On Sunday 22 March, Cairo Opera House hosted a seminar titled "Family, Parenting, Information and Communication Technology and its impact on the rights of the Egyptian Child".
The panel consisted of Dr. Ghada Waly, minister of social solidarity; counsellor Mr. Diego Escalona Paturel, Head of Cooperation from the European Union Delegation to Egypt; Ms. Gillian Wilcox, acting representative for the United Nations International Emergency Children's Fund (UNICEF) Egypt; Dr. Azza El Ashmawy, secretary general of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, as well as representatives on behalf of the Egyptian ministry of technology and communication, and other parties from the media and civil society.
Prior to the seminar, El Ashmawy talked to Ahram Online about internet access as a focal point for the discussion.
"Many challenges still face the Egyptian family and society in regards to their exposure to violence channeled through the constant flow of information from the internet and its impact on younger generations.
"Children have access to everything with a click of their smart phones now. Their safety net should be building a mentality that can differentiate between the good and bad and learning the ability to criticise. Knowledge empowerment is the responsibility of all parties: government, society, and family," she said.
The opening of the discussion saw the screening of a short documentary with testimonies from street and homeless children in Egypt, which showed them talking about the reasons that led them into the streets and their aspirations for a better future.
Deputy editor of Nisf El Donia magazine (a publication affiliated with Al Ahram newspaper), Heba Basha, who moderated the seminar, stressed that all media channels should abide by the guidelines demonstrated by the documentary, which protected the anonymity of the children featured.
Dr Ghada Waly stressed the role that the ministry of social solidarity has in empowering women and families as a tool for breaking the circle of domestic violence.
"We have implemented programs that assist families and mothers financially provided that the children get the right health care and access to continuous education," she said.
The minister said that many forms of violence that challenges Egyptian society exist. "Whether it is forced early marriage, female genital mutilation, unprotected children in the streets, or even the violations committed by government affiliated child foster centres, the time has come to be candid about the extent of violence imposed upon the vulnerable," she said.
Waly stressed that new guidelines are being applied to those centres, with 468 having been tested currently, in addition to the implementation of a protocol with UN Women to evaluate centres that reach out to women subjected to violence.
She added that the media has a big role to play in the protection of children, saying that she personally intervened to ban a chocolate advertisement on television that depicted a father sarcastically flogging his son with a belt.
UNICEF, which focuses on supporting families and eliminating violence in more than 180 countries, attended through its acting representative in Egypt, Ms. Gillian Wilcox.
UN statistics show that one third of adolescents ranging from the ages of 15 to 19 are subjected to violence, and that 60% of children are subjected to a form of violence or abuse. In that regard, Wilcox stressed that the key challenge in Egypt is combating multi-dimensional poverty, which manifests itself in many forms, one of which is domestic violence.
Research has likened the stress felt by an abused child to that of a soldier in battle.
"The role of the family and the role of the media is critical in nurturing the child to reach his full potential, and in that regard we work closely with the Egyptian ministry of social solidarity to provide resources that enhance parenting skills and care for children," Wilcox added.
Wilcox also stressed that hazards imposed by easy access to the internet can expose children to abuse and destructive violence, and that awareness is the key solution, along with creating alternatives rich in attractive content that enlightens the younger generations and bonds them with their culture and heritage.
Counselor Mr. Diego Escalona Paturel emphasised the commitment of the EU to the international agreements on the protection of children, adding that it always had a commitment to assist the Egyptian government in supporting the interests of children.
He emphasised that after the economic conference in Sharm el Sheikh the EU also signed an agreement with the Egyptian government dedicating 30 million Euros to the cause of strengthening Egyptians' access to schooling. A third of the money will be dedicated to national programs for child protection.
On behalf of the ministry of communication, Dr Sherif Hashem stressed that the ministry will continue to cooperate with other civil and governmental partners to continue educational and awareness initiatives.
As the panel and attendees hailed the return of the Cairo International Cinema and Arts Festival for Children, Ms Lina El Tol, a Jordanian member of the judging panel seized on the opportunity to shed light on the role of the arts in the mandatory system of education in her country and its positive impact on younger generations.