In an interview with Ahram Online on Thursday, UNICEF Representative in Egypt Philippe Duamelle spoke of "serious concerns" related to the rights of children detained following clashes and demonstrations.
Egypt has witnessed a wave of demonstrations by anti-government protesters since the second anniversary of the January 25 revolution. Some rights groups have described an increase in the levels of police brutality towards children arrested at demonstrations, including allegations of torture and of preventing detained children from receiving essential medical treatment.
Duamelle told Ahram Online that UNICEF, with the support of civil society and government partners, was providing legal assistance to around 600 children who had been accused of involvement in demonstrations and clashes in recent months.
Many of the detained children "have seen their rights seriously violated," said Duamelle, primarily by being detained along with adults, subjected to physical violence, or denied access to immediate legal assistance.
The rights of minors are set out in Egypt's Child's Law, amended in 2008. The law explicitly states that children are to be held separately from adults if they are charged with a crime.
"At the moment, it seems the law is not enforced in some cases...We have heard testimonies that create serious concerns for us," said the UN official.
"There is no reason why this should not be stopped. Government mechanisms are in place. Clear legislation is in place; it just needs to be enforced... there is a clear call for this to be addressed as urgently as possible," added Duamelle, who stressed that children were highly valued in Egyptian society.
"No one is above the law, and if children commit a serious offence, of course the law has to be enforced," said Duamelle. "But if children are arrested...their rights should be respected."
He added: "It is unacceptable to see children being abused. It should not be tolerated."