Child labour in Egypt a growing problem

The film "Living Skin" shows the hardships faced by children working in tanneries. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

The film "Living Skin" shows the hardships faced by children working in tanneries. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

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You see them everywhere. From afar they look like men because of the jobs they do, but many of them are children barely over 14 years old.

Difficult living conditions have increased the prevalence of child labour in Egypt so that the sight of children working has become commonplace.

Ashraf, 13, refused at first to talk to Al-Shorfa in front of his workplace, but he opened up and shared his experience. He said he started working at a steel workshop four years ago, after his father took him out of school to learn a profession because he could not pay his school fees.

"I get 150 pounds a month that I give in full to my mother so that she can provide food for my four brothers," he said.

Working children live under difficult conditions

There are no accurate statistics on the number of child workers in Egypt since the majority work in unlicensed facilities.

However, a study conducted in 2009 by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, in collaboration with the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation, said the figure is approximately three million -- most of whom live in rural areas nearly three-quarters of whom are boys and the rest are girls.

"The published figures of some studies cannot be considered final or representative of the actual number of child workers due to the dispersion of child labour and its prevalence in various provinces," said Dr. Nahed Ragab, director of the Statistics Department at the Ministry of Manpower.

Ragab told Al-Shorfa that the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Family, the Ministry of Population, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health are collaborating with the World Food Programme to tighten controls on the businesses that employ children.

"Collaboration is in full swing with civil society institutions, taking into consideration that the Ministry of Family has recently launched a hotline (16000) to help citizens report instances of child labour," she said.

"There are many practical steps taken by official authorities, like supporting primary school pupils and securing work for one of the parents in cases where it has been verified that there is no source of income which has led to a child’s seeking work," Ragab said.

Ragab said children are often found working in workshops, tanneries, handicrafts, domestic work, cleaning jobs, and agriculture.

She said the children work for little pay and live under difficult conditions.

"In the best case scenario, the wages children receive do not exceed 20 pounds per day," she said. "Children who move from one province to another due to harsh living conditions at home are housed in large numbers in a single room. As for young maids, they do not receive their wages, as the money is sent to their parents."

Dr. Abdul Ghani Othman, general supervisor of the National Observatory for Child Rights, said the prevalence of child labour is related to the harsh economic conditions Egyptian families face, in addition to some social traditions that consider child labour as normal, especially in certain handicrafts and agriculture.

"Working children are deprived of the minimum necessities of life such as clean water, meals, and safe transportation," he told Al-Shorfa. "They are exposed to oscillating climatic factors such as extreme heat or cold and to physical injuries. They are also deprived of holidays and the minimum necessities of leading a normal childhood."

Egyptian artists address the issue of child labour

Egyptian writer and director Fawzi Saleh started working when he was ten years old. He collaborated with actor Mahmoud Hemada to produce the film "Living Skin", which confronts the problem of child labour in Egypt.

The film highlights the problem by shedding light on the lives of two children working in tanneries.

"The film shows the social and systematic risks that stare children in the eye every day, beginning with their exposure to gases as a result of the materials used in tanneries, and ending with the psychological and social instability they suffer from as a result of being kept away from school," Saleh said.

Saleh said he hopes the film would participate in international festivals "as a form of addressing and the eradicating this phenomenon."

The 56-minute film will be screened at Abu Dhabi Film Festival and at a Spanish Festival.

"The film has a realistic flavour, as it draws from my personal experience when I was forced to work at the tender age of ten," Saleh said. "This robbed me of enjoying many aspects of my childhood and impacted me throughout the various stages of my life."

He said the film "is derived from a personal desire to rid child workers of the necessity of undergoing the same experience."

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  • READER COMMENTS

    yasmine

    2012-3-27

    I believe that Egyptian children are in dire need of help!

  • ناشط حقوقي

    2012-1-3

    The situation of the child in Egypt is distressing. The Egyptian child suffers from indifference and carelessness. Children live in deprivation, poverty and need, and these are negatively affecting them. The children in Egypt are not cared for, and they do not have the most basic rights in comparison to the children all over the world. This suffering is not just the product of today; it has been there for years. We see many juvenile delinquents who deviate at a very young age; maybe this is because of improper acts committed against the children when they are young. The juvenile prisons, i.e. juvenile detention centers, are filled with children. I hope that during the transitional stage and under the ruling of the new Egyptian government, we will take this important issue into consideration. We should pass new laws to protect the lives of children and give them more care and attention. These laws should be designed to improve their living conditions and to provide better opportunities for the new generations, to change the situation of the Egyptian child. This is the only hope, after the suffering and years of neglect that Egyptian children have been facing. There has to be more attention with regard to education, healthcare and support for children. We have to end child labor and all the activities that negatively affect children if they stay the same.

  • دعاء

    2011-12-6

    We ask God to help us. I do not know whether this is caused by the government, the people or simply the circumstances. Seriously, I feel tired, and I do not know the cause.

  • سعاد مقصود

    2010-11-26

    Children in the Arab world are deprived of almost all their rights, because of the poverty that their families are living in. They are deprived of education as they do not attend schools. Most of them are homeless and live in the streets. They have no one to speak up for them. Also, they do not enjoy their childhood, because they find themselves from an early age bearing responsibilities that even adults cannot bear. They take up jobs that are hard for them, especially boys, in order to support their families, who believe that sending their children to work is more profitable than sending them to school. They believe that teaching children professions at an early age and having them assume responsibility is in beneficial for them. Also, instead of these families spending money on their children’s education, the latter are providing them with more income. This deprives the children from getting education like their peers and reaching higher educational stages which turn them into important, educated productive members who benefit the people of the their country.

  • عبدالله محمد

    2010-11-24

    The tragic reality experienced by children in Egypt is obvious to everyone, and we see children everywhere in the streets. Some of them work washing cars and others sell perfumes or other materials at the traffic lights. This is frankly a bitter reality from which children are suffering in Egypt, because they are compelled to work. Some families force their children to go out into the streets and work in any way, without taking into account that this is a child who cannot bear the hot sun and the cold winter, but there is no conscience and there are no government regulations to protect the children and prevent them from working. There should be a law specifying the legal age at which a person can work.

  • لميس جورج

    2010-11-24

    I think that Egypt has become one of the countries that do not care about the rights of children. We know that children in Egypt are subjected to the violation of their rights in many ways, and one of these ways is to force children to work in any way, just to get money. This is because of the lack of care provided by the Egyptian state and government to children in Egypt. So you will find that most of these children today are illiterate, and they cannot read or write because they left school and went to work in jobs that were not suitable for their age. If we compare them with the children of the European countries, we will see the difference between the care for children there and the care provided here in Egypt and other Arab countries. It is the duty of the Egyptian government to provide more care and attention to children.

  • راغب شريف

    2010-11-12

    Today, Egypt is suffering from the inflation that is widespread in all state institutions, as well as unemployment and the proliferation of administrative corruption and other problems.

  • كوثر الغادي

    2010-11-8

    The Egyptian economy has often suffered from crises and weaknesses, and the proof is that the Egyptian people are suffering from an imbalance in the economy, because of high prices and the lack of support for the Egyptian economy. They always import their materials from abroad, and this raises the prices of their goods, which include clothing, foods, household goods and other needs of the Egyptian citizens, who are going through very difficult conditions in light of low salaries that do not meet the needs of the poor Egyptian families, or even the middle classes. So I think that Egypt is one of the economically fairly poor countries, regardless of other aspects, such as tourism, industry and agriculture. Egypt is a country with overpopulation and many consumers who are not able to deal with the difficult living conditions. Therefore, people who are in charge should pay more attention to these problems by reducing prices, which have long been complained about by the Egyptian citizens. One of the important needs of the Egyptian citizens is to provide a simple living for them, through appropriate salaries that are consistent with market prices, and by lowering the prices of some imported products and locally manufactured ones, especially food, clothing and other daily necessities. Certainly, the improvement of the economic situation and the monthly income of the Egyptian citizens would help improve the finances of the country, so it could become an exporting country rather than a consuming one. This will provide more financial returns to the country. The Egyptian government should pay more attention to the economy through industry and agriculture and finding job opportunities for the unemployed youth, which is better for young people than turning to other ways to make money, such as working with terrorist entities that do not want good fortune and safety for the Muslim world and the Egyptian people.

  • احسن غانم

    2010-10-26

    Arab communities or communities of the Third World suffer from the spread of gangs, drugs and criminal acts more than other, developed countries. Putting children to work at an early age may make them easy prey for these groups, which encourage them to engage in acts of prostitution and crime. Egypt in particular is one of the countries that suffer significantly from poverty and the spread of gangs of thieves, drugs and other forms of deviation. So, pushing children to work in workshops and on the streets can turn them into criminals in the future. I support encouraging children to work, but in a suitable environment that helps them to acquire experience, or at least have children work under their parents’ supervision. The purpose of the work should be to teach children the principle of earning money and saving it, in order to bring up a generation capable of self-reliance in the future.

  • اجود جاهد

    2010-10-26

    In fact, there is a certain age of childhood which is considered serious, because at this age, children can be attracted to bad and immoral behaviors due to the impact of the surrounding environment, but at the same time, most developed countries encourage the children at certain ages to work during the times of school holidays. It is a way to teach the children how to earn money at an early age, to develop their ability to be self-reliant and make them successful people in the future. For example, the United States is one of these countries that promote this idea. In some cases, the parents urge children to make products at home, such as lemonade or other products, and then they, the parents, accompany the children to public places to sell their products to people. I am one of those who encourage this idea, but its application in the Arab countries is different. For example, most families in Egypt or the Arab countries force their children to work at an early age, not to teach them the principle of earning money or self-reliance, but due to poverty and destitution. Therefore, the children do not work for a short period during the school holidays; they usually work all the time, and then they leave school and take any job, to just earn money.