Every child has the right to live in a safe and happy family, be educated, protected from harm, have access to healthcare and equal protection of their civil rights, according to the 1989 Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Egypt made significant changes in 2008 to its child laws to give greater protection for children's rights concerning healthcare, poverty alleviation, education, violence against child and women, and abuse and exploitation. Some of Egyptian children were deprived of their rights to education, health, social care and family care. One of the important reasons was the global economic downturn that had a negative impact on human development. Egypt tried to think out of the box and adopted new policies. The following are some highlights of the initiatives undertaken in Egypt to address child rights.
Supporting poor households
One of the most important steps was the introduction of a cash transfer programme to support the income of poor households and encourage them to invest more in developing human capital through education and health.
In March 2015, Egypt launched Takaful and Karama (TKP), implemented by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, providing conditional cash support for poor households and families.
Takaful (Solidarity) required that beneficiaries have children from 0-18-years-old. Monthly cash transfers depend mainly on the number of the children and their school grades.
Karama (Dignity) is a non-conditional cash transfer programme directed to elderly beneficiaries above the age of 65, those with severe disabilities and diseases, and orphans. Support is afforded for life, and beneficiaries are checked upon twice a year.
The impact of Takafal and Karama in rural areas and the poorest villages has been obvious. Dr Sherine El-Shawarby, professor of economics at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, said: “For the first time in all rounds of household surveys, there was a reduction of poverty in rural areas. The focus of the government was on rural areas rather than on urban areas.”
According to the last Household Income Expenditure and Consumption Survey (HIECS) 2017/2018, the poverty rate in Egypt declined in rural areas but increased significantly in urban areas. Egypt’s overall poverty rate increased from 27.8 percent to above 32 percent.
young inventor Malak Mahmoud
designed a ‘complete toothbrushes kit’
Egypt’s Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) launched the "Children’s University Programme" in 2015. It targets Egyptian school students from age nine to 15-years-old. It aims to develop the Egyptian child’s skills in innovation, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, underlining the importance of scientific research.
The programme resembles others widespread around the world. Around 180 children’s universities exist in Europe. The ASRT is a member of the European Children’s University Network and the Children’s University International Programme.
ASRT president Mahmoud Sakr said: “More than 16,400 children joined and benefit from Egypt Children’s University Programme.”
Sakr continued that the programme entails cooperation between ASRT and all Egyptian universities, whether public or private, as well as the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Ministry of Planning and Administrative Reform, the Ministry of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs and the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Media counselor and official spokesman for ASRT, Sherine Sabri, said: “The Children’s University Programme has been successful for three years now. It is open to the public for free.” Admission to the programme is conducted online (http://www.asrt.sci.eg).
Managing director of the Egypt Children’s University Programme, Gina El-Fiqi, said: “Children study different sciences that will benefit them in their practical life, such as business, physics, biology, agriculture, chemistry, computer sciences, electrical and electronic engineering and mechanics.”
The programme give school students the chance to experience education in university communities, including access to university campuses, classrooms, laboratories, computer labs, libraries and other facilities. Children exposed to university education in seven scientific fields under the supervision of The ASRT programme covers seven scientific fields, besides scientific specialties decided according to the excellence of each university.
El-Fiqi explained: “We have a huge number of professors that participated in the programme from 34 governmental, national and private Egyptian universities from Alexandria to Aswan. The programme covered all 29 Egyptian governorates.”
Students Zeina Hatem and Mariam Nadi undertook training at the faculties of pharmaceuticals, engineering, medicine, business and arts at Heliopolis University. The 13-year-old students Hatem and Nadi, along with 22 of their colleagues, made an architectural maquette of their dream playground.Hatem said: “All the ideas revolved around sustainability. All figures and sculptures were made according to scale.”
Nadi added: “We made a budget for the project and used materials of good quality, and at the same time not expensive.”
Malak Mahmoud is 12-years-old and from Kafr El-Sheikh governorate. Mahmoud joined the programme two years ago. Mahmoud made a design called “The Complete toothbrushes kit." It included three different designs for toothbrushes to clean the inner, outer and biting surfaces of the upper and lower teeth. Another toothbrush was for cleaning the tongue. A third one was a small soft-tooth brush to gently exfoliate the lips. Toothbrush heads were made of rubber and toothpaste was made of type of sand. The kits were made in three different sizes to comfortably fit in any child's mouth.
Children study for six years in the ASRT programme. “It aims at strengthening the child. Each child received a financial subsidy every year, besides technical and artistic support,” Sabri said.
At the end of Children’s University Programme every year, each child is required to work on a scientific research project according to their interests and hobbies. Sabri said: “All the children’s innovations participated in the annual International Cairo Exhibition of Innovation.”
In the fourth phase, next year, an international conference on the Children’s University Programme will be held in Cairo, bringing a wide range of academics and experts from Children’s University programmes from across the world. In planning are agreements between different Children’s University initiatives around the world for a student exchange programme.
Improving nurseries nationwide
Another initiative for children is the National Project for Nurseries Development, aimed at improving the quality of service provided for children in nurseries.
According to the latest CAPMAS statistics for the year 2016, the number of children in the age group from birth to four years was 10,431,590 children. The number of licensed nurseries for the age group (0-4 years) were 14,272. The number of children enrolled in kindergartens was estimated at 847,423. The estimated gap is about 91 percent.
Minister-counselor for social welfare at the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS), Sahar Mashhour, said: “The number of officially registered nurseries at the Ministry of Social Solidarity was approximately 14,500 nurseries. Hundreds of nurseries remained unlicensed and unregistered due to the difficulties of procedures to obtain the license.”
Approval must come from MOSS, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Local Development. Mashhour added: “We are working on solving this, but it will take time. We are trying to improve the complicated requirements and procedures on obtaining nursery licenses.”
Aside from registration matters, the National Project for Nurseries Development has focused on comprehensive practical training workshops for teacher and facilitators working in nurseries.
Mashhour added: “MOSS spent a year and half to prepare measurement standards for quality supervision and a unified educational curriculum for all nurseries.”
Of five training workshops, the first covered infrastructure. It discussed child protection, rights in law and the constitution, and international agreements covering children and pre-school education.
The second workshop focused on training teachers on child learning objectives such as mental, physical, sensory, and emotional capabilities, along with independence and self-expression.
A third workshop covered first aid for kids, healthy nutrition, and positive parenting.
A fourth workshop was on how teachers should deal with behavioral disorder and psychological problems, such as violence, urinary incontinence (enuresis), bullying and stuttering. The workshop also touched on the integration of children with disabilities into regular nurseries.
Mashhour commented: “The ministry signed several agreements and partnership with 10 NGOs who will implement the development programme and offer training at 350 nurseries. This project was funded by the Ministry of Finance.”
So far, the programme has been applied in nurseries in 12 governorates, including Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, the Red Sea, Aswan, Fayoum, Beni Suef, Kafr El-Sheikh, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez and Qalyubia.
Concerning private nurseries, Mashhour said: “Nasser Bank allocated EGP 50 million to give loans to finance the development or establishment of nurseries.”
A new nurseries project called “Home Nurseries" was launched to increase the number of nurseries and lower the gap between the number of children in need and available nurseries. Home Nurseries will have the same activities, training and curriculum as ordinary ones, but will be convened in homes.
Mashhour confirmed, “There will be certain conditions and restrictions in order to set up a home nursery, to ensure the children’s safety.” She added: “It should have a good reputation and be safe, and be owned and managed by females only. All the teachers, facilitators and nannies should be women,” she added.
“We are targeting women; in particular those who are the sole breadwinner for the family, who financially support the family, or women who have no job and want to work from home,” she explained.
MOSS gave number of NGOs licenses to open home nurseries. These NGOs have experience in managing and developing nurseries. The house must consist of two or multiple floors. The first floor can be used for the nursery. The second floor is a living apartment for the family.
“We are in an experimental period we are going to evaluate after a year. Each Home Nursery has a small capacity for around seven children,” she added.
She concluded: “Inspectors and leaders from community committees will pay visits to the home nursery, ensuring that providers have effective procedures for keeping children safe.”
Protection from abuse
The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) launched the Child Helpline number 16000 on 29 June 2005. It is an emergency phone service that receives calls and records complaints for children in need of aid and assistance.
It provides protection for children from violence, abuse and neglect across the country. It has worked in partnership with the ministries of social solidarity, interior, justice, health, education and labour, and civil society communities working in this field. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The child helpline has received thousands of inquires and calls.
Secretary-general of the NCCM, Azza El-Ashmawy, said: “The most common problems for children were found inside their families, the child in particular exposed to different forms of violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual and emotional.”
El-Ashmawy explained that part of the helpline services were psychological, social and legal counseling for both the child and his or her family. Psychological support was offered through confidential counseling by phone or through in-person counseling at the NCCM's headquarters or through partners. Such partners are organisations specialised in the field of psychotherapy and other psychological services.
Another service is legal support for children and their families through on the phone consultations via legal representatives on behalf of thee child in front of investigating authorities and courts.
El-Ashmawy added: "There are several mechanisms for indirect intervention in the different governorates, through NGOs, child protection committees, referred and coordinated with concerned authorities.”
All staff and employees dealing with child helpline data are governed by a code of honour to maintain strict confidentiality and privacy.