When Human Rights Watch interviewed sixteen-year-old Amal A. in July 2002, she had been living on the street for about four months, sleeping in a public park. "I left home because my father needed money and wanted me to work as a maid in a house," she said. "I had worked once in Aswan and the man there attacked me. He molested me. I told my father about it but he still wanted me to work. I was eleven years old the first time. I refused to work any more for those people so my father beat me with a whip. [Now] my father hits me all the time because he wants money. But where will I get him money? I was recently engaged to be married but the engagement was broken off because of money. He was a nice man, a twenty-two-year-old fruit seller. A victim of circumstances, like me." 4
Amal told us that her father removed her from school before she finished first grade and then prevented her from completing the literacy class she began at thirteen. "I had just finished the 2nd level when my father took me out. He said, `You are a big girl now. Bad things happen [to girls] in school.'" With only a second grade education, she supports herself by begging and selling tissues. Amal's younger brother also lives on the street, but she said she rarely sees him. "My brother has also left home. My father told him not to come back unless he has money. He is fourteen."
Amal's most recent arrest took place a few days before our interview in July 2002, during one of the Cairo police's regular arrest campaigns against street children. "The government put me in a microbus and took me to the Sahel police station [in the Shobra neighborhood], up the stairs to the detectives' office. The officer there hit me with his hands and then made an investigative report. Then he sent me to the bottom floor to the lockup. That time I was in the lockup for two days; the other times it was for four days."
Like almost every child Human Rights Watch interviewed, police detained Amal without food or bedding, in a crowded, filthy cell, with adults who beat and threatened her. Police at the station did not protect Amal from abuses by adult detainees and beat and threatened her and other girls detained with her, using degrading, sexual language. "The guards at the station curse us with curses about our mothers and so sometimes they hit us," she told us. "My mother is dead so I don't let anyone curse her. If the guards do curse me I curse them back. Sometimes the guard tells the officer and then the officer hits me. Twice the officer has done this-it is the same one. He curses me and makes me stand while he hits me with a stick. When I fall to the ground he makes me stand again. He hits me all over my body-from my head to my feet."
Despite Amal's multiple arrests, Egyptian authorities have never offered her protection and care, nor have they investigated the police and family members who abused her. Instead, police who see her on the street routinely assume she is a criminal and detain her until they determine that there are no outstanding warrants for her arrest. "The police send our papers to the [Cairo Police] Directorate to see if we have cases against us, and when they don't find anything they let us go. The papers go [to the Directorate], not us. They don't send us home, they just let us go. Usually it is at night, about midnight or 1 a.m."
Amal's case is not unusual. Egyptian law does not effectively distinguish between children who have committed criminal offenses and children who are in need of protection. Chapter Eight of Egypt's Child Law 12 of 1996, entitled "The Criminal Treatment of Children," allows police to arrest any child under eighteen for a wide variety of activities.6 Some of these activities, including being habitually absent from school or suffering from mental illness or diminished mental capacity, are "status offenses" that would not constitute crimes if committed by adults. Others, like being homeless, begging, or practicing or working for those involved in prostitution, gambling, or drugs, are clear evidence that a child is in need of special protection and assistance from the state.
Even when a child meets Egypt's legal definition of a child in need of protection, he or she faces tremendous legal and practical obstacles to receiving such protection.7 Police often illegally detain children without notifying family members or the Public Prosecution Office. When police do present children to the Public Prosecution Office, prosecutors and juvenile court judges frequently order children to be returned to their families without adequately investigating evidence of family or police abuse, and police responsible for carrying out these orders often simply return children to the street. The Public Prosecution Office for Juveniles and the juvenile court rarely order protective placements for children, although the Child Law's implementing regulation allows them to do so.
In the vast majority of cases Human Rights Watch investigated, the single most important factor leading to a child's arrest on charges of being "vulnerable to delinquency" was the amount of time the child spent on the street. With the exception of one child who had been arrested while working in a brothel, all of the children we interviewed had spent significant periods of time living and/or working on the street; in some cases children had lived on the street for years. In almost every case, the children were living and working on the street because of severe family crises.8
The children we spoke with consistently cited family violence and the divorce or remarriage of a parent as the primary reasons they left home. When we interviewed thirteen-year-old Amin N. in July 2002, he had been living on the street for two years, ever since his parents divorced and each married other partners. "They have new families and don't want me," he said. Amin and his three brothers were left to fend for themselves, while his only sister stayed with their mother "because she's a girl." With no education, Amin supports himself with tips he earns wiping dust off cars that park near a well-known restaurant in the Sayyida Zaynab neighborhood of Cairo.9 Yasir I., fourteen, told us that he worked moving crates at Cairo's al `Abur fruit market. "I sleep at the Qala` [an ancient citadel that is now a major tourist attraction] and go home maybe every other week," he said. "My father beats me so I don't like to stay there."10 `Amr R., sixteen, left home when he was nine, following his parents' divorce. His father has since divorced and remarried several times, but each of the new wives has refused to allow `Amr to stay with her. `Amr told us he sleeps wherever he can; like Amin N. he supports himself with tips earned wiping dust from parked cars. "People treat us badly," he said. "Exactly like we are dogs in the street."11 When interviewed in Cairo in July 2002 Wafa' R. had just fled her family home in a city in the Sa`id for the fourth time because of abuse. She expressed her exasperation with both her family and the police who returned her to them. "I do everything there," she said. "I wash clothes, wash dishes, everything, and still my father beats me. He hits me with an electric cord. As soon as the police send me [home] I come right back to Cairo."12
Thabit A., ten, has been living on the street for about three years and, like Amin N., wipes dust from cars in the Sayyida Zaynab neighborhood. Thabit said he goes home occasionally but never stays long. "My father hits me. Last Friday I went home and my father hit me with a piece of metal." Thabit's older brother also lives on the street, but the two rarely see each other. "Each one is responsible for himself," he said.13
In several cases, violence by stepparents was severe enough to lead very young children to undertake long journeys to escape abuse. Fifteen-year-old Anwar R. came to Cairo from the Sa`id at age twelve. "I rode the train," he said. "My dad's wife was hitting me so I left. My mother has been dead for seven years." Police have sent Anwar back to his home governorate several times, but he continues to return to Cairo.14 Nasir Y., fifteen, rode a train to Cairo from the Bani Suwayf governorate at age ten. "My mother remarried and my mother's new husband treated me badly. He beat me and cursed me, so I left." Nasir now lives on the Cairo streets and supports himself by wiping dust from cars.15
Nine-year-old Ayman M. told Human Rights Watch he worked as a mechanic's assistant before deciding to leave his home in Alexandria in early June, 2002. "I saw shows on TV that showed nice things in Cairo," he said. "Cairoland [amusement park], games, fish that jump from the water. . . . I was living with my mom and my mom's husband, but he beats me." A Cairo-based nongovernmental organization eventually found his family and attempted to arrange for his return, but Ayman prefers to stay in Cairo. "My mother says she doesn't care if I stay here [at a drop-in center]," he said.18 Sixteen-year-old Yusif H. has worked as a shoe-shine boy since he was small. He told us that he left home after finishing third grade because he wanted "greater freedom" than his family allowed him.19
Suliman M., fourteen, told us he left home when he was about ten, not long after his father pulled him out of school to work in a metal shop repairing automobile bodies. "For a while I worked with my brother, but I haven't done that for a long time," he said. "My brother used to beat me and throw me out on the street, so I left." He now lives on the street in the Sayyida Zaynab neighborhood and supports himself with tips earned by wiping dust off parked cars. Evidence of his disturbed emotional state was evident even to a person without psychiatric training. Asked how he imagined his future, he told us: "My life is all sorrow in sorrow. When I grow up I want to be a police officer so I can take what's due me. So that if anyone says anything to me or bothers me I can hit him. I want to be able to tell my mother, I'll kill you for what you did to me." 20
Education and Poverty
International law guarantees all children the right to free, compulsory primary education.23 The Egyptian Constitution provides for free, compulsory Basic Education through grade nine and free education at other levels.24 In practice, parents of children in public schools pay registration and health insurance fees, buy school uniforms and supplies, and often are pressured by underpaid teachers to pay for private tutoring so that their children succeed in school exams.25 High rates of school non-attendance in Egypt are linked to poverty, poor quality of education, and low educational levels of heads of households.26 These factors in turn increase the probability that children will face substantial disadvantages in the labor market, including pressures to engage in hazardous and exploitive work and diminished opportunities that may trap them and their children in a cycle of poverty and illiteracy. 27 Children not enrolled in school are also subject to arrest as habitual truants and miss out on valuable services and benefits, most notably the state-subsidized health insurance.28 Children who fall out of the educational system have difficulty reentering it later, and may find themselves ineligible for all forms of secondary education, including technical and vocational education.29
Children whom Human Rights Watch interviewed typically cited poverty as the primary reason they had never entered school or had left before completing Basic Education. This was particularly true of girls.30 Wafa' R., fifteen, said, "I've never gone to school because we have no money. No one in my family has gone to school. We are two boys and one girl. My father sells fruit."31 Fifteen-year-old Ilham N. said, "My father didn't want me to go to school. He said, `Instead of spending money on sending you to school it is better to spend the money taking care of all of you.' Because we are seven children."32 Reem G. dropped out after third grade. "I wanted to continue, but my mother had difficult circumstances," she said.33 Boys also cited poverty as the reason they were not in school. Suliman M., fourteen, told us, "I went to school until fifth grade. Then my father took me out to work as a sumkari [a metalworker repairing automobiles]."34
Children who did not cite poverty as the direct cause of their dropping out of school often cited the effects of broken marriage, repeated failures related to a lack of tutoring, or their parents' perception that they were "not suitable for education." Sixteen-year old Yusif H. told Human Rights Watch that he left school during third grade because he "didn't have a constitution for learning."35 `Amr R., also sixteen, dropped out in second grade "because I failed the makeup exam and had to repeat the year."36 "I went to fifth grade, but I kept failing, so I left school," said Nasir Y., fifteen.37 "I was too old to go to school," said Ayman M., nine.38 Hoda L., fourteen, dropped out after fifth grade. "I left school because my mother and father divorced and remarried," she said. "I was staying with my mother and she didn't have money to send me to school. I'm the oldest. There are two younger children, plus one from my mother and her new husband."39 Seif S., fourteen, said he left school because "my father's [new] wife took me out of school."40
4 Human Rights Watch interview with Amal A., Cairo, Egypt, July 17, 2002.
5 See Child Law 12 of 1996, Official Gazette no. 13 [adjunct], March 28, 1996 (in Arabic), article 96.
6 Child Law, articles 94-134. For a more detailed discussion of this issue, see Chapter VI.
7 Prime Ministerial Decree 3452 of 1997 enacting the Executive Statute of Child Law 12 of 1996, Official Gazette no. 48 [adjunct], November 27, 1997, articles 203-204. For a more detailed discussion of this issue, see Chapter VI.
8 A 2001 survey of fifty street children between ten and eighteen years of age (average age thirteen) produced similar findings: asked to identify the direct reasons for their street existence, 82 percent of children gave child abuse by the family or at work, and 62 percent indicated parental neglect; in addition, 62 percent of the children "came from broken families due to divorce, separation, the death of one or more parents, imprisonment of a parent or both, or extreme sickness of a parent or both." Abt Enterprises LLC, Rapid Situation Assessment of Street Children in Cairo and Alexandria: Final Report, March 29, 2001, Prepared for the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, the World Food Program, and the U.N. International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), pp. 17, 18.
9 Most of the boys we interviewed earn money by staking out a high turn-over parking area, often near a busy restaurant or shopping district, where they direct cars in and out of parking spaces and wipe dust from parked cars with a rag. Drivers in Cairo generally tip 0.50LE to 1LE (approximately U.S.$0.11 to U.S.$0.22) for this service, and especially sympathetic children may easily earn more. Competition for spots in prime areas can be fierce, and children compete not only with each other but with men. Human Rights Watch interview with Amin N., Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
10 Human Rights Watch interview with Yasir I., Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
11 Muslims consider dogs to be ritually unclean, and calling someone a dog is extremely offensive. In Egypt, the government conducts regular campaigns to eradicate stray dogs during which police shoot any dog they find on the street. Human Rights Watch interview with Amr R. , Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
12 Human Rights Watch interview with Wafa' R, Cairo, Egypt, July 16, 2002.
13 Human Rights Watch interview with Thabit A., Cairo, Egypt, July 10, 2002.
14 Human Rights Watch interview with Anwar R., Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
15 Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Y., Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
16 Child Law, article 64. The same article allows for exceptions to the prohibition on children under fourteen working. For example, children twelve to fourteen years of age may receive vocational training and 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," subject to approval by the Ministry of Education and the responsible governor.
17 The estimate was based on a nationally representative, multistage, stratified, probability cluster sample of adolescents conducted in 1997. The total sample size was 13,271 households, and included children involved in paid and unpaid labor. Population Council, Social and Health Status and Educational Achievement of Adolescents in Egypt (Cairo, Egypt: Population Council, 1998). Selected data from the study are available at http://www.aucegypt.edu/src/childlabor/ASCE.htm (retrieved September 6, 2002). See also Human Rights Watch, "Underage and Unprotected: Child Labor in Egypt's Cotton Fields," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 13, no. 1(E), January 2001; and Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Advancing the Campaign Against Child Labor: Efforts at the Country Level (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 2002), pp. 83-89.
18 Human Rights Watch interview with Ayman M., Cairo, Egypt, July 17, 2002.
19 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusif H., Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
20 Human Rights Watch interview with Suliman M., Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
21 See the Convention on the Rights of the Child, articles 28 and 29; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, article 13; and the General Comments of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which provide authoritative guidance on the interpretation of the right to education in those two treaties. For a broader discussion of the impact of the right to education, see the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Annual Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (New York: United Nations, 2001), E/CN. 4/2001/52, paras. 6-14; and Human Rights Watch, Second Class: Discrimination against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI). 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force January 3, 1976); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 1, The Aims of Education, April 17, 2001, paras. 1-4; Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 29, The Right to Education, December 8, 1999, para. 1.
22 A 2001 survey of fifty street children between ten and eighteen years of age (average age thirteen) found similarly high rates of non-attendance. Seventy percent of those children were dropouts and 30 percent had never been enrolled in school. Abt Enterprises LLC, Rapid Situation Assessment, pp. 15-16.
23 Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 28; International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, article 13.
24 Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, as amended, articles 18, 20; and Child Law, article 59. Egyptian Basic Education consists of primary education (grades one through six, corresponding with ages six through eleven), and preparatory education (grades seven through nine, corresponding with ages twelve through fourteen).
25 Education Law 139 of 1981 allows for public schools to charge fees for services, insurance, and equipment. The 2000 Egypt Demographic Health Survey found median family expenditures per child among children age six to fifteen attending public schools were 25.3LE for registration and tuition fees, 66.7LE for uniforms/other clothing/bags, 31.8LE for textbooks/supplies, and 10.1LE for tutoring/special classes for a total of 133.9 LE, or approximately U.S.$35 at the 2000 exchange rate. Fatma El-Zanaty and Ann A. Way, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2000 (Ministry of Health and Population, January 2001), pp. 210-211.
26 Based on the preliminary results of the 1999/2000 Household Income Expenditure Survey, the International Labor Organization estimates that over 20 percent (approximately twelve million people) of the Egyptian population fall below the lower poverty line (signifying an inability to satisfy their basic food and non-food needs), and over 50 percent of the population (almost thirty-two million people) fall below the upper poverty line (reflecting actual consumption expenditure of the poor, and not essential needs only). See Naglaa El-Ehwany and Heba El-Laithy, Poverty, Employment and Policy-Making in Egypt: A Country Profile (Cairo: Egypt, International Labor Organization Area Office, October 2001), pp. 13-14; and El-Zanaty and Way, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2000, pp. 10-11, 57-58.
27 A 2001 International Labor Organization study on Egypt found levels of education "to be a major explanatory factor for the observed patterns of poverty," with poverty being "highest and most severe for illiterate individuals." Seventy-four percent of illiterate individuals belonged to households whose head was illiterate, and school enrollment rates for school-age children was "considerably lower for poor households compared to non-poor." More than 20 percent of mothers interviewed in the 2000 Egypt Demographic Health Survey listed cost related reasons for why their child dropped out of school, with 12.2 percent specifying a need for the child's labor. These rates were even higher for girls, 23.9 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively. El-Ehwany and El-Laithy, Poverty, Employment and Policy-Making in Egypt, pp. 13-14; and El-Zanaty and Way, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2000, p. 207.
28 Child Law, article 96(6). For a discussion of Egypt's School Health Insurance Program, see A.K. Nandakumar et. al, "Health reform for children: the Egyptian experience with school health insurance," Health Policy, vol. 50, issue 3, January 2000, pp 155-170, and Hassan Abd El Fattah, MD, et. al, The Health Insurance Organization of Egypt: An Analytical Review and Strategy for Reform, Technical Report no. 43, (Bethesda, MD: Partnerships for Health Reform Project, Abt Associates LLC, August 1997).
29 Entry to all secondary level education is contingent on obtaining a Basic Education Certificate, issued after completing the preparatory level final examination. See Nagwa Megahed, "Secondary Education Reforms in Egypt: Rectifying Inequality of Educational and Employment Opportunities," Improving Educational Quality (IEQ) Project: Case Studies in Secondary Education Reform (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Agency for International Development, June 2002), p. 48.
30 Nationally, girls of all backgrounds are less likely to enter school than boys, and more likely to drop out. A 2000 national survey of children age six to fifteen found that 14 percent of girls were not currently attending school, compared to 8 percent of boys. Mothers of children who had never attended school gave cost-related reasons to explain non-attendance in 44.9 percent of cases involving girls, compared to 29.9 percent of cases involving boys, and gave cost-related reasons to explain why a child dropped out in 23.9 percent of cases involving girls, compared to 18.4 percent of cases involving boys. El-Zanaty and Way, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2000, pp. 203-208.
31 Human Rights Watch interview with Wafa' R.
32 Human Rights Watch interview with Ilham N., Cairo, Egypt, July 16, 2002.
33 Human Rights Watch interview with Reem G., Cairo, Egypt, July 15, 2002.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with Suliman M.
35 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusif H.
36 Human Rights Watch interview with `Amr R., Cairo, Egypt, July 9, 2002.
37 Human Rights Watch interview with Nasir Y.
38 Human Rights Watch interview with Ayman M.
39 Human Rights Watch interview with Hoda L., Cairo, Egypt, July 17, 2002.
40 Human Rights Watch interview with Seif S., Cairo, Egypt, July 10, 2002.