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Child labor in Egypt is governed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Egypt is a party, and the Egyptian Child Law, which was adopted in furtherance of its obligations under the convention. Both legal systems provide a framework for the protection of working children that encompasses civil and political rights, such as protection from ill-treatment, as well as economic and social rights, including those relating to the health and education of the child. The two sets of standards provide for the regulation of children's hours and conditions of employment and include rights to medical treatment for occupational injuries or illnesses and protection from hazardous employment.

Egyptian Law
Egypt's Child Law was debated and adopted by the parliament in 1996, following recommendations by Egyptian social scientists and children's rights advocates aimed at bringing the country's domestic legislation into conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.20 The Child Law prohibits the employment of children below the age of fourteen, but allows children between the ages of twelve and fourteen to receive vocational training from employers and to take part in seasonal agricultural work, provided that the work "is not hazardous to their health and growth, and does not interfere with their studies."21 The law limits the work-day for children to six hours, only four of which may be consecutive, and requires the provision of one or more breaks totaling no less than one hour per day. The law further prohibits children from working during their weekly day[s] off, official holidays, and between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.22

The implementation of the Child Law is governed by the law's executive statutes. Promulgated in 1997 by decree of the prime minister, the statutes impose several additional obligations upon employers. These include providing children with articles of personal protection and instruction in their use, as well as ensuring the child's compliance with such instruction.23 Employers are further enjoined to treat children in their employ well, to provide them pure water and 200 grams of milk per day, and to guarantee medical treatment for job-related accidents and occupational diseases.24 Business owners are required to conduct medical examinations of children before engaging them in work, to ensure that they are fit for the type of work to which they are entrusted. Business owners are further obligated to take necessary steps to ensure that medical examinations of children in their employ are conducted at least once a year, and at the termination of the child's employment, "to make sure he/she is free of vocational diseases or work accidents."25 Children between the age of twelve and fourteen may not be engaged in seasonal work if their physical condition, as recorded in their health cards, "stands against his/her possible employment...."26

Neither the Child Law nor its executive statutes define or otherwise limit vocational diseases for the purpose of the law. In interpreting this provision, however, it is possible that courts will refer to the schedule of occupational diseases annexed to Egypt's Social Insurance Law of 1975. The 1975 law establishes a system of insurance coverage that includes medical care and treatment and insurance against work-related accidents, disability, and death.27 It applies to employees of the civil administration, public authorities, "general organizations," and public sector companies, as well as to "regular" employees subject to the Labor Law, aged eighteen years and older.28 The twenty-nine diseases listed on the schedule correspondingly include very few of the occupational illnesses that are typically contracted by agricultural workers.29 An employee whose disease does not appear on the schedule has to prove the causal relationship between his or her occupation and the disease contracted.30

A revised schedule was proposed in 1991 by a committee consisting of representatives of Egyptian universities, the national Health Insurance Organization, the Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and the military industries. The committee's proposals, which were never adopted, included adding to the schedule poisoning by organic and inorganic pesticides, diseases caused by heat and other physical agents, and occupational musculoskeletal disorders.31

International Law
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Egypt ratified on July 6, 1990, recognizes in article 32 the right of the child "to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development." The convention requires states parties to take legislative and administrative measures to ensure article 32's implementation, including "appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment" and "appropriate penalties or other sanctions."32 Several other provisions of the convention bear on the treatment of working children, including the right, guaranteed by the state, to "facilities for the treatment of illness and the rehabilitation of health," free and compulsory primary education, and rest and leisure.33 The convention prohibits the use of "torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Egypt on January 12, 1982.34

The International Labour Organization (ILO) in June 1999 adopted Convention 182, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which obligates states parties to "take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency."35 Although Convention 182 has not yet been ratified by Egypt, it provides an aid in interpreting Egypt's obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children from work that is likely to be hazardous or harmful to their health or development.

Under the convention, "the worst forms of child labour" include, among others, "forced or compulsory labour" and "work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children."36 The types of work encompassed by the latter category are to be determined by states parties in consultation with employer and worker organizations and in consideration of international standards, particularly ILO Recommendation 190, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation.37 The recommendation, adopted in 1999 in conjunction with Convention 182, states that consideration should be given to work that exposes children to physical abuse; "work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health"; and "work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or work which does not allow the possibility of returning home each day."38 Convention 182 further calls on states parties to prevent children from engaging in the worst forms of child labor, provide direct assistance for the removal of children already engaged in the worst forms of child labor, and to identify and reach out to children at risk.39 

The failure by Egypt's agricultural cooperatives to protect children in their employ from exposure to pesticides and heat, and the enforcement of long, and illegal work hours, as documented in this report, rises in our view to the level of the worst forms of child labor. Not only has the state failed to prevent children from engaging in work under such conditions, but it is directly responsible for perpetuating those conditions through its direction of the cooperatives and Egypt's cotton pest management program.

20 See generally Dr. Adel Azer and Dr. Maha El Adawy, Towards the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (Cairo: UNICEF, July 1994).

21 Child Law, article 64.

22 Ibid., article 66.

23 Prime Minister's Decree No. 3452/1997, Promulgating the Executive Statutes of the Child Law as Enacted by Law No. 12/1996, article 142. English translation published by the Middle East Library for Economic Services, Cairo.

24 Ibid., articles 144-147.

25 Ibid., article 138.

26 Ibid., article 137.

27 Law No. 79/1975, Promulgating the Social Insurance Law, article 1. English translation published by the Middle East Library for Economic Services, Cairo.

28 Ibid., article 2. Employees under the age of eighteen are entitled under the law to insurance coverage for work-related accidents only. Social Insurance Law, article 3.

29 Mohamed Farid Emara, "Agricultural Occupational Health Problems Not Included in the Schedule," Egyptian Journal of Occupational Medicine, 15, 1 (Supplement), "Modification of the Schedule of Occupational Diseases in Egypt," 1991, p. 91.

30 Mohamed M. Abdel Latif, "Historical Review of the Egyptian Schedule of Occupational Diseases," Egyptian Journal of Occupational Medicine, 15, 1 (Supplement), "Modification of the Schedule of Occupational Diseases in Egypt," 1991, p. 2.

31 Ahmad M. Emara, "New Diseases to be Added to the Schedule," Egyptian Journal of Occupational Medicine, 15, 1 (Supplement), "Modification of the Schedule of Occupational Diseases in Egypt," 1991, pp. 11-20.

32 Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 32.

33 Ibid., articles 24, 28, and 31.

34 Ibid., article 37(a), and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR
Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, article 7.

35 ILO Convention 182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999), article 1.

36 ILO Convention 182, article 3.

37 Ibid., article 4(1).

38 ILO Recommendation 190 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, 1999), article 3.

39 ILO Convention 182, article 7.

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