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Street Children Phenomena in Egypt
The street children phenomenon in Egypt as known for most people is one of Egypt's serious problems. Egypt is one of the countries with the highest number of street children. I decided to research this topic because it is one of the long lasting problems Egypt is facing. There are a lot of misunderstandings regarding the meaning of the word "street children", according to the UNICEF; children must fall under one of these two definitions in order to be called street children." First, Children who are engaged in some kind of economic activity ranging from begging to stealing. Most go home at the end of the day and contribute their earnings to their family. They may be attending school and retain a sense of belonging to a family. Because of the economic fragility of the family, these children may eventually opt for a permanent life on the streets. Second, Children of the street actually live on the street (or outside of a normal family environment). Family ties may exist but are tenuous and are maintained only casually or occasionally.”I aim by this research to evaluate the situation of street children in Egypt and to know their priorities, activities and problems. Also, identify the actions done by the governmental and non-governmental organizations regarding the problem of street children. Finally, raise awareness to the street children problem in Egypt.
In Egypt, government legislation and rules relating to street children remains primarily disciplinary to the street children who are viewed as criminals and a threat to the society. Generally, the society looks at delinquents and street children as a disease that should be treated by isolation. Despite the lack of conclusive information about street children, many socio-economic indicators show that the phenomenon of street children is growing, especially in large cities. “The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted a Rapid Situation Assessment of street children in the two biggest cities in Egypt: Greater Cairo and Alexandria. According to this study, Poverty, family breakdown, and child abuse and neglect, seem to be the leading causes of the problem of street children. “Eighty percent of the children are exposed to real or constant threat of violence from employers, hostile-abusive community members, and their peers. Ignorant about health, hygiene, and nutrition and deprived of services to protect them, street children are a malnourished sub-population subsisting on an inadequate diet. Functionally illiterate (70 percent of the sample were school drop-outs, 30 percent had never attended schools in the first place), economic survival means working at the most menial tasks, or worse, begging, or thieving”.
A lot of efforts have been made to try and estimate the number of street children in Egypt, but it is said that they all lack accuracy and reliability. Sedik (1995), based on the records of Al-Amal Village in Cairo, estimated that the number of street children in Egypt, both males and females, is 93,000. Data show that the reasons for the lack of valid and dependable information on the magnitude of the problem of street children are because it is hard to carry out surveys on the number of street children because of they don't live in one place. Another reason is because the police records don't keep record except on the children who are caught and sent to the corrective institutions by a court order.
Through my research I found out a lot of causes for the street children phenomena. Children run away from their homes in Egypt because of child abuse, sensation seeking, neglect, existence of other brothers and sisters on the street and peer pressure. Children say that they were kicked out of their homes and forced to live in the streets and abused by their family or the people they work for. There are a lot of ways for abuse. Abuse usually takes the form of severe beating and insults for small mistakes. A lot of children choose to live on the streets because they feel they are free from any boundaries. A huge number of children said that one of the main reasons for moving to the street life is neglect. It could happen due to the illness of one of the parents, or the presence of a large family, or neglect because of divorce. The existence of other brothers and sisters especially older ones affect their younger siblings to follow their lead and move to live on the streets if their family is facing the problems that they can't handle. Sometimes they move together and look for one another on the streets. Peer pressure acts as one of the most effective methods to increase the street children phenomena. Children explain that peers help them adjust to the life on the streets during their early days on the streets by providing food, entertainment, shelter and protection.
Street children are usually there for each other. They help each other cope with the street life by explaining where to live, how to earn money and what should be done in case a problem happens. Street children usually do work that doesn't require any technical skills but they do marginal jobs that could provide them with money to survive only. Some of the work done by street children according to UN reports include “Begging, washing cars or shop windows, selling paper tissues on the streets, working temporarily in shops or factories informally, collecting plastic from wastes to sell to recycling factories, fishing and selling the catch, shining shoes, carrying luggage in the markets for people for money, selling newspapers and finally prostitution. Street children usually carry out their work every day, working in a range of “4 to 18 hours a day whether in doing one activity or a number of activities consecutively. They usually earn from 3 to 20 Egyptian pounds per day.”
Street children are exposed to problems everyday because of the life on the street with no elder supervision or protection. One of the problems is violence. Street children could face violence in many ways. For example, violence inside the children groups where older street children abuse younger children violence from the surrounding community which don't approve of their presence, Violence in the environment where employers exploit street children. Violence is often associated with sexual abuse which younger street children and street females are exposed to. Another problem that street children face is the community disapproval. Street children are rejected by society. They are not accepted due to their appearance and behavior. People generally tend to drive street children away as a result of fear and disgust. A third problem is the police arrests. Street children are always exposed to being arrested by police and returned to their families or committed to correction institutions. This process does not involve any efforts to change the original reason for escape from homes leading to the escape again to the street and the repetition of the vicious circle. The final problem is substance abuse. Street children are facing a serious problem which is free usage of drugs and substances that lead them to lose consciousness, suffer from continuous disorientation and spending all their daily earnings. Absence of good model and refusal of society lead to prevailing frustration of the street children and losing of hope in any good future.
Government used to completely ignore the problem of street children who represented to the government a source of shame and embarrassment. The reaction was to ignore and hide the problem rather than face it and try to find solutions to the causes that lead to the spread of this problem. Sometimes the government may use law enforcement forces (police) to gather street children and put them into juvenile correctional institutes where they mingle with criminals and eventually the children escapes back to the streets with criminal background. NGOs, on the other hand, have dealt with the problem in a more consciences way. Programs have been developed and funded to admit the street children to houses and orphanages and try to fit them in the society and enroll them in schools. NGOs have several angles to approach the problem. They use the media to advocate the rights of street children and to promote their fight to protect these children and to treat them as victims rather than criminals who must be locked up. NGOs try to partner with the Government to conduct studies to establish laws to protect the rights of these children. NGOs also have programs that help street children in their own environment which is the streets. NGOs provide food medical care and financial assistance to the street children. NGOs also try to reunite as many street children as possible with their families and provide psychological therapy and social consultations to the children and their families to reach to the bottom of the problem and find a solution to the problems that drive children away from their homes.
To conclude, everyone would agree on the magnitude of the problem of street children. The government and the NGOs have exerted many efforts to face the phenomena of street children but more work is needed if they want to achieve their target which is eliminating or at least reducing this problem in Egypt. Laws and legislations should be made to protect street children and help them fit in the society. As to the society I think that more awareness campaigns are needed to get people involved in this problem. We interact with the street children everyday but we always unintentially neglect them. Sometimes people treat street children as if they are something disgusting. Other times people treat street children as if they don't exist. That's the reason why awareness campaigns should take place to explain to people that nearly all these children were forced to live on the streets and they didn't choose this themselves. Every person should feel that they have an obligation towards these children and want to help them and provide them with a better life.
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