Overview of the Situation for Children
Egypt faces a unique child rights situation, particularly protection, for its 35 million child population post the historic political change. The major child rights challenges are protection, quality education, livelihoods skill development and basic health care. With major protection issues i.e. street children, irregular migration, child labour, children in institutional care and female genital mutilation, the country has a daunting task of setting in motion an effective national child protection system . An estimated 2.7 million children are child labourers . There is no definite survey on street children but it is estimated to be anywhere between 200,000 to 2 million. With unemployment touching about 25% among the youth and the country going through a political transition, scores of children (young adolescents) are at increasing risk of irregular migration. Inadequate care and violence, particularly sexual violence , make institutional care highly unsafe for children.
Save the Children has prioritised street children, irregular migration, institutional care standards and child labour in its national strategy and works very closely with NCCM - the focal national agency – to strengthen national child protection system in order to reduce and prevent violence, abuse and exploitation against children.
Harmful traditional practices:
Child labour, early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), are the major harmful traditional practices. The Child Law 1996 prohibits child labour up to the age of 15 in a number of industries; yet, there are large scale child labour in both rural and urban areas. Similarly, in spite of the legal marriage age being set at 18 for both girls and boys , many girls are married off without official papers. FGM is still practiced, albeit in declining rate, in spite of its ban.
Children without appropriate care and children on the move:
Main causes for children without appropriate care and therefore institutionalisation, are children after death of one or both parents (34%), due to a parent's illness (12%), due to adverse economic circumstances (12%), "unknown parenthood" (33%), parental divorce (8%) and a parent's imprisonment (1 %). This reflects high level of family vulnerability and weak social protection both within the family and from the state. Street children are another group. Studies have reported extreme forms of physical violence such as beating with electric wires, whips and sticks, or causing burns with hot instruments, apart from sexual violence that younger children are constantly exposed to. Adolescents undertaking migration are prone to life risks in journey by boats on open seas and wage exploitation at workplace.
Emergency situations and children:
Brief emergency during the political change process in January and February and the sectarian sporadic violence that erupted afterwards, created vulnerability for children’s protection. Egypt has a history of earthquakes that make emergency preparedness a key child protection instrument.
According to the national survey in 2001, over 64% of working children were in agriculture, yet this category of children are not legally protected under the labour law 2003 (Act no.12). The other categories of children that are not prohibited under the labour law are, child domestic workers and children involved in family-based economic activities. In effect, these children are exposed to exploitation, abuse and violence of varied nature.
The new Child Law 126 prohibits corporal punishment ( article7 ) yet, it is a dominant manifestation of violence against children in schools. Ignorance of both students and teachers about child rights and social practices of tolerance and acceptance of corporal punishment as a form of disciplining, leads to children leaving school, underperforming in exams and developing low self esteem.