Friday is the International Day for Street Children. For most of these street children every day is a fight for survival in a harsh world. In some countries "death squads" hunt and kill street children for a fee while in other countries thousands are forced into prostitution. Street children spend their day picking through garbage looking for food and searching for a safe place to spend the night. They have no schools to go to or hospitals to help them when sick. They are lost in the city.
In Egypt "street children" is a serious problem with some estimates putting the number up to three million (numbers vary between studies as the definition of "street children" also vary). During and after the Egyptian revolution life became harder for many of them. According to NPR, 1 out of every 4 protesters thrown in jail following clashes in December 2011 was a child. These children saw the revolution as a way to become part of the society, have a voice and for once be treated as an equal (companionship in the streets with the demonstrators). One demonstrations organizer say that street children are "valuable partners in the Egyptian revolution given their speed, agility and small size, which make it harder for security forces to stop them." Pretty stupid and selfish, if you ask me. On the other hand, SCAF and the police accused the demonstrators of paying street children to attack the security forces. Regardless of the truth, "street children" are again stuck in the middle between bullets and rocks as if their lives are cheap.
Al-Masry Al-Youm had an article about street children in Egypt back in July 2011. In the article Soheer Waheed, a social worker at the Banati foundation, shared her experience about the hell street children go through:
“Police officers sexually abuse and rape street girls who are detained inside the stations and then abuse them verbally and force them to clean up the station. Sometimes they force the girl and her daughter to sleep with them as a bargaining chip against the arrest of the woman’s son ... The number one issue for these children is the way the Ministry of Interior deals with them. Some of the children talk about anticipating how the government will change and someone will pick them up and send them to school. They want to talk about how good it felt to see police stations burning - it was a catharsis for them.”
The sad reality as poverty soars in Egypt, street children numbers will increase. So, tomorrow is an opportunity to think of "street children" and in the transitional mess Egypt is going through let's remember they are more vulnerable than ever. It's more than donating money or smiling at them in the street. We need to think of this issue as we demand Ministry of Interior reform and push the government and the parliament to enact legislations to protect these children, deal with contributing factors (such as early marriages, rural migration, child labor, etc.) and allocate funds in the budget to programs dedicated to dealing with their issues.