Rural urban migration in search of greener pastures and better living conditions has led to the escalation of homelessness in major cities of Egypt. Children are the most affected considering their tender age and the fact that they cannot do most of the things for themselves. Most parents abandon their children as they realize the challenge of providing for their needs. Other parents perish in sickness, disease and accidents and hence leaving behind helpless children. With no one to take care of them, destitute children end up spending their lives in their streets with the hope that they will encounter well-wishers who will give them something to eat. In this literature review, we look at the efforts being undertaken by the government and other non-governmental organizations to solve the issue of street children in Egypt.
Various estimates conducted through research by UNICEF reveal that there are tens of thousands of street children in Egypt. The exact number has been difficult to determine due frequent changes in the numbers. The problem of street children in Egypt has not only caught the attention of the government but also NGO’s and other international organization (Elkoussi & Bakheet, 2011). The rising numbers has made it difficult for such organization to rehabilitate the children in alternative homes and hence adopting measures that will ensure their stay in the streets is bearable. It has also come to the attention of the government that some of the children that are on the streets are not necessarily homeless but are sent by their parents or compelled by circumstances to borrow.
The streets, to most children in Egypt, is a place where they have hopes of getting their daily needs. Even though the street is not necessarily a safe haven for them, they are left with no alternative but to take up the responsibility of meeting their needs. Various researches conducted on the issue reveal that children in the street of Egypt are exposed to various challenges such as abuse, accidents, infections and early pregnancies. The attacks the children receive come from both the internal and external groups. Some of the children who have been on the streets for quite a long time bully and mistreat the younger ones, exposing them to numerous injuries and additional suffering.
Numerous centers have been set up by UNICEF to help improve the lives of children in the streets. UNICEF has been diligent in training social workers on how to handle children from various backgrounds of abuse and poverty (Grootaert & Kanbur, 1995). Through the centers, children are counseled and helped to rejoin with their parents of acquire foster parents. The centers also provide the children with skills and education that will enable them have stable sources of income once they are mature enough. One of the challenges highlighted by Bibars on street children in Egypt that the government and other nongovernmental organizations are trying to solve is the circle of poverty and illiteracy (Nada & El Daw, 2010). When the children are abandoned in the streets without counseling and training, they are likely to bring up a similar generation, hence worsening the situation.
Some of the unique initiatives being conducted by the government is training some of the street children on how to be safe on the streets. The training is done on the children to ensure that they impart similar skills to other street children. For instance, girls are usually trained on how to evade sexual abuse, early pregnancies and even unwanted sex. With the training, children will be more confident as their stay on the streets becomes inevitable. They are able to acquire what they require without necessarily going through avoidable suffering and abuse. In a survey that was carried out in 2000, violence was reported to be the biggest problem faced by street children in Egypt. Second to violence, rape was also among the biggest problem among street children with 50% having reported such cases.
The government has been in strong support of the efforts to rehabilitate street children. In 2003, the first lady Suzanne Mubarak, together with other organizations launched the program that incorporates all stakeholders to ensure that children have better lives out of the streets. The kind of life that street children have been exposed to has made them develop dangerous survival mechanisms that expose them to discrimination and violence treatment. There have been various complaints of the children stealing from pedestrians and being engaged in robbery incidences. In as much as such actions are wrong and discouraged by the law, most people fail to understand that they are compelled by their circumstances (Hussein, 2005). Organizations dealing with rehabilitation of street children aim at just giving them food and a place to sleep but also finding out why and how they found themselves in the streets.
Digging deeper into the background of the children helps in ensuring that they get the necessary support they need. Analysis of the issues behind the influx of children in the streets also helps the government and other organizations to adopt mechanisms that will ensure the problem is solved. Training offered to the social, workers that deal with the rehabilitated children look beyond their current situation and focus on their past that lead then to where they are with the aim of making their tomorrow better (Al-Dien, 2009). The government realized that ignoring such children would only cause a crisis of street families. Realizing that the children will one day grow into adults, motivates the organizations to ensure that they grow up into responsible adults.
Apart from numerous domestic issues parents of children who are forced into the streets, Grootaert, face that and Kanbur notes that the very presence of street children in the streets escalates the problem. For instance, street children grow into mature adults, and since they are ill informed about family planning and pregnancy, most of them end up giving birth to children, who only know the streets as their homes. Rehabilitation centers and institutions are therefore aimed at breaking the circle of having street families populating the streets and instead giving them skills and knowledge that will ensure they live meaningful life. As mentioned earlier, the process of rehabilitating street children has been slow due to the changing statistics. Some children are not necessarily homeless, but flock the streets every day in search of food and employment.
Rehabilitation centers also find it quite hard to keep children who have been in the streets for longer periods in the same place. Some street children have been so acquainted with street life that they find it uncomfortable being confined in rehabilitation centers. They are forced to adopt disciplines which they have not been used to. Some of them will therefore sneak out of the centers back to the streets, claiming that life at the centers is boring and unbearable. In the rehabilitation centers, they do not get the freedom and kind of life they had. In the streets, they could engage in all manner of habits, as they are not accountable to anybody (Bibars, 1998). Rehabilitation can only accomplish its intended purpose when it is done on voluntary basis. Children who resist such procedures, therefore, become a major setback to every effort being done by the government and other organizations to help them. It takes quite some time for some children to be convinced that the rehabilitation procedures are meant to make their life better rather than just deny them the freedom of being on the streets.
According to Elkoussi and Bakheet the issue of street children in Egypt needs the attention of the entire society. Most of the time, while addressing the issue, important people who are probably responsible for the influx of the street children on the streets are ignored. It is clear from the statistics that the issue of street children originates from the slums, where mostly illiterate and poor families live. It will hence be necessary for the organizations that deal with street children to not only focus on the children but also go deeper into the slums to find out why some parents would in fact encourage and use their children to go and borrow on the streets (Hosny, Moloukhia, Abd Elsalam & Abd Elatif, 2007). Such parents find it easy to send their children to beg and supplement the family income rather than take them to schools. Such parents also discourage the efforts of organizations to rehabilitate their children as they deny them the opportunity to generate them alternative income. It is unfortunate to see children as young as five years endangering their lives on the busy streets just to sell or borrow.
Al-Dien, M. M. Z. (2009). Education for street children in Egypt: The role of Hope Village Society. Journal of Contemporary Issues in Education, 4(1).
Bibars, I. (1998). Street children in Egypt: from the home to the street to inappropriate corrective institutions. Environment and Urbanization, 10(1), 201-216.
Elkoussi, A., & Bakheet, S. (2011). Volatile substance misuse among street children in Upper Egypt. Substance use & misuse, 46(s1), 35-39.
Grootaert, C., & Kanbur, R. (1995). Child labor: a review. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, (1454).
Hosny, G., Moloukhia, T. M., Abd Elsalam, G., & Abd Elatif, F. (2007). Environmental behavioural modification programme for street children in Alexandria, Egypt. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, 13(6), 1438-1448.
Hussein, N. (2005). Street children in Egypt: group dynamics and subcultural constituents. American Univ. in Cairo Press.