The Situation of Children and Women in Egypt
Egypt was an early signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and one of the six initiators of the first World Summit for Children.
Over the past three decades, Egypt’s economic and social indicators have improved significantly, and its Human Development Index ranking increased by almost 50 per cent, moving it from the low to medium development group (120 out of 177 countries). However, economic growth has not yet translated into sustainable improvement of Egyptians’ well-being, and poverty persists. The Government has adopted several important measures aimed at accelerating economic growth, creating job opportunities and better focusing of social safety nets, particularly subsidy schemes. In relation to children specifically, The Presidential Declaration of the Second Decade for the Protection and Welfare of the Egyptian Child (2000-2010) placed children at the forefront of the development agenda. This commitment contributed, inter alia, to a significant reduction of under-five mortality and a high level of primary education attainment.
Despite this progress sub-national disparities persist, particularly in Upper Egypt, where 25 million people (37 per cent of the population) reside. Between 1995 and 2000, poverty declined by 14 per cent at the national level but in rural Upper Egypt it actually increased by 17 per cent. More recently, by 2004, poverty increased up to 20% nationwide, and in rural Upper Egypt, the poverty rate is as high as 41%.
Significant progress has been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. There is good probability that Goals 1, 4, 5 and 6 (poverty and hunger, child mortality, maternal health, malaria and other diseases) will be met by 2015. Data are insufficient to measure progress on Goal 6 (HIV/AIDS). There is potential, but not high probability, to meet Goals 2, 3, 7 and 8 (universal primary education, gender equality and empower women, environmental sustainability, a global partnership for development).
The situation with regard to the goals directly related to children is as follows:
Goal 2 - Achieve universal primary education: Primary-school enrolment among boys and girls is 94 and 91 per cent respectively. Net school attendance rates are lower by around 10 per cent for both genders. Enrolment in the formal education system in parts of Upper Egypt lags behind the rest of the country, ranging from 96 and 95 per cent among boys and girls respectively in Aswan governorate to 77 and 75 per cent respectively in Sohag governorate. Economic pressures on families, the quality of learning and the school environment adversely affect achievement rates. The enrollment rate at pre-primary level is 15%; the government’s target is to reach 60% enrollment by 2010.
Goal 3 - Promote gender equality and empower women: The gender gap in secondary education can be considered closed with female/male enrolment ratio at 99.3 (2002/3). This is not however likely to happen in primary and preparatory education by 2015 according to the most recent MDG report. Egypt still has a long way to go in increasing women’s paid employment. Currently women’s labor force participation is as low as 24 per cent of the total.
Goal 4 - Reduce child mortality: The under-five mortality rate (U5MR) halved over the last decade, to 36 per 1,000 live births. Improved access to medical care during pregnancy and childbirth contributed to improving child survival. If these trends continue, Egypt will achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing U5MR by two thirds during the period 1990-2015 at national level. However, the situation in rural Upper Egypt remains a concern. There is widespread chronic malnutrition among young children and 18 per cent of children under five years are stunted. Some 78 per cent of the population consumes iodized salt, a marked improvement due to government efforts promoting use of iodized salt, but disparities exist and five governorates are classified as high risk for iodine deficiency. Immunization coverage is high, with 89 per cent of children aged 12-23 months fully immunized. Due to significant government efforts and support by international agencies, Egypt is no longer classified as polio-endemic.
Goal 5 - Improve maternal health: The reduction of maternal mortality ratio to 84 per 100,000 live births in 2000 down from 174 per thousand live births in the early 90s is a tremendous achievement. Recent studies indicate further improvement in the maternal mortality ratio since 2000 (68 per 100,000 live births in 2003). This remarkable progress is due primarily to improvements registered in the metropolitan areas (Urban governorates) and Upper Egypt. It is indicative that the goal of reducing maternal mortality by three quarters within 25 years can be achieved by 2015. A factor contributing significantly to the progress in MMR reduction is the increasing proportion of births attended by skilled personnel. The latter reached 74 per cent of all births according to EDHS 2005. However, regional disparities in skilled birth assistance, though narrowing over time, persist with 91 per cent and 63 per cent of such attendance in urban governorates and Upper Egypt respectively.
Goal 7 – Ensure Environmental sustainability: Due to rapid urbanization, industrialization and heavy population density along the limited and confined green valley of the River Nile, several environmental problems exist. This affects both urban and rural sectors at the macro as well as the micro levels. The lack of environmental awareness aggravates the problem of the natural resources degradation and generates sanitation, hygiene and environmental problems at the community level. Use of improved water sources is almost universal, but the quality of potable water at times does not meet international standards, particularly in remote rural and urban slum areas. The Egypt Human Development Report 2005 cites sanitation as the “silent emergency” with serious consequences for children's development when combined with poverty and poor child-care practices, and diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor sanitation facilities and practices contribute to child mortality.
Adolescents - one quarter of the population - face considerable challenges in finding employment. This is aggravated by the quality of their education, which does not provide them with the necessary skills. There is a lack of proper information on age-specific issues and limited opportunities for their participation in different contexts starting within their families to their schools to community at large, which affect their ability to have a meaningful role in their society and in national development.
The Government prioritizes child protection, and national plans of action and programmes for at-risk children are in place to deal with abuse and violence in homes, schools and the streets. An estimated 8 per cent of children aged 6-14 years are child laborers, mostly engaged in the agriculture sector, considered a hazardous occupation. There are a significant number of street children in Egyptian cities. Family breakdown and poverty are the root causes that push children to the streets. Children are also drawn to the streets where they can socialize and earn money. The prevalence of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) among girls aged 15-17 years is 77 per cent. The abandonment of FGM/C is a Government priority, and recent surveys indicate a lack of intent to circumcise girls in communities. A 2006 study on child abuse in deprived urban communities, shows 81% of children having been corporally punished at home in the year preceding the survey, and 91% corporally punished during the same period in schools. There is a need to institutionalize child protection mechanisms and services for monitoring and rehabilitation of children subjected to exploitation, abuse, violence and those deprived of primary care.
The reported number of HIV/AIDS is low, at 2,115 cases, and the estimated average number of HIV-infected people is 5,300. However, a recent study completed by FHI and the Ministry of Health demonstrates concentrated epidemic within vulnerable populations and documented high-risk behaviors among them. Additionally, the prevalence of hepatitis C is high (8% based on National Survey in 1999) a virus that shares similar modes of transmission to HIV in many ways. Other factors that increase vulnerability to HIV include a rise in mobility, the high illiteracy rate especially among women, poverty and unemployment and up to 200,000 street children in Egyptian cities subject to abuse and exploitation. The presence of stigma and discrimination pose challenges to existing surveillance and HIV testing, which may result in a number of undetected cases and hinder access to services.