Context in Egypt
Egypt, officially the Arabic Republic of Egypt, is a country of Africa of the northeast. The northeast part of the country established by the peninsula of the Sinai is situated however in Asia.
The capital is Cairo ( al-Qâhira ), the official language(tongue) is Arabic, its spoken language is the Egyptian ( dialectal Arabic) and its currency is the Egyptian pound.
Egypt is a semi-presidential republic since 28thFebruary 1922
Area : 995.450 km2 (30x Belgium)
Population: 82 000.000 inhabitants (8x Belgium)
Population under 15 years old: 31.8% (Belgium : 17%)
Population living with less than $1 per day: 34.1%
Population living with less than $2 per day: 45%
Death rate under five years old: 35/1 000 (4,5/1 000 for Belgium)
The death rate of both children and mothers is 20x higher than in Western Europe.
The economic situation in Egypt is very difficult and the enormous growth of the population constitutes a true burden for this country (the Egyptian population grew 88% between 1975 and 2001, growth of 5% for Belgium in the same period).
Cairo, the capital, with its 18 000 000 inhabitants is faced with serious overpopulation and poverty problems because the population which it attracts does not manage to find accommodation nor work. The limited resources in Egypt (only 4% of cultivable land) have badly suffered from the growth rate of the population.
- What does the Egyptian government do in terms of fighting poverty?
The Egyptian government has made the battle against poverty one of its priorities by creating, for instance, a social aid fund. During the last decade, the National council of Childhood and Maternity in favour of children's rights has made a considerable effort. Egypt was one of the initiating countries of the Childhood World summit in 1990. The objectives set for 2010 are: health insurance for at least 90% of children, vaccination of 95% of children, fighting the death rate among the mothers, rehabilitation of problem children and access to basic educational programs. To reach these goals, Egypt needs assistance. It is for this reason that NGO initiatives based on childhood assistance are being given priority.
- What is the situation of children in Egypt?
The situation of the children is particularly precarious. The country counts 8 million children under the age of five. Maternal death rates are high, poverty is widespread and puts considerable pressure on families, contraception is illegal outside of marriage, divorce is common and children from previous marriages are often rejected: consequently orphans and streets children are extremely numerous.
- Why are babies abandoned in Egypt?
The abandonment of children is a regular event and is the result of a whole series of causes: illegitimate sexual relations, crushing poverty, shattered families, violence in the home, handicap(s), drug addiction or death of both parents. An illegitimate child is the source of reprisal from both the family and the society towards the new mother. The marginalisation of the child and its mother is then unavoidable.
- Is the adoption of an Egyptian child possible?
The Egyptian law does not recognize the adoption of Egyptian children. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as the "Kafala": a Muslim couple of Egyptian nationality can take in an orphan child to live with them; however, it will never inherit the family name, nor the family legacy.
- In what physical and psychological state do the children arrive at the centres?
The newborn babies generally arrive at the centres in bad health: dehydrated, malnourished, weakened, wounded, with skin infections, gall, bronchitis, lice, diabetes, hygiene related problems, some with handicaps ranging from moderate to severe.
- Which is the situation of the orphans and the orphanages in Egypt?
Officially, there are currently 6500 orphans throughout the 238 legally recognised institutions in Egypt. This figure is probably higher since certain institutions are not recognized and sometimes operate illegally.
The majority of the orphanages are: lacking funds, in need of renovation, under-equipped and are managed and staffed by unqualified personnel. Due to the shortage of nursery carers, the majority of the children miss out on individual attention, affection and care.
To fully understand the need and the psychological situation in which the orphans find themselves, in-depth research has been carried out on the consequences of life in an orphanage. The first major cause of emotional suffering is the maternal deprivation and the lack of emotional ties with an auxiliary nurse.
The problem stems from the fact that the personnel in these institutions be it in Cairo, in Egypt or anywhere else in the world, are often uninterested, not adequately trained to care for children and most of the time more motivated by their extremely meagre wages than by the children themselves. Of course, there are exceptions, but the general rule seems to be just that. It should be mentioned in these studies that cases of psychological and sexual abuse by auxiliary nurses on the children sometimes occur.
One of the main causes of anguish to the orphans is the negligence and the deprivation of any human contact. The children are often deprived of any physical and intellectual stimulation as well as medical, psychological and nutritional care. The children regress and lapse into the "Institutional autism syndrome" a form of complete regression that leads to auto-stimulating types of behaviours. These behaviours, according to therapists, are a way "of filling the gaps" when young children are confronted with loneliness and despair.
- Where do the babies go after the age of two?
Whatever the cause of the abandonment, the orphans become prone to a series of traumatising detachments, initially of their parents, then of the people who take care of them when they are transferred from one orphanage to another. The abandoned babies stay in centres governed by the Ministry for Health until the age of two. The infants and children of low-age require a much more complete medical infrastructure than the older children. Hence the separation of locations.
They are then transferred to another orphanage, governed by the Ministry of Social Affairs up to the age of six. At 12 years old the girls and boys are separated in various institutions.
- What is the situation of the street children?
All over the world, children are abandoned. The United Nations estimates there to be 150 million street children worldwide. UNICEF estimates the number of street children in Egypt at 500 000 to 1 000 000.
The causes can be multiple: violence in the home, divorce or death of a parent or parents, drugs, alcoholism, shattered families, armed conflict, natural disasters or simple economic collapse. The result is always the same: these children and youngsters find themselves forced to survive on the streets, scavenging through garbage, begging, living on the run in the poor districts and the polluted cities of the developing world. Even if a few survive thanks to odd jobs selling found objects or a little food, many are those that die on the streets. With no help whatsoever, without any form of education, love, affection or tenderness, these children have no future and their life expectancy remains appallingly low.
- There are several categories of street children:
"Living on the streets": those who live and sleep on the streets without any family support. They are exposed to abuse, exploitation, police violence and are the most vulnerable.
"Working on the streets": those who work on the streets to obtain their single source of revenue but return to some kind of family unit in the evening.
"Street families": whole families who live and sleep on the streets.
"Children at Risk": the children who are in a precarious situation and could find themselves living on the streets.