Egypt moves against worst forms of child labour, measures not enough

Egypt is involving government institutions, civil society and the business community in the implementation of a national plan to eradicate child labour by 2025.
Sunday 15/07/2018
Necessity knows no law. A boy sells vegetables at a market of the town of Shebin Kanater in the area of Qalubiya.                            (AFP)
Necessity knows no law. A boy sells vegetables at a market of the town of Shebin Kanater in the area of Qalubiya. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt is involving government institutions, civil society and the business community in the implementation of a national plan to eradicate child labour by 2025.

“As a problem, child labour poses immense challenges for us,” Egyptian Labour Minister Mohamed Saafan said while introducing the programme. “We all need to join hands to put an end to this problem.”

Approximately 1.6 million children between the ages of 12-17 are working in Egypt, a 2017 national survey concluded. Civil society organisations say, however, that the number of working children could be much higher because most institutions that employ children do so secretly.

Most working children are in rural areas, with 63% of working children toiling in agriculture, the Ministry of Labour said. Others work in the mining business, the construction sector, quarries, brick factories and industrial institutions.

Those sectors are the worst forms of child labour, which is what the new programme plans to end, the ministry said.

Marriage breakup, poverty and tough economic conditions are behind most of the cases of child labour and school dropouts, it added.

“We cannot put an end to child labour without solving these problems,” said Talaat Abdel Qawi, anti-child labour campaigner. “Eradicating poverty is the key to ending child labour as a phenomenon.”

More than one-quarter of Egyptians live below the poverty line and some parents force their children to drop out of school and work to help the family get by. Marriage breakups exacerbate the problem because children must earn a living in the absence of care-providers. Those children often end up on farms, quarries, mines or factories, taking on jobs far beyond their ages.

Egypt has struggled to end child labour for years but most national strategies seem to have lacked the official will to enforce action.

The Ministry of Labour conducted several studies on child labour and raided thousands of industrial institutions, workshops, farmlands and quarries to ensure they were not hiring children. More than 4,248 institutions were given warnings against employing children and 74 were sued for employing children, the ministry said.

Legal action and financial penalties for institutions that employ children will be among the mechanisms utilised in the plan to end child labour. The programme would offer some parents cash incentives to prevent them from sending their children to work.

Cairo is beginning a national awareness campaign through conferences, workshops and meetings to warn parents against sending children to work and stressing the health and psychological harm caused by child labour.

“Some of the children,” Saafan said, “have to spend their most beautiful years in the workplace. This should not be happening.”

One of the challenges facing the Labour Ministry is the lack of funds to economically empower poor parents, observers said. Most institutions that hire children do so in secret to evade oversight by authorities, they added.

“These are problems we all must put in mind when planning to eradicate a huge problem like this,” said Maged Tobia, a member of the Egyptian parliament. “Enforcing the law and bringing those who hire the children to account are good measures but they will remain ineffective so long as the root causes of the problem are still unaddressed.”

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