By Youssef Aziz
Nearly two million children live on Egyptian streets, deprived of basic needs such as shelter, food, and protection from abuse – and their numbers, UNICEF reports, are swelling.
Journalist Nassar Abdullah shined a spotlight on the problem recently in a controversial editorial published by Al Masry Al Youm, highlighting how Brazilian security forces in 1990 killed street children “like stray dogs” as a means to address homelessness. Sparking outrage among human rights organisations, which accused him of inciting murder, Abdullah drew parallels between Brazil in the 1990s and Egypt’s current economic situation, pointing out that the method, while cruel, was “less costly than rehabilitation”. Abdullah later stressed that he was commending Brazil’s “will to reform” and not calling on Egypt to adopt the programme.
The kerfuffle raises the question: just how expensive is it to give a street child a home?
At Hope Village, a Cairo-based nonprofit that runs a series of children’s shelters, it costs just EGP 1,000 to provide a child with shelter, food, education and healthcare for a month, said Mahmoud El-Sheikh, public relations officer. If the organisation can find a home for the child – by far the preferred solution – operation costs go down considerably.
The most economical solution, El-Sheikh said, is to convince the children to go back home and reunite with their families. Most of the children living on the street aren’t orphans; they only fled their homes because of conflicts with their families.
“The streets cannot give birth,” he said.
Hope Village, which gets 80 to 90% of its funding from private donors, tries to track down the children’s parents, provide mediation, and reunite the family. This process may cost up to EGP 500, depending on the case. If the family is concerned about the financial cost of raising the child, Hope Village provides renewable loans of up to EGP 3,000 as long as the family keeps the child.
If reunification proves impossible, Hope Village has 14 children’s shelters that take in 6,000 children each year. The shelters are outfitted with learning centres, football fields and healthcare workers. The children receive psychological and physical care to help them deal with the impacts of street life, including trauma or skin diseases.
The main of objective of any street children organisation is to save children from the criminal life and provide them with a safe living environment, said Azza Ashour, a public relations secretary at the nonprofit El Ma’wa (The Shelter), which also works with homeless children.
Children living on the street often become entangled in organised gangs or fall victim to crimes such as rape, drug dealing or even murder, Azza said. Many organisations focus on sheltering children until the age of 18 and providing proper food and education, and then try to find them a job so they can contribute positively to society.
“All they need is just a little bit of love,” said Nabila Sobhy, a business instructor at RITI who volunteers with Hope Village. “They did not find it back in their homes so they escaped looking for it.”