1.6 million underage workers in Egypt: Official figures

Ahmed Feteha, Thursday 14 Jul 2011

A recent official estimation by CAPMAS and the ILO of the number child labourers working in Egypt reveals unsavory truths

1.3 million children suffer adversities in work environment

Over nine per cent of Egyptian children are involved in child labour, which translates to around 1.6 million underage workers between 5 and 17 years old, Egypt’s official statistics body announced Thursday. Most of them work in adverse working environments.

The survey results show that around two thirds of working children in Egypt are younger than 15 years of age with around 46 per cent between the ages of 12 and 14.

The Egyptian country side hosts the majority of child workers with around 1.32 million children in both Upper and Lower Egypt. The agriculture sector employees 68 per cent of underage workers, followed by the services sector which hires 18 per cent; mostly as apprentices in trades.

The 2010 child labour survey, which was prepared by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization And Statistics (CAPMAS) in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO), is the first scientific, internationally acknowledged assessment of the child labour situation in Egypt.

"This is Egypt's first step towards a serious solution to the problem" says Luca Azzoni, a senior specialist with ILO.

Child Labourers are sometimes preferred by certain employers as they are easily controlled and are paid less.

Children are often exposed to adverse working conditions and long working hours, in which they are deprived of their basic rights stipulated by the law. They are mostly hired by informal sector enterprises, which are highly unregulated and generally disregard labour laws.

The Egyptian law permits children older than 14 years old to participate in the work force on the condition they do not perform hazardous or arduous tasks.

The study defined child labour jobs based on their lack of adherence to the law.

Results show that a whopping 82 per cent (1.32 million) of total underage workers work in adverse conditions, which includes exhausting jobs, exposition to dust, smoke, high or low temperatures, chemicals, insecticides, and so forth.

Long working hours was the second criteria used in determining the number of child labours in Egypt, where 29 per cent work more than 43 hours a week, more than 8 hours daily in a 5-day work week.

Most of these over-worked children are between the ages of 12 and 14 as around 409,000 children work more than 21 hours a week.

Experts often warn of the grave consequences of child labour; especially its devastating effect on education.

“Child labour undermines any national development efforts” says Frank Hagemann, an ILO child labour expert. He explains that child labourers are hindered from effective participation in economic activity because of missed educational opportunities. Such worries are evident in Egypt.

Around 400,000 working children, 25 per cent of the total number, are truants. Almost 50 per cent of these children claim that they “don’t care about education” as their reason for abandoning school. 15 per cent of truants say they cannot afford education.

As for the causes of the unfortunate phenomenon, poverty seems to be the main reason. The survey indicates that 50 per cent of working children say they work to help their family. Almost 40 per cent say they work to raise their families’ income, while 6 per cent say they work to learn a craft that they can utilize when they grow up.  

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