dren from the com­mu­nity, Ms Ab­bas says it is the only way to re­ha­bil­i­tate them on all lev­els and send them back to the com­mu­nity as healthy, pro­duc­tive in­di­vid­u­als. They would have been pro­vided with ex­pert ed­u­ca­tion and vo­ca­tional train­ing to help them find work.

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“8nfor­tu­nately,” says A]] a Karim, Pro­fes­sor of So­ci­ol­ogy and Re­searcher at the 1ational Cen­tre for So­cial and Crim­i­no­log­i­cal Re­search 1CSCR , “many ini­tia­tives are launched but none see light. Pre­vi­ous 1CSCR man­ager 1agwa Khalil had once an­nounced a plan to use a 40-fed­dan area in 6 2cto­ber satel­lite town west of Cairo for the ben­e­fit of chil­dren in a way never be­fore seen, yet it has not been im­ple­mented.

“Af­ter study­ing the rea­sons for the prob­lem and the so­lu­tions, we found the main rea­son was that the ed­u­ca­tional meth­ods of of­fi­cial and civil as­so­ci­a­tions con­tra­dicted the op­ti­mal ed­u­ca­tional method for mod­i­fy­ing the be­hav­iour of the chil­dren, who are mainly look­ing for care and ten­der­ness,” Dr Karim added. “These tra­di­tional meth­ods lead the chil­dren to es­cape, since they were liv­ing freely when they lived in the street. So in these as­so­ci­a­tions they feel like pris­on­ers who are be­ing pe­nalised.

“In a study by the 1CSCR of more than 1,000 home­less chil­dren, when asked which they pre­ferred, as­so­ci­a­tion, fam­ily, or street? , the sur­prise an­swer was that 99 per cent pre­ferred the street.

“As­so­ci­a­tions should have been pre­ferred to the street be­cause of a num­ber of pro­grammes that deal kindly with the chil­dren and meet the need for free­dom they find in the street,” Dr Karim said.

She likes the idea of hav­ing a spe­cial vil­lage or town, but on cer­tain con­di­tions. “The most im­por­tant is to pro­vide them with an ed­u­ca­tional method that does not im­pose any re­pres­sion of free­dom, bear­ing in mind that they will need to be pro­vided with birth cer­tifi­cates once they are en­rolled in this town. At the same time, we should treat the rea­sons fam­ily breakup, un­usual re­la­tion­ships in a fam­ily, and poverty. This would in turn de­crease the num­bers of home­less chil­dren.”

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“How would we de­fine those chil­dren?” asks Ahmed Me­seilhi, head of the chil­dren s de­fence net­work at the Syn­di­cate of / awyers. “Are they those who do not have homes? 2r are they fugi­tives from their fam­i­lies? 2r or­phans who do not have fam­i­lies?

“I pre­fer to de­fine this cat­e­gory as the chil­dren who have not found any shel­ter ex­cept the street. Ac­cord­ing to a field-sur­vey, we found that 70 per cent of them do not have birth cer­tifi­cates. They are ac­cord­ingly lead­ing lives that are of­fi­cially illegal, which in­vari­ably means they are not ac­cept­able in as­so­ci­a­tions con­cerned with child care.

“The great prob­lem is that these chil­dren keep on them­selves hav­ing chil­dren, cre­at­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of home­less chil­dren.”

Even though they are vic­tims, home­less chil­dren are con­stantly be­ing chased by the po­lice. This ex­plains their ag­gres­sive re­sponse to­wards the po­lice and other peo­ple, some­times us­ing stones and home­made weapons in de­fence. Fol­low­ing the 25 Jan­uary Revo­lu­tion some were hired by Mus­lim Broth­ers MB to carry out vi­o­lent ac­tions.

“Field sur­veys also in­di­cate,” Dr Me­seilhi says, “that 100 per cent of home­less chil­dren are on drugs, and 95 per cent have been raped by older street chil­dren or went into pros­ti­tu­tion. Hence the need for a clear strat­egy for im­ple­men­ta­tion that in­cludes psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of those chil­dren by ex­perts, hu­man rights and le­gal pro­tec­tion, med­i­cal care and ed­u­ca­tion, as well as be­ing merged into so­ci­ety through job op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Es­tab­lish­ing a vil­lage for such chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to Dr Me­seilhi, would only be a par­tial so­lu­tion. “It would not treat the prob­lem at the roots,” he says. “The ini­tia­tive should in­stead be launched by the min­istries con­cerned with child care to guar­an­tee a far-reach­ing so­lu­tion to the prob­lem.”

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