Legalizing child labor in Egypt… Legislative protection or a violation of innocence?

Cairo – While members of the Egyptian Senate took turns – under the dome of Parliament – commenting on the articles regulating child labor, and then approving them within the new labor law, the river rescue teams were recovering the body of a 12-year-old girl who had gone missing a week ago during a traffic accident while returning from work.

Last week, a car carrying 24 children and adults fell into the Nile River, while returning to the village in which the victims lived, who work on a poultry farm in Menoufia governorate northwest of Cairo, for an amount ranging from 25 to 50 pounds per day (one dollar equals 15.7 pounds).

As a result of that accident, 7 children died, and their bodies were recovered hours later, while the family of the girl, Shurooq Yasser, waited a whole week for her daughter’s body to float over the waters of the river, in conjunction with the parliamentary debate on the labor law.

The articles, approved by the deputies last Monday, included a ban on the employment of children before reaching the age of 15, with the possibility of training them until they reach the age of 14, in a way that does not hinder the continuation of their education.

The new legislation also prohibits children from working more than 6 hours per day, interspersed with one or more periods for eating and rest, so that the child does not work for more than 4 continuous hours, with a ban on working for additional periods or on holidays, and in all cases it is forbidden to work between seven in the evening and seven in the morning .

The law sparked controversy between supporters who considered it a legalization of a fait accompli that is difficult to ignore, especially in the countryside and poor neighborhoods, and rejecters who considered it a consolidation of violating children’s rights.

Legalization and combat

There is a clear contradiction within the framework of the official scene regarding child labor; With the parliament’s path to legalize the status of child laborers in Egypt, the government is going in another path that is trying to eliminate the phenomenon of child labor by 2025.

According to the government newspaper Al-Ahram, the Ministry of Manpower has formed a committee with the ILO office in Egypt to implement the national plan to combat child labor and support poor families who are forced to employ their children.

The newspaper quoted Marwa Salah Abdo, the national coordinator of the Committee to Combat Child Labor, confirming the speedy elimination of child labor, by updating Decision of the Minister of Manpower and Immigration No. 118 of 2003 on determining the children’s operating system.

She explained the keenness of the Ministry of Manpower to update and review all laws and decisions, to keep pace with the latest international standards regarding determining the system of work and training of children and the conditions in which employment takes place, as well as the jobs, professions and industries in which it is prohibited to employ them according to different age stages.

Article 80 of the Egyptian constitution obligates the state to care for and protect the child from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and sexual and commercial exploitation, and prohibits him from being employed before the age of completing basic education and in jobs that put him at risk.

Employment volume

It is difficult to estimate the number of working children in Egypt and the number of hours they work per day, especially given the nature of the country’s countryside, where many of those under 16 work without being limited by the government or a human rights umbrella that can track children and their conditions of employment.

The concerned official authorities did not provide statistics regarding the volume of child labor only about 12 years ago, when the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics showed that the number of working children in the age group from 5 to 17 years reached 1.59 million, or 9.3% of the total children, according to the national survey. of child labor conducted by the Agency in cooperation with the International Labor Organization during 2010.

In June 2013, the Public Mobilization and Statistics Authority issued a statement on the occasion of the International Day for Combating Child Labor, in which it clarified that 78.8% of all working children are males, compared to 22.2% females.

The statement stated that 46.2 percent of the total working children are between the ages of 15 and 17, and that agricultural businesses account for 47 percent of the total working children, followed by 14.1% who work as craftsmen, then 10.5% who work in services and retail stores.

He explained that 82.2% of working children are exposed to poor working conditions, 9.8% operate machinery or heavy equipment at work, while 16.9% of children work more hours than what is permitted, while 0.9% of them work in dangerous activities or occupations, and 4. 7% are subjected to physical abuse and 0.5% are subjected to sexual harassment.

The number of children in Egypt until the middle of last year was about 40.9 million, including 21.1 million boys, or 51.6%, and 19.8 million girls, or 48.4%, while the population of Egypt reached about 102 million.

Negative effects

For his part, Ahmed Moselhi, head of the Child Defense Network, said that the figures announced by the government about child labor are inaccurate, as a result of not monitoring children working in the countryside and involved in projects for the same family.

Moselhi spoke – in press statements – about the negative effects of child labor on society, considering that a child who is forced to go out to the labor market is a citizen who has lost feelings of belonging to the homeland.

The human rights activist criticized the government’s role aimed at curbing the efforts of civil society on this issue, explaining that the targeting reached the point of holding human rights institutions accountable for the reports they issued and containing information that contradicted official directions.

This curtailment of the work of civil society is countered by the negative on the part of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which, according to Moselhi, has become limited to issuing statements, ignoring its primary mission of drawing policies and strategic plans aimed at protecting the child, and monitoring the various ministries concerned with child care.

In turn, Ahmed Al-Najjar, the former chairman of the Al-Ahram newspaper, commented on the death of children during the return trip from work, calling for the need to prevent child labor.

And he said – during a post on the social networking site Facebook – that the prevention of child labor is accompanied by state guarantees for their poor families, otherwise the ban will mean closing the ways of life for these families.

Al-Najjar touched on the concept of infrastructure priorities, pointing to the construction of many bridges in places that do not have any density or traffic need within cities, while other areas urgently need bridges and roads, citing the recent incident of drowning children, as the accident is mainly caused by the absence of a bridge linking Between western and southern Menoufia governorate.

Poverty is the reason

In an article titled “The Al-Qanater facility and child labor in Egypt”, labor activist Elhamy Al-Mirghani linked Egyptian families’ resort to child labor to the high rates of poverty in the country.

The poverty rate in Egypt reached 29.7% in the year (2019-2020), according to the data of the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics, noting that international reports had talked about a rate of up to 60%.

Al-Mirghani referred to a study prepared by the “Working Child” center on the volume of child labor in Egypt, where the center estimated at about 3 million children, representing a third of the age group in basic education, which is more than double the latest government estimates.

In addition, the labor activist supported his vision regarding the link between poverty and child labor, with a study prepared by Sahar Abdel-Sattar Imam, professor of law and rapporteur of the National Council for Women in Menoufia Governorate, on the phenomenon of child labor in Egypt.

The study explained that the poor economic conditions in the Egyptian society, the high illiteracy rate, along with the low level of education of all kinds, as well as the lack of societal awareness among Egyptian families about the importance of education, and the lack of confidence in the educational system, especially in light of the increasing unemployment rate among the educated, all of this. Encourage families to push their children at an early age to enter the labor market.

In her study issued in 2017, Imam indicated that child labor in such circumstances has become a lifeline for their families, despite the health, social and psychological risks they are exposed to, in light of the absence of legal and societal oversight over employers, the ineffectiveness of existing laws, and their inadequacy to ensure Respecting the rights of the child.

Al-Mirghani concluded his article by emphasizing the continuation of child labor in light of the growing mechanisms of capitalism that seek to achieve maximum profits, the existence of non-deterrent legislation for entrepreneurs who exploit poor children, and the inadequacy of government programs aimed at helping families deserving of material assistance.

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