February 28, 1996
On 24 February, 1996, the People's Assembly approved, in principle, a bill, "the Unified Law on Childhood and Motherhood."
CHRLA affirms that this step is a positive step, but still there are some observations that are worth noting before the bill is passed.
The bill is a collection of all existing legislation concerning childhood and motherhood in Egypt, rather than the formulation of a new law to protect and safeguard the right of the Egyptian child. No consideration has been taken of the changes to Egyptian society, and international conventions on the subject have been ignored.
The People's Assembly objected to Article 4 of the bill which stated that no marriage contract should be validated until both spouses have undergone a medical examination to confirm that neither carry any illnesses or disabilities which may affect the health or lives of future children. Objections to this stipulation were based on its conflict with the Sharia, social norms, and the Constitution.
CHRLA believes that instead of throwing the article out all together, it should be reworded so that there are no conditions on the marriage contract. Rather, the necessity of a medical examination should be stressed as a way of protecting the lives of children.
The new bill identified a child as a person who is not yet eighteen years old, which is the correct legal definition of a child. However, young offenders are defined as those under the age of sixteen, contrary to all international conventions. This enables children to be sentenced to death, tried before a military court, or subjected to any other criminal penalty.
The article on the nationality of children, referred to in the provisions of the Nationality Law (Law no. 26/1975) was not repealed. This Law is a blatant act of discrimination against women, since it deprives them of the right to pass their nationality on to their children in the event that the father is not Egyptian. However, a child of a male Egyptian automatically inherits his nationality, irrespective of the nationality of the mother and the place of birth.
CHRLA welcomes the section on healthcare, which includes the provision of a 'child health card' containing all relevant information on a child since the day of birth. Furthermore, the addition of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives have been prohibited from children's food. However, a real answer to child healthcare would be the provision of nutritional school meals, particularly for poorer sections of society. Field research demonstrates that 25 percent of school children buy their food from street food vendors. This is certainly not a healthy option. Furthermore, 30 percent of children suffer from lack of nutrition.
The bill still only provides health insurance for children of school age. CHRLA believes that health insurance should be extended to children of all ages, especially those of preschool age, when it is easier to cure and prevent the spread of diseases which are normally caught at school. Research by the Center for Childhood Studies at Ain-Shams University found that 40 percent of Egyptian children suffer from Hepatitis A, 20 percent from Hepatitis B, 2 percent from Hepatitis C, and that 30 percent of them are under weight, and 15.7 percent are born prematurely.
With regard to Chapter 3 on kindergartens, foster parents, and traffic hazards:
Article 35 states that the role of kindergartens (day care centers) is to provide children with social, cultural, physical, and psychological care, however, Article 37 does not require those who wish to establish nursery schools to hold any special educational qualifications.
Article 49 does not define a maximum duration for a child's stay in a foster family. Furthermore, there is no provision within the child care project for those children who have lost their guardians due to natural disasters, accidents, acts of violence or terrorism.
Articles 57 to 67 of Chapter 4 of the draft law address child education. CHRLA welcomes the Law's provision for mandatory free education for primary and elementary levels. However, CHRLA would like to draw attention to the fact that the necessary resources to implement this principle in practice do not currently exist. Basic educational resources, such as, school buildings and qualified teachers, are desperately needed. Furthermore, the Law fails to address the worrying phenomenon of school drop-outs, which at present represent 36 percent of registered primary school children. Studies relate the increase in the rate of drop-outs to the inability of families to pay for their children's education. Furthermore, statistics issued by the National Center for Social and Criminal Research in coordination with UNICEF confirm that 80 percent of working children are drop-outs from mainly poor families. The draft does not provide a comprehensive framework for tackling this problem. Such a framework should include studies into poverty and children, campaigns to promote the importance of education, and, most importantly a social safety-net which will negate the need of poor families to send their children out to work.
The bill raises the legal age of child employment from 12 to 14 years. However, it overlooks social reality and ignores the serious extent of the use of child labor. A study conducted by the Central Agency for Organization and Administration, Egypt, shows that the number of working children in Egypt is about 1.4 million. their ages range between 6 to 14 years,78 percent work in the agricultural sector, 9 percent in industrial workshops, 5 percent in the service sector and 9 percent in sales and construction. Of these working children, 55 percent are registered at school: 19 percent started school but dropped out, and 16 percent never started school at all. As noted above, economic factors are the reason for 90 percent of children working, 50 percent work to help support their families, and the other 40 percent take jobs to pay for their school fees. The study also points to the low level of technology as a major factor in the high recruitment of child labor,children are able to perform simple manual tasks for a low cost. The Social and Criminal Research Center confirms that children work for up to eleven hours per day in workshops which lack the necessary health and safety standards. As a result, many children are exposed to serious illnesses and injuries. Moreover, children suffer from physical abuse and ill treatment.
The bill fails to guarantee any safety to child workers through the setting of strict standards for employers, which are punishable by law if unmet. Logically, there can be no solution to this situation through purely legislative means. Resources should be made available for the enforcement of these regulations.
Very few amendments have been made to existing articles on care of juvenile delinquents. No provisions are made for the social care of young offenders. The bill proscribes that juveniles under the age of seven either be delivered to their parents or sent to a hospital. Both are inadequate measures for giving the necessary attention these children require.
The bill also disregards the existence of street children. UNICEF's most recent report confirms that there are 600,000 street children in Egypt, 40,000 of which live in Cairo. The report attributes this phenomenon to the rise in the number of illegitimate children and runaways due to ill treatment and family problems. Once on the streets, these children are used in drug dealing, male prostitution, and theft.
Article 110 sets a maximum probation period for young offenders of three years. In CHRLA's view, this may lead to insufficient probation periods which are unable to provide corrective social care.
Article 125 of the bill allows juveniles under the age of fifteen to be referred to a criminal court for a felony where an adult was also involved in the crime. This subjects young offenders to the penalties which accord with such courts,that is, imprisonment, instead of a reformative institution, and even the death sentence.
Article 137 of the Law repeals those articles which gave competence to a juvenile judge for the supervision of all decisions made with relation to juvenile offenders. This is clearly against the interests of these children.
Finally, CHRLA calls for a reassessment of this bill in light of its vital importance for the future of the country. Those articles which are contrary to social development, as well as international human rights treaties, especially those related to childhood and motherhood, should be excluded. All government and non-governmental establishments, especially those concerned with children and women, should be consulted on the legislative changes which need to be made to improve society as a whole, and in particular the lives of those which this bill addresses.
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