Learn about children’s homelessness in Egypt, its stats, causes, effects and solutions.
Egypt has a unique case of children’s homelessness and the situation is appalling, given its scale and entrenchment. The eyesore is so large it’s in the millions and it’s so entrenched in the system that children relatively easily run away from troubled or troubling homes, onto the streets, where they live by themselves, never to go back.
Homelessness of Children in Egypt
There are shockingly over three million homeless children in Egypt, according to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and Egypt’s National Center for Social and Criminological Research. Homelessness among children in Egypt is an epidemic that has been plaguing the country for a long time. It is unacceptable and needs urgent attention, one that will end the predicament for good, although it’s not that straightforward.
Surveys show that these children living in the streets are usually fleeing domestic unrest. However, life in the streets is not better, as they depend on begging, menial jobs and substance abuse to survive and to cope. These children, some of whom become adults living without homes, get stigmatized by the general public as some consider them as criminals, among other things.
While they hardly get sympathy, several sources have revealed that unhoused children in Egypt are prone to various insecurities including trafficking.
The Egyptian government has taken on several initiatives to combat child homelessness. These, however, have not yielded results, as millions of houseless Egyptian kids still roam the streets of Cairo, Giza, et cetera.
Causes of Children’s Homelessness in Egypt
The main causes of children’s homelessness in Egypt are poverty, unemployment, family breakdown, child abuse and neglect. With dysfunctional homes, the majority of these children live, strive for survival and sleep in the streets.
A young woman interviewed by France 24 in 2017 said she left her parents’ house when she was six years old because her father abused her. She has lived on the streets ever since. Unfortunately, this young woman’s story is not uncommon among these young rough sleepers.
Lastly, Al-Alfi said the educational system that expels children who have learning difficulties, psychological or social problems contributes to the phenomenon of homelessness.
Challenges of Homeless Kids in Egypt
According to a 2010 study carried out on the total of 857 street children in Cairo and Alexandria, 93% of the children revealed that they faced harassment or abuse on the streets. The study further found that 62% of the children used drugs. Most adolescent girls of about 15 and 17 years old stated that they had suffered sexual abuse.
Due to their harsh living conditions, a significant number of the children without accommodation in Egypt resort to substance abuse. Studies indicate that inhalants top the list of drugs consumed. Children sniff glue to deal with the hunger, pain and violence they are exposed to on the streets. Glue, which is usually consumed in groups, is preferred because it is cheap, has long-lasting effects and mild withdrawal symptoms. Many youngsters also consume tobacco, cannabis and over-the-counter drugs. And they are generally unaware of or not bothered about the numerous risks connected to substance abuse. As an aside, homelessness is also a cause of substance abuse in unhoused adults.
Given their way of life, these children hardly get empathy as on the other hand, they are defined by law as “children exposed to delinquency.” Many people, including police officers, simply see them as criminals and drug-addicts. Usually, homeless people are considered dangerous, when, really, they are only desperate victims. One of the consequences of these stereotypes is the general public’s general hesitation in donating to the NGOs and shelters that support Egypt’s homeless kids. Nonetheless, they still get more attention than homeless adults in Egypt.
The epidemic of homeless children in Egypt is bizarre given living outside don’t have a bright future for the youngsters. Without stable housing and support, these vulnerable children can neither obtain formal education nor acquire relevant trades or skills, meaning their future is of little purpose, if any. Worse still, they get exploited in different ways. These homeless children are often exposed to sex trafficking, and forced labor. Ahmed Emad, a police officer, mentioned that they also get exploited in criminal activities.
Government Effort Against Child Homelessness in Egypt
The Egyptian government has carried out several initiatives to curb child homelessness in Egypt.
In 2003, the government adopted a new national strategy that aimed to protect and rehabilitate homeless children, also known as street children. This initiative aimed to curb child homelessness in the country through multiple coordinated projects between the government and NGOs.
In 2004, the government of Egypt launched its National Strategy to Protect and Rehabilitate Street Children. The strategy is based on the principle that these children are victims who need support to be reintegrated into society. Government institutions, NGOs, UNODC and others came together to make this happen. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood coordinates joint efforts throughout Egypt. Reception centres were established to protect and rehabilitate street children, as well as a hotline for children at risk and on the streets, and a database to compile reliable data.
UNODC pays special attention to protecting street children from drugs. The Office trained social workers in the treatment and rehabilitation of children abusing drugs. Workshops have also been organized to improve police officers’ understanding of the problem and to change the image they have of these vulnerable younglings. The goal was to give Egyptian street children the chance of a better future.
Since then, the Egyptian government has launched other initiatives such as “Children Without Shelter”, “Protecting Homeless Children” and “We are With You” to curb and the alleviate the challenges of homelessness in Egyptian children.
All these initiatives have been launched to return lost children to their families or offer them shelters. Those that can’t be relocated are, instead, provided with food, medicine, and blankets. Rehabilitation is also offered in order to return homeless victims to normal lives.
Where a child is successfully returned to their family, a separate team keeps in touch with that family. Where the child couldn’t be returned to their family, they get sent to child care centres. The same options are offered for the homeless seniors. A prospective beneficiary’s paperwork or identification is required in order move them into a shelter.
“We are With You” is a multi-pronged initiative which includes a social marketing component, street teams and mobile units that reach out to the homeless and provide them temporary medical and psychological services, develop shelters for the homeless; mange cases, including following up on vulnerable people who have returned to their families to ensure they do not return to the streets.
Speaking on the “We are With You” campaign, the Deputy Head of the campaign, Ayman Abdel Aziz said the campaign aims to provide the social and psychological rehabilitation of children and to reunite them with their families, if it is possible…
Conclusion on Children’s Homelessness in Egypt
“Although the Ministry of Social Solidarity offers support some street children still run away and resort to stealing and using drugs. There are strict instructions from Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali to move street children to shelters and provide them with education, medical and social care,” says Abdel-Azisz.
Apart from runaways, getting children into shelters is also difficult because Egyptian law does not allow shelters to receive children who do not provide a birth certificate. This requirement needs to be reviewed as Egypt’s street kids are literally off-grid.
Lastly, the efforts of the Egyptian government, as divulged above, and the statement of the Minister of Social Solidarity which revealed that it runs 168 retirement houses with 21 being for the homeless, 51 facilities for rescued children, 435 orphanages and 43 facilities for homeless children shows that Egypt still have much more to do, to end the homelessness of some of its future leaders. To the credit of the government, the initiatives they have been carrying out have produced good results, but, again, more need to be done.