Egyptian police routinely arrest and detain children they consider "vulnerable to delinquency" or "vulnerable to danger." These children have not committed any criminal offense, and in many cases the very basis for their arrest-that they are begging, homeless, truants, or mentally ill-shows that they are in need of protection and assistance rather than punishment. In place of care they are subjected to police beatings and sexual abuse and violence; detained in unsanitary and dangerous conditions for days or weeks, often with adult criminal detainees who abuse them; and denied adequate food, water, bedding, and medical care.
The categories "vulnerable to delinquency" and "vulnerable to danger," set forth in Egypt's Child Law ostensibly to protect vulnerable children, have become a pretext for mass arrest campaigns to clear the streets of children, to obtain information from children about crimes, to force children to move on to different neighborhoods, and to bring children in for questioning in the absence of evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The number of such arrests has sharply increased since 2000. There were more than 11,000 arrests of children on these charges in 2001 alone, accounting for one quarter of all arrests of children in Egypt that year. In many cases they are victims of abuse even before their arrest, having suffered violence in the home, been subjected to exploitive and hazardous labor conditions, or been denied education because their families could not afford to pay for their school fees, books, and uniforms.
Concerted action to end abuses associated with the arrest and detention of children under these categories of the Child Law is lacking in part because children and their guardians have few avenues for effective legal recourse. Public prosecutors generally order children released without investigating police abuse and with only a cursory review of their cases. In many instances parents don't learn their child has been arrested until the child's release; in other cases police simply return the child to the street.
This report, based on interviews with thirty-seven children and numerous government officials and child welfare experts, details the serious violations sketched above in the Greater Cairo area, encompassing the governorates of Cairo, Giza, and al Qaylubiya. Information from nongovernmental organizations working with children in other cities has established that the problem is not limited to Cairo, but persists in other urban areas. The widespread and systematic nature of the abuses we found highlight the need for structural reform in how the Egyptian government addresses children in need of protection or in conflict with the law.
As detailed below, Human Rights Watch urges the Egyptian government to end immediately its policy of arresting and detaining children deemed "vulnerable to delinquency" or "vulnerable to danger," and instead develop programs to provide such children the assistance they need. To be effective, this will require that public prosecutors and judges actively monitor arrest practices and conditions for children in police custody. We recommend in particular that the attorney general designate a full-time position to oversee government investigations of torture and ill-treatment of children in police custody and that the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Insurance and Social Affairs work together to ensure that child welfare experts, rather than the police, are primarily responsible for matters involving vulnerable children. These changes should be important first steps in a much needed reform of the entire juvenile justice system to make it a system that safeguards children's rights and promotes their wellbeing and development into productive members of society.
Abuses during Arrest, Transport, and in Police Lockups
Police also frequently use the threat of arrest or prolonged detention to extort bribes, or simply steal money from children in their custody. In some cases police extorted sex from girls in exchange for protection from sexual violence by others.
Once in custody, the abuses continue. Police in Cairo routinely detain children in overcrowded and dirty adult police lockups, where they face abuse by adult criminal detainees and are not provided with food, bedding, or medical care. When children are transferred to the al Azbekiya juvenile lockup, as required by Egyptian law, they also face overcrowding, inadequate food and bedding, and denial of medical care, and may be detained with children significantly older or younger who may have committed serious crimes.
Children told Human Rights Watch that police at lockups beat them with batons, whips, rubber hoses, and belts, and subjected them to sexual abuse and violence or tolerated sexual abuse and violence by adult detainees. In some cases this ill-treatment, aimed to punish, was so severe as to constitute torture. Both boys and girls complained that police used degrading language to humiliate and intimidate them. In the case of girls, highly sexualized verbal degradation was sometimes a prelude to sexual violence. Children who complained about police ill-treatment risked retaliation from both their abusers and the higher-ranking officers who were supposed to be supervising them.
Despite widespread and systematic violations of the rights of children in police custody, Egyptian authorities do not routinely monitor conditions of detention for children, investigate clear cases of arbitrary arrests or abuse in custody, or appropriately discipline those responsible for these abuses.
Ministry of Interior officials do not investigate or keep statistics on police abuse of children and have no procedure for children to make complaints. Public prosecutors for juveniles do not regularly visit places of detention for children or conduct adequate investigations of the circumstances of children's arrest and detention, as Egyptian law requires. Children arrested for being "vulnerable to delinquency" told us that prosecutors often did not speak to them at all, or only asked basic questions about their names and addresses, effectively denying them an opportunity to participate in their own defense or to make complaints about ill-treatment. Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs social welfare experts' reports on children's circumstances and opportunities for rehabilitation, required by law when children appear before the Public Prosecution Office or courts, are frequently based on brief, superficial interviews, and contain only the barest information on the child's background. Such reports are often ignored by prosecutors and judges. Children "vulnerable to delinquency" are not entitled to legal counsel when appearing before the prosecution office or juvenile court, although prosecutors and judges can order them institutionalized for up to three years.
Human Rights Watch urges that the Government of Egypt give priority to implementing the following key recommendations. A more comprehensive set of recommendations to the Government of Egypt, the United Nations, and donor governments are included in Chapter IX, below.
Key Recommendations to the Government of Egypt:
· Take urgent steps to minimize the role of police in matters involving children, including immediately revoking the Ministry of Interior's policy of routinely detaining children in police lockups.
· Ensure that every child deprived of liberty is held separately from adults and afforded prompt access to legal assistance and the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of liberty. Arrest, detention, or imprisonment of children should always be a measure of last resort and then only for the shortest possible time.
· Create a full-time position within the Ministry of Justice dedicated to monitoring treatment of children in detention. The position should be charged with overseeing investigations of torture and ill-treatment of children in police custody, keeping precise and publicly accessible statistics on torture and ill-treatment complaints, identifying the officers responsible, and investigating practices at police stations that are subject of multiple complaints.
· Protect children in state custody from arbitrary detention and all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by police, officials and other government employees, and by other detainees. In particular, ensure that public prosecutors actively monitor conditions for children in police custody, social welfare institutions, or otherwise deprived of their liberty. Ensure that all such facilities meet international standards, and that public prosecutors promptly investigate and bring to justice those responsible for torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or arbitrary detention of children.
· Judges involved in the juvenile justice system should also monitor conditions for children in police custody, social welfare institutions, or otherwise deprived of their liberty.
· Sign, ratify, and implement without delay the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment establishing a system of regular visits by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty.
Human Rights Watch interviewed thirty-seven children. Twenty-four of the children were originally from the Greater Cairo area, defined as the governorates of Cairo, Giza, and al Qaylubiya. The remaining children had come to Cairo from Alexandria (3), al Minya (2), al Isma'iliya (2), Bani Suwayf (2), al Daqahliya (1), al Gharbiya (1), Asyut (1), al Sharqiya (1), and Kafr al Shaykh (1) governorates.
The children ranged in age from nine to eighteen and included twelve girls aged fourteen to eighteen and twenty-five boys aged nine to seventeen. Thirty-five of the children had been arrested at least once, and some as many as ten times. All of the children who had been arrested had witnessed or been subjected to police beatings or other ill-treatment while in custody. We also interviewed four adults aged eighteen and nineteen who had recently been detained with children in police lockups.
Human Rights Watch interviewed all the children individually, in a private setting. Thirty children were interviewed at drop-in centers for street children operated by local nongovernmental organizations, and seven children-three girls and four boys-were interviewed while in police custody at the al Azbekiya Juvenile Welfare Facility, the Cairo Governorate Police Directorate's lockup for children. Children interviewed at drop-in centers were selected at random from among those children present on the day of the visit. Boys interviewed at the al Azbekiya lockup were selected at random from a cell of younger children identified by police as "children vulnerable to delinquency." A Human Rights Watch researcher interviewed three of the four girls present at the lockup before the director asked the researcher to leave.
Judges of the Cairo Juvenile Court graciously allowed us to observe an otherwise closed session of the court. We also met with the director of the Ministry of Interior's General Administration for Juvenile Welfare Investigation, the director of the al Azbekiya Juvenile Welfare Facility, and interviewed police officers guarding children at the Bulaq al Dakrur police station. An interview with prosecutors in the Cairo General Prosecution Office for Juveniles was cut short when an assistant to the director of the Ministry of Interior's General Administration for Juvenile Welfare Investigation informed prosecutors that they were not authorized to speak publicly about their work.
Human Rights Watch asked for but did not receive permission to visit Ministry of Insurance and Social Welfare facilities for children "vulnerable to delinquency." Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs experts provided information on these facilities and on the treatment of children referred to the Public Prosecution Office for Juveniles and the juvenile court. This information was further supplemented by meetings with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), "the highest government authority entrusted with policymaking, planning, coordinating, monitoring and evaluation of activities in the areas of protection and development of children," including the secretary general of the NCCM and a member of the NCCM technical committee who participated in the drafting of the 1996 Child Law and its implementing regulations. Human Rights Watch also met with legal and social experts at the government-funded National Center for Social and Criminal Research who had conducted research on street children, working children, children arrested for being "vulnerable to delinquency," and juvenile justice issues.1
Representatives of numerous intergovernmental, nongovernmental, and regional organizations, human rights activists, and lawyers spoke candidly about their experiences providing services and designing programs for Egyptian children living or working in the street.
We have assigned pseudonyms to all children mentioned in this report to protect their privacy.
The Arabic term mu`arid li inhiraf can connote one exposed or vulnerable to delinquency, aberrance, or deviation. We translate it here as "vulnerable to delinquency" a term we believe is more accurate than the "liable to perversion" used by the National Council of Childhood and Motherhood in its English translation of the Child Law.3 All translations from Arabic to English in this report are by Human Rights Watch unless otherwise noted.
1 The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, created by Presidential Decree no. 54 of 1988, is closely associated with Egypt's First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, who chairs its advisory Technical Committee. The Council is chaired by the Egyptian prime minister and its membership includes thirteen ministers. See The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, "The Council" [online], http://www.nccm.org.eg/ (retrieved July 20, 2002).
2 Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 1, adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25 (entered into force September 2, 1990). Egypt's Child Law also defines "child" as any person who has not attained eighteen years of age. Child Law 12 of 1996, Official Gazette no. 13 [adjunct], March 28, 1996 (in Arabic), article 2.
3 The Cabinet of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, Child Law No. 12/1996, (Cairo, Egypt: no date, in English).