Reports that the Egyptian army are to establish and run institutions for the country’s homeless children have been denied to Daily News Egypt by various government officials.
Alleged local radio reports on Monday morning said that Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Waly had announced the joint project with the Ministry of Defence, and would see the army build and run the facilities. Both ministries, however, denied the reports.
Youssef Abd Al-Basset, Head of Projects at the Ministry of Social Solidarity, told Daily News Egypt that he “had no information” on such an initiative. There are many projects underway, to which the ministry welcomes infrastructure support from businesses, charities or other organisations. So far, however, there have been no agreements with the army.
Calls to Minister Ghada Waly herself were left unanswered, and another official working within the ministry, Khaled Soltan, also denied knowledge of such a project.
Meanwhile army spokesperson Mohamed Samir also stated to Daily News Egypt that he “had not heard of it”.
Egypt has a well-known problem of street children living without care from guardians.
Abd El-Basset told Daily News Egypt that the department has no hard figures, but foreign media reports on street children’s numbers overestimate the figure. Abd El-Basset simply said: “Our country is sweet.”
However, Waly announced in January that the number of street children nationwide stands at 20,000, a number deemed by children’s rights organisations as far below the actual figure.
The National Centre for Social and Criminological Research (NCSCR), the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and 12 other NGOs participated in a survey of Egypt’s street children, according to an interview Waly held with Al-Hayah satellite channel.
Executive director of the Egyptian Coalition for Children Rights, Samar Youssef, said the number is far from the truth. She added that the coalition announced its wariness regarding the number, with respect to the effort made in the study.
“The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) said that there are 1.5 million child workers in Egypt, it’s logical that the number looks far from reality,” Youssef said. Similarly, UNICEF estimated in 2005 that there are around one million children who spend most of their lives on the streets.
Youssef, who said the survey was only undertaken for one day, added that a vital factor that makes a major difference in the results of studies is the definition of a street child.
“The minister talks about children without homes or who spend all their time in the street, but are children who spend their nights in homeless shelters or other places also taken into the study? This part is not clear.”
Waly said over 3,700 researchers worked on the research, as it targeted 2,558 gathering points of street children throughout the country.
In December, reports surfaced on a Ministry of Interior detention camp holding around 600 children, many without charges for almost a year, in extremely poor conditions in the town of Banha, North of Cairo.
The Ministry denied the existence of the facility and maintained that children would not be held in detention facilities. However, Daily News Egypt spoke to lawyers at the centre working with families of the detained children who spoke of being denied communication with their children.
The Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence believes that many in the facility are being denied required medical support for injuries and other conditions. The exact situation inside the camp, however, remains unclear, as contact has been denied by the camp’s authorities.