2001 EGY: Rapid Situation Assessment of Street Children in Cairo and Alexandria
Author: Abt Enterprises LLC
This Rapid Situation Assessment (RSA) of street children in Cairo and Alexandria is a project carried out on behalf of three United Nations agencies: the Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Programme (WFP). UNICEF Egypt established a Child Protection Program in 1999, aiming at monitoring the situation of children at local community level, supporting the development of models to provide protection measures for children at risk and supporting the establishment of a comprehensive protection policy. The current project falls under UNICEF's Integrated Child Protection Project which, among other objectives, aims at providing protection measures to children in need of special protection.
Purpose / Objective
In carrying out a rapid situation assessment on the overall situation of street children in Cairo and Alexandria, the Abt Enterprises team sought to accomplish the following objectives:
- To assess the overall situation of street children in Cairo and Alexandria by mapping out areas of their concentrations, their activities, needs and priorities, the magnitude and patterns of drug abuse among street children, and their health and nutritional status
- To identify current governmental and non-governmental activities and programs targeting street children, and assess their needs and problems
- To set forth recommendations on appropriate interventions
First, planning and collection of secondary sources of data was conducted.
Meetings were held with the chair or general manager of various NGOs and three brainstorming sessions with the research team/ service providers.
Interviews were done with a sample of 50 street children in the drop-in centers of the Al-Amal Village (20 children) and Toufolti NGOs (10 children) in Cairo, and The Egyptian Association for Child Protection NGO (20 children) in Alexandria. Nine Focus Group Discussions with street children in the drop-in centers of Al-Amal Village in Cairo, and the General Egyptian Association for Child Protection in Alexandria were also held. Interviews with two samples of street children (10 from Toufolti and 10 from The General Egyptian Association for Child Protection in Alexandria) and children residents of a governmental institution (a sample of 20 children from Dar El-Tarbia in Giza) were done to identify the rate of psychosocial adjustment between both groups, and especially among street children.
Observations were also made of certain areas where street children congregate, and conducting informal interviews with some street children with regard to specific topics related to substance abuse, health and nutrition.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Poverty, family breakdown, and child abuse and neglect seem to be the leading causes for the problem. Many Egyptian families who are economically marginalized have become seriously dysfunctional, and have placed their children in circumstances that have resulted in such youth leaving home and trying to survive in the often unprotected and hazardous streets. These circumstances have included families coming undone by the departure of one of the heads of the households, child abuse by the family, and exploitation of the child as a wage earner by abusive employers.
While the precise magnitude of the problem has yet to be measured, the RSA team estimates that there are in excess of one million children, if children working in areas where they cannot be seen or reached, such as home-servants or those who work in other areas that do not necessarily entail direct contact with the street setting, and those who are at risk of vulnerability, are added to the list. Once on the streets, they discover that it is a very scary place, indeed, and that they lack many of the coping mechanisms necessary to establish a stable and secure life.
Eighty percent of the children are exposed to real or constant threat of violence from employers, hostile-abusive community members, and their peers. Ignorant about health, hygiene, and nutrition and deprived of services to protect them, street children are a malnourished sub-population subsisting on an inadequate diet. Lack of access to medical services due to the type of life they lead means that skin diseases, lacerations from fights, intestinal illnesses, and infections go untreated. Functionally illiterate (70 percent of our sample were school drop-outs, 30 percent had never attended schools in the first place), economic survival means working at the most menial tasks, or worse - begging or thieving. While two-thirds of the children have a sense of what they would like their lives to be (i.e. stable blue collar work as mechanics, carpenters or drivers), and even have a general understanding of what they need to get there (i.e., literacy, vocational training), few have any conception of how to craft a strategy to realize this vision. Complicating this situation is the fact that even though there have been many governmental and non-governmental efforts to deal with the problem of street children in Egypt, still relatively few resources exist to help them.
Spurned by the community and away from their families' protection and guidance, at least two-thirds of the children resort to substance abuse. Past studies disclosed that the overwhelming number of abusers resorted to tobacco or glue and/or petrol sniffing. Today's street children are responding to a more varied menu that includes various medicines and drugs (primarily Bango and Hashish). Few services exist that effectively seek to treat substance abuse among this subset of Egypt's youth.
The RSA focused upon Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations dealing with the problem in both Cairo and Alexandria. Analysis disclosed that while both GOs and NGOs recognize the magnitude of the problems of street children and are seeking every possible way to address them, their performance to-date is still in its initial phases and in need of various technical and financial support. However, beginning with family counseling, and continuing through to street-based services, residential, nutritional, hygiene and medical services, and substance abuse abatement, the study evidenced a serious lack of effective, trained, and knowledgeable professionals.
Hopeful signs include a growing awareness on the part of all intervention agencies that this phenomenon must be dealt with in a holistic approach that includes health, nutrition, education, and substance abuse abatement elements. Moreover, the GOs are more predisposed to coordinate strategies, cooperate with, and use NGOs committed to dealing with street children than at any time in the past. For donors focusing upon the amelioration of this phenomenon, there has rarely been a more conducive environment within which to work.
Dealing with the problem of street children needs the cooperation of various governmental, non-governmental, and voluntary efforts. Specific recommendations are given for each level of intervention: Structural-based intervention; Community-based intervention; Center-based intervention; and Street-based intervention.
Full report in PDF
PDF files require Acrobat Reader.