First Published: 2017-05-30

Tackling problem of Egypt's street kids proving difficult
Workers from ministry of social solidarity set out to help rising number of street children to give them first-aid training.
Middle East Online

Egypt has about 16,000 street children

CAIRO - Barefoot and wearing shabby clothes, the two-year-old wanders through the dirty streets of Cairo alongside her mother, who has also spent all her life without a home of her own.

For Egypt's government and civil society groups, tackling the growing problem of street children -- some from second- and even third-generation homeless families -- is proving difficult.

In the low-income district of Sayeda Zeinab, workers from the ministry of social solidarity set out to help street children, this time to give them first-aid training.

Members of the ministry's "Children Without Shelter" programme wear matching green shirts bearing the slogan "We are with you... a safe decent life for every child."

They train the youngsters in first aid, and at the same time try to gather any paperwork so they can move them later to a shelter.

But on this occasion, the team returned empty-handed, with no other option but to leave the children to continue fending for themselves in the street.

"The law doesn't allow shelters to receive children unless they have a birth certificate," said team leader Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed.

"Most of them are second- and third-generation street children and don't have any official papers, and usually their fathers refuse to acknowledge paternity," he said.

According to the most recent ministry figures from a 2014 survey, Egypt has about 16,000 street children, said Hazem el-Mallah, spokesman for the "Children Without Shelter" programme.

- Domestic violence -

However, the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, estimates there are tens of thousands of street children in the country, its Egypt representative Bruno Maes says.

"The main factors pushing the children out of their homes are domestic violence... incest and poverty," said Maes.

"In general, it affects households experiencing unemployment, drug use, low or no education", he said.

Hannah Aboulghar, a paediatrician at the Banati Foundation which has worked with street children since 2009, says no figures are credible but the problem is getting worse.

About 24 million people -- nearly a third of the country's 90-million population -- live below the poverty line, according to official figures.

"The problem is definitely deteriorating, and the figures are rising while the ages of the street children are declining," said Aboulghar.

She said street children come mainly from the mushrooming "poverty belt" of slums outside cities such as the capital and Alexandria. Government estimates show about eight million Egyptians live in such areas.

"During the beginning of the previous decade, most street children came from poor villages in the south, but in the last 10 years the slums have expanded exponentially," said Aboulghar.

The slums "have been throwing children into the streets where they practise prostitution, theft and begging," she added.

- Some are saved -

Civil society organisations such as the Banati Foundation that work with street children face the same difficulties as the government in helping them.

In Banati's large shelter, toddlers play in a nursery with toys, paper and paints.

They are second- or third-generation street children for whom Banati was able to produce identity papers, thus saving them from the fate that befell their constantly homeless parents.

"The real problem is that there are entire generations living on the streets," said Aboulghar.

Among them are three children of 22-year-old Amira, who has herself been homeless since the age of five.

"I've got used to this life, and what I've liked most about it is the freedom of no one telling me to do anything, or force me to do anything, and everything is allowed," Amira said.

Yet she wishes she had gone to school. "If I'd been educated I would have become a very good person," she said.

Amira got married informally, which deprived her children of official birth certificates.

But Banati was able to help document her marriage to the children's father, who is now serving a prison term for theft.

The documentation made it easer to acquire identification papers for her children, who were then transferred to the shelter where they now live.

Banati also offers support to vulnerable young women who can potentially turn to the streets, such as 15-year-old Nesrine.

She has been wanting to get married since she was 12 so she can "get out of the house and live away from problems".

 

Iran airs "confessions" of researcher facing death for spying

Mayor of Libya's Misrata assassinated

Macron sees war on IS in Syria will be won in February

Israeli air traffic halted due to strikes

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis

Kuwait likely to face political uncertainty

Lebanon arrests suspected killer of British embassy worker

Israel targets Hamas site in Gaza

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

Iran's schools suffocate in smog

Tunisia elections delayed

Istanbul summit strong on the rhetoric, weak on concrete steps

Two Danes stabbed by man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Gabon

Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities