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".

 

Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Syrians crammed in shared flats in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week

Tillerson, Erdogan have ‘productive, open’ talk

Iran raises rates, freezes accounts in bid to shore up rial

Kremlin says five Russians killed in US Syria strikes

Oman FM in rare visit by Arab official to Jerusalem

Senior IS leader extradited to Iraq from Turkey

Strikes hit another hospital in Syria's Idlib

Churches snub Jerusalem reception over tax dispute with Israeli authorities

Tillerson says US never gave 'heavy arms' to Kurdish YPG

Captured foreign IS suspects claim innocence

Yemeni mother awaits death penalty for spying for UAE

Fuel shortage shuts down Gaza's only power plant

Morocco arrests three suspected IS terrorists

Family of dead environmentalist in Iran threatened

Israel hands life sentence to Palestinian for triple murder

US appeals to Turkey to concentrate on fighting IS

Turkey sets up new 'observation point' in Syria's Idlib

Malaysia rejects criticism over Israeli visit

Tillerson in Ankara to ease Turkey tensions

Egypt arrests ex-presidential candidate

Tillerson: Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's 'political process'

Netanyahu says government ‘stable’ despite police recommending indictment

Corruption accusations facing Netanyahu

Syria denies ‘unacceptable’ chemical weapons use

Nations pledge nearly $25 billion toward Iraq's reconstruction

Egypt remands in custody former anti-corruption chief

Turkish PM 'hopes' German journalist is freed soon

US agrees to send $1 billion in annual aid to Jordan

Iran arrests money changers amid rial collapse

Saudi Arabia seeks to further reduce oil stockpiles

Turkey imposes curfews in Kurdish-majority province

Tillerson urges allies to focus on fighting IS

France threatens Syria strikes if chemical attacks proven

Tillerson says enduring IS defeat not yet achieved