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Egypt

Egypt’s Street Children Still Waiting For Signs Of Arab Spring

Street children in Egypt are easy targets for both criminals and police. Neglected and abused, they are still waiting for the promises of the revolution to trickle their way.

Kirsti Itameri

CAIRO -- While various groups in Egypt have been clamoring to have their say and influence the future of their country, one group has remained as voiceless as ever: street children. The country's streets are home to an estimated 150,000 to 2 million children. Numbers vary widely depending on how the children are classified.

Besides navigating perils like crime, violence, rape, drugs and prostitution on a daily basis, the children are also regularly arrested. "The police have quotas of children to arrest, the same way they have quotas for tickets to give," said Alia Mossallam, who has researched the topic extensively for both UNICEF and Human Rights Watch.

NGOs like the Banati Foundation or Hope Village Society, an Egyptian NGO, help these children reintegrate into society. Unfortunately, these types of comprehensive services reach only a fraction of those who need them.

Street children are frequently recruited by baltageya, or thugs, to do their dirty work. But the police themselves are also accused of abusing the children. "One example is that the police appoint children to work as guides or spies to report on drug deals or thug congregations," said Soheer Wahid, a social worker at the Banati Foundation, an NGO that serves street girls. According to Alia Mossallam, they are threatened with rape if they don't comply.

Soheer Wahid noted that these practices are still being reported even after the uprising. Many street children participate in protests – sometimes on the side of the protesters, who provided food and camaraderie, and sometimes as paid pro-Mubarak agitators. Some spent time in Tahrir Square and are acutely aware of the possibility of change.

Ramadan, a soft-spoken boy who comes to a reception center in Sayeda Zeinab run by Hope Village Society, says he has been arrested four times so far, both before and after the revolution, for playing in the street.

"Right when the guy said ‘I'll take you home" he took us to jail," he said. "When I walked in the door the officer hit me without asking any questions or saying anything."

Alia Mossallam describes the revolution as a "grand opportunity," noting that it's useless to work with the kids and NGOs when you can't change the practices of the Ministry of Interior.

"It is a social responsibility, not just a responsibility of the government and NGOs," says said Abla El-Badry, secretary general of Hope Village Society. "We need to think of these children as a part of the community."

Read the original article in full at Al-Masry Al-Youm

Photo - Adam Jones, Ph.D.

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