The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, CIHRS, organized a symposium on “The Tragedy of Trading with Humans” on Wednesday, 23rd of May 2007, in cooperation with the Arab Foundation for Migration Studies. The symposium addressed the perimeters of the tragedy, the abuse and manipulation of minor girls, the calamity of street children, crimes related to selling organs for transplant operations… Participants in the symposium included Mr. Oussama al-Ghazouli, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Arab Foundation for Migration Studies, Mr. Ragab al-Touhamy, Attorney at the Supreme Court of Appeal and State Council, Mr. Samy Abdel-Radi, Journalist in al-Masry al-Youm (The Egyptian Today) independent newspaper, Lamia Moustafa, researcher in the New Woman Foundation, Dr. Hassan Issa, full-time Professor of Psychology, Cairo University, and Dr. Mohammed Mattar, Professor of International Law, Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Moataz elfegeiry, CIHRS Programs director directed the symposium.
Participants warned against the escalation of the phenomenon of traffic in humans in Egypt, which assumes different forms. They called for the promotion of international conventions for the suppression of this phenomenon, and for the rehabilitation and protection of victims, and indicated that this activity has become endemic and pervasive in various parts of the world.
They also indicated that the main reasons for the emergence and pervasiveness of the phenomenon are the ascending poverty rates in Egyptian society, broken households, unemployment and school dodging.
Mr. Ragab al-Touhamy broached the phenomenon of marrying Egyptian minor girls to rich men from the Gulf, and asserted that it prevails in some Lower Egyptian cities, some cities and villages in Giza, such as Hawamdiyah town and the surrounding villages. Al-Touhamy pointed out to the role of mediators, who facilitate such marriages, describing this activity as one form of traffic in humans.
Ms. Lamia Moustafa discussed the phenomenon of violence and sexual exploitation of street girls. She mentioned that children, particularly young girls, are exposed to many forms of violence and abuses on the street, the most prevailing of which is arbitrary arrest by police forces, lockup in detention places with adults, which subjects children to many forms of violence.
Lamia presented three forms of violence against street girls (girls have exposed such forms of violence on the media), namely:
1- Forcible detention of street girls to rape them;
2- Sexual exploitation of minor girls, when parents force them to practice prostitution, which compels them to flee their homes to street life;
3- Exploitation of minor girls or the so-called street children, in prostitution, under threats or extortion.
According to Ms. Moustafa, statistics indicate that 60% of street children come from broken families. Actually, the main reason behind this phenomenon is attributed to rupture in households, and escaping school at early years of education; more than 50% of street children are school dropouts, or are deprived of education as a result of school dodging. Furthermore, most of these children live in inappropriate houses under very poor living conditions that hinder the normal growth of the children, in cheer violation of international standards.
Dr. Mohammed Mattar stressed the seriousness and importance of the phenomenon, and affirmed its global rather than domestic nature. He asserted that, according to international law, this phenomenon is categorized under the rubric of traffic in persons. He also pointed out that the United Nations called in 2000 for a shift from the incrimination of the phenomenon of human exploitation to the domain of “protection”. Thus, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons, especially women and children was promulgated, and rallied some kind of international consensus over the fact that the phenomenon merits due attention and thus should be resisted. This was manifested in the ratification by 111 states of the Convention, including Egypt. The Convention has become an integral part of international law since 2003, after the ratification of 40 states. Mattar drew the attention to the fact that Egypt lacks legislation incriminating traffic in persons, while 18% of states in the world fall short of enacting such laws.
Mr. Samy Abdel-Radi stressed that many factors contribute to the phenomenon of street children in Egypt, which in fact represents a ticking bomb. The phenomenon stemmed from shantytowns or random population clusters; Mr. Abdel-Radi indicated that official studies and statistical estimates point out that there are 1034 such zones in 24 Egyptian governorates (from a total of 26). Studies hinted that 81 of such random clusters should be promptly demolished; another suggestion was to maintain and develop the remaining 953 zones. Abdel-Radi was keen to clarify some of the features of random communities, mainly that the population density reaches 1500 persons in very narrow space (not exceeding 500 meters); families are stacked in very small overpopulated houses; single rooms are over-crowded with occupants; criminal rates and rates of delinquency, especially sexual deviation are high; drug abuse, divorce, homelessness, and family clashes and quarrels are predominant.
Mr. Abdel-Radi pointed out that sexual exploitation is the most serious manifestation of street children abuse, especially young girls. The assailant or culprit is, in this case, either a member of pedophile gangs or an individual who takes advantage of the child. This state resulted in the proliferation of HIV-AIDS* among children in considerable rates. He indicated that habits and traditions pervading Egyptian society are an immense obstacle hampering the collection of accurate data that might help in identifying official statistical figures relevant to sexual exploitation, because cases are not reported. However, confessions and accounts of street children accused in Ramadan Mansour, known as “al-Turbini”, case which shocked Egyptian public opinion, confirmed that street children are always in jeopardy of rape and ravish.
Oussama al-Ghazouli was of the opinion that the most violent and worst form of traffic in humans is sex trade, practiced either forcibly or through deception, or with a victim under legal age, which is 18 years in Egyptian law. Al-Ghazouli maintained that there are no official figures or estimates of the number of victims of traffic in persons in Egypt.
Al-Ghazouli specified a number of recommendations and suggestions to confront such phenomena, and asserted that the point of departure to restrict traffic in persons in our country is to draw up the actual boundaries of the tragedy, by unmasking the threat pedophile gangs pose in terms of abusing children in begging and raping, the size of minor girls’ prostitution, the magnitude of local and migrant prostitution, and the scope of trade in human organs and blood.
The second step, he continued, is to enforce the Protocol on Suppression of the Traffic in Persons, especially Women and Children, which is complementary to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Furthermore, global policies and programs both at the domestic and national levels should be set forth in cooperation with private associations and civil society organizations to prevent and suppress traffic in persons and protect the victims.
Dr. Hassan Issa argued that the phenomenon of street children has become one of the most remarkable phenomena in Egyptian society in the last ten years. Such phenomena might have existed before, but the numbers of these children have noticeably mushroomed in recent years. He pointed out to factors that exacerbate the phenomena, such as broken families, migration from rural to urban areas, low educational levels as a result of school dodging, in addition to child labor and parent ill-treatment.
Dr. Issa summarized the qualitative factors involved directly in the phenomena in the economic situation in Egypt since the late seventies, social mutations and factors accompanying such situation. He also added political reasons exemplified in the absence of a global and articulate socio-political policy targeting this huge sector of the population.
Furthermore, Egyptian political party platforms, irrespective of their inclinations, are almost devoid of any specific vision on childhood, Dr. Issa added, and asserted that the problem of street children did not acquire enough attention in Egypt, nor was the Ministry of Social Security concerned except with depositing juvenile delinquents and beggars in special institutions.
This post is also available in: Arabic