Street Children: The Hymen and the Stamp of Shame

I sat rocking baby Summer, I held her vertically so that she could lay her head on my chest while I hugged her in her entirety. The rocking and the hug were calming me. As my tears fell on her face, she began to smile at the funny feeling of teardrops touching her skin. Despite the burning pit of anger, fear and pity they came from, these droplets must not have landed on her cheeks with the cruelty of the blood her whole body was covered in only moments earlier. She reached out with her little fingers that, unlike other babies, were rough, covered in rashes, to touch my eyes. This was a huge achievement for baby Summer who’s been receiving physiotherapy; calcium deficiency and crooked bones make it difficult to sit up, reach and hold things. The baby who had not completed her first year smiled looking right into my eyes. It broke my heart that she was smiling. I kept whispering to her how sorry I was. How incredibly sorry I was that I could not save her. I repeated it over and over again to the child now smiling, unaware that her mother, who was also still a child, was packing their well-worn hand-me-downs and would spend the night on the street; that if her mother did not leave her at the shelter, she would be her begging tool.

Today I learnt that I was braver than I thought, and that I was more of a coward than I had thought. Life as you live it every day limits this self-discovery. Only when you are pushed into the depth of darkness of human nature, when you are exposed to the rawness of human cruelty, pain and fear do you discover who you really are. I have been working with street children for a while. As a writer, you will notice that I have not written about the children, even on my blog. It has become too personal, I become too angry at the writing because of how sensational it may unintentionally sound. I want to protect the children I have grown to love and their stories from reducing them to words. No matter how skilled you are, no matter how much excellence you have in the craft of writing, you can never do justice in portraying the injustice of life and humans towards these children.

But I want to write today. Not because I have gained some extra writing skill over night, and not just because there is a societal concern and lesson from the incident I will write about, but because I have not been able to stop crying. I have not been able to sleep. Because, selfish as we humans are, I need to escape. It is no lie, no exaggeration when I tell you, reader, I am dipping the pen into my heart, and the blood of it, is the ink that writes this post.

The shelter today had a different vibe. The more I go, the more natural things seem to be, the less acting “happy family” there is. Today there is an “institution” feeling bouncing off the walls, each for their own, survival of the fittest. I am taken aside by Shaimaa, the shelter psychologist who has been working with street girls for over six years. She asked me not to give Shosho the headphones she has asked for because she listens to her mp3 all night and she doesn’t hear her two month old baby cry and so doesn’t feed her. I hear past what is being said and wonder how many girls are unlike Shosho, who have all the comfort and safety in the world to listen to their music when and how they wish, who do not have their an eye poked out by parents who abused her for being a disabled child with Parkinson’s, who have not had to prostitute themselves in the street for survival. This could have been a topic on it’s own for a blog, really. But Shaimaa went on to tell me that she was worried for the safety of Laila. Laila was the only virgin at the shelter.

Usually, the virgin girls are separated from the street mothers. The virgin’s are kept at 10th Ramadan Shelter for girls and Moqattam is home to the young mothers and their babies. Before working with the children, I was horrified at the split, I condemned the NGO for it’s segregation and joined a human rights campaign meeting where we, well meaning good doers tutted and shook our heads pointing fingers at the NGO heads who had taken this decision. Today, I went home understanding why this decision needed to be made, and that you had to start somewhere else. You had to start with society before you could keep the girls safe together. I understood today how very sick our society was. We are a hypocritical society concerned with which hand we should teach our children to eat with so that the devil doesn’t eat with them, who point out how heinous it is to walk through the door with our left foot while we forget the children that eat with their right hands out of the rubbish bins and we turn a blind eye on the children who get walked over with both feet. In the name of religiosity people condemn the broken hymen regardless of the circumstances a girl will carry that burden to her grave.

Shaimaa told me that she was worried Laila will be attacked by the girls tonight who were conspiring to break her hymen. Laila is due to get married in a few months. In a society that judges a girl’s suitability as a wife and mother based on a hymen that is in tact, this would be a catastrophe for Laila who would be rejected by her fiancé and will be sentenced to a different life than the one she wants. The hymen, even if broken in an attack by other girls who decide that they would seek justice by destroying something that was valuable to a girl who had been spared their trauma, the hymen, broken, was a stamp of shame to the girl in a society that kids itself into thinking it is pious, kind and merciful.

In the group session, things today were different. None of the girls were asked how she feels. Instead, sat in the circle we always sit in, we went round, each of the girls being asked to explain what was different in the shelter the last four days. Each girl said that Laila was annoying her. When asked how or why, no one gave any concrete answer, no one could put their finger on the reason. Sarah said “Laila is a clean freak, she can’t see something dirty and shut her mouth, but does she think she can remind us to clean just because she’s a virgin and better than us?” Pregnant Rania said “I could pay 500 pounds and come back to you tomorrow a virgin and better than Laila.” Maha said, “Laila annoys me, I don’t know why she just annoys me I don’t want her to talk to me”. Maha is a new arrival at the shelter that has been in many institutions since she was 5 years old. It unfolds in the end that Maha is responsible for planting the idea of attacking Laila. I am shocked at this because she appears the quietest, the sweetest of the lot. The same story about Laila is repeated till we get to Maya. During the time I have spent at the shelter I have noticed Maya has two voices, one she uses when she wants something and is trying to act feminine, and another when she is being defensive, when her body language is like that of a wounded animal. She was using this voice now. That was not a good sign. She said, “I hate Laila, she is better than me, I know she is better than me and I hate her”. Shaimaa told her she admired her honesty but that we should work with that and find out where that feeling was coming from and what made her feel Laila was better than her. She was not getting a response and so she said, “So far you’ve all spoken and I don’t feel there is any valid reason why you have all ganged up against Laila”.

At this, Maya stood up pointing her finger right between Shaimaa’s eyes telling her “I don’t need a gang to help me deal with Laila, I will give you institutions here, I will break her so she is like us, so she is not better than me, I will show you what real institutions are like. I will do it on my own, I don’t need anyone’s help, you can lock her in a cell and I’ll still break her.” At this, she stormed out of the circle, she grabbed baby Summer by one arm slamming her into the wall as she stormed passed, tore the curtain that separates the humble living area and the bedrooms. Shaimaa got up and asked all the girls to sit on the other side of the room. They all obliged, not saying a word. Everyone was somber but no one looked worried. I sat where I was, right in front of that curtain. I usually am one good for emergencies. Maya has grown attached to me and I’ve been used often to encourage her to behave well, I sat praying this friendship would support me in helping her. She appeared out of the bedroom with something in her hands that she unwrapped and threw the wrapper on the floor so we could see it had seconds ago covered a blade. When Maya grabbed Summer off the floor I got up to take the baby but Shaimaa told me not to, that Maya would harm the baby if we gave her attention. Shaimaa banged on the toilet door and told Maya she can cut herself, but not to hurt the baby. As Maya stormed out of the bathroom, we all tried to get the blade out of her hand, I kept saying, “for me Maya, for me, we all love you”. You could tell from the way her eyelids drooped she was not hearing us.

The shelter manager was called for. Maya returned to her room waving the blade in the air, dripping blood as she moved from the bathroom to the bedroom, she leaned on the wall covering it with blood. As soon as the shelter manager walked in, she stripped her clothes off so that he would leave. He walked out waiting for her to put something on. I told him we needed the baby out of there. Shaimaa walked in, I walked in behind her, as soon as she saw us, she took Summer and swung her across the room, the baby landed on the floor, her face and body were covered in blood. I grabbed the baby and as I picked her Maya came for me, I crouched over Summer in the corner, and Shaimaa screamed for Sami to come in, Maya had just slashed Shaimaa’s arm with the razor. I guess he saved us by storming in and slapping Maya. I took the baby and ran out almost crawling on the floor. But as soon as I had passed those curtains back into the living room, I froze. I carried Summer away from her, blood dripping off her, I could not move.

A younger child came up to me and said “we have to fix her, come to the bathroom”. I followed this little human who appeared far braver, far more experienced than I was, she skillfully held the baby over the sink and cleaned her, she told me where the antiseptic was, I went to get it and we covered the baby in it. We dressed her, and I sat with her back in my chair where Maya could see her child as she went back and forth. I could tell she was sad for Summer; she wanted to make sure she was ok. I was going to give her that. Sarah sat next to me. She said, “this reminds me of the institute days. But this is much better, in the institute; there were at least four girls who cut themselves every night. You don’t get help like you do here, its just girls after 4pm, there’s no supervision after that, so the girls wait till we’re all alone. You need to try and not learn that. You know, she can’t feel the pain at all; it’s like a chronic illness. What day is it? 10th September? It’s a black day, my mother was born on the same day.”

Shaimaa asked Sarah to help. Sarah, without saying a word got up and in seconds had Maya held against the wall. Such skill, so fast, so effective. These children had fought for survival, this was clear. They held Maya to the wall as they emptied her pockets to make sure she wasn’t hiding anything else she could hurt herself with. Stripped now to her bra and trousers, the scars across her stomach were clear. As she swore at them, telling them they shouldn’t waste their time with her, but go to the virgin they all loved, Shaimaa kept stroking her head telling her she loves her, that she cares about her, that she wouldn’t leave her till she cleaned the wounds and bandaged her.

Maya waited till they helped her, but she felt that she had to go through with what she had started and she packed her stuff to leave. There is no law in Egypt that can help us stop Maya taking her child and leaving. Child protection laws in Egypt mean Shaimaa hears her neighbour electrocuting their son every night and there is nothing she can do to help him. Maya came up to me shaking saying she was sorry I had seen this, she said “you came here to find out about us, there is nothing you can find out in those stupid conversations and interviews of yours, this is us, this is our life, this is the real story.” She hugged me. I, articulate as many think I am, could not say anything but, “please don’t hurt Summer”.

We sat in reception downstairs watching Maya leave. She had been in the shelter for years. They were all sure she was coming back, she’d done this before. Everyone was exhausted. I sat in awe of Shaimaa, arm now bandaged, Sami who had hugged Maya after hitting her sat justifying why he had to slap her across the face, worried that my zero tolerance to violence towards the girls would mean I would sit here judging him. Maher, the manager who had been called in, smoking, planning the session he was going to have with the girls to make sure Laila was safe that night. None of what happened had sunk in. I said, “where’s Jude, Mirna and Menna? I was here when their mother came to take them three weeks ago for two days for a Eid family visit, why aren’t they back?” I was concerned most for four year old Jude who has hepatitis C and recently developed a lump in her head. Shaimaa answers, “Family visit? Hmm. When they stop bringing in money from begging she’ll get tired and drop them back off.”

David Maidment: Founder of Railway Children, Inspirational

This world is full of  amazing human beings. Yesterday I met David who is one of them for sure.

A gentle man in his 70′s, awarded an OBE for his services for British Rail, David meets me in the court yard of the British Library, enthusiastically handing me a signed copy of one of his books ‘The Other Railway Children’. The next 2 hours fly by. Animated and full of stories of his travels and what he recites as coincidences and luck, which are actually strokes of genius and dedication, David tells me many stories that leave me inspired and I wanted to just give you a glimpse of that world.

He says “so when I was looking for a partner in India they told me me, wait till you hear what Matthew’s been up to!”. David starts by telling me about how Matthew, as an 11 year old had crumbled under the academic pressure and expectation his father (a docror at the time), had placed on him. The little boy ran away from home, was in and out if trouble with the police for years, sleeping in railway stations and ended up as teenager going to India as a page boy with a band and stayed there. During his time in India he had made friends with many of the street children there, sharing with them a history that they had in common. One night two little boys came knocking at the door, one withered by malaria. Matthew took them in and saw the little boy better. A month later, he had 6 street boys living with him, a couple month more and he had welcomed over 20 street boys in his home.

A little over whelmed he spoke to the children and told them he would not afford to keep them all in his home and proposed they all move together to another city in India where he could afford a bigger place for less money. The 23 of them moved the next week. Speaking at a local community event, unaware the mayor was present, Matthew spoke of all the skills these young boys had and how helpful they had become to their local community. After the event, the mayor said he’d offer him land for a bigger place. This is when David was linked to him and a beautiful place for Street boys was built.

Matthew married the social worker that worked in his new home and with the profits of the products sold by the street boys, they all decided to build a similar home for Street girls. Matthew passed away three years ago, his wife runs the girls home and the boy who survived the malaria now runs the boys.

Perhaps among David’s biggest achievements in Railway Children is his work on creating CAB (Children’s Advice Booth).. very early on, maybe 25 years ago, David realised that most of the work being done with street children was after they had settled in their new environment. What he then advocated is the crucial moment that’s being missed, that of the arrival of children, the first few hours on the railways. Recently 2 of the biggest rail stations in India have created CABs where the police, the staff and even passengers are all made aware on how to report and deal with a lone child at the station. Follow the success this proved, 10 new stations will follow this success.

The banker in India who had grown close to the kids who cleaned his car while at work was offered a promotion in Hong Kong. He said he did not want to go because no one would look after the children he’d grown connected to. The bank gave him an ultimatum and he left. His previous customers found out and funded the rest of his work with the children.

David,  who jumps from stories of his midnight round with neighbours helping drunk teenagers get home safely, to what he feels has been the most helpful mentoring of teenagers in local schools who just need, he says someone to show them options and alternatives, his stories about his travels and his passions come to an end with his own conclusion … “I’ll tell you what they need, children need a good listening to!!”

When Hope Dies, Nothing Blooms in that Land

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A generation of youth laying their friends to rest
A generation of mothers with an empty nest

A story about Egypt, and its struggle for hope
A story of millions defying the tightening rope

The struggle for Freedom, Dignity and Bread
About the punishment they got instead

Take Alaa for example who got sentenced 15 years
For being moved to revolt against torture and tears

Thousands of others also, to prison were sent
A handful of supporters protesting wherever they went

Others gave up and they carry the shame
Because the search for freedom…… was done in their name

They’ll squint and say “I’ve seen you’re face before
But they’re so many of you taken, I’ve lost the score”

Those ‘taken’ are strong now with a mission inside
They’re a window to the misconduct authorities try to hide

Slowly but surely stories behind bars are coming out
And you need to keep listening to what this is all about

Loss of physical freedom to become an independent voice
To those on the other side kept in, against their choice

The stories of torture and wrongful detention
Of people ‘too insignificant’ to grab your attention

Till its one of your own who gets dragged by the mob
Until it’s of your loved ones that you get robbed

I understand your desperate need to glorify the army
But their songs and flowers just don’t charm me

From virginity testing to death by beats
From promising not to, but running for presidency seats

From crushing Christian sisters to gassing Muslim brothers
Forcing you to take allegiance to justify violence against the other

Yes I’m talking of the barbaric handling of Rab3a and Maspero
When did the villain ever become your hero?

I’m talking of a generation that solemnly fought
That were betrayed by their protectors but kept afloat

If you’re not part of the revolution don’t be part of the betrayal
Don’t give in to the oppressors and join those who hail

Of course it’s not easy to keep fighting but that’s the cost
which we must pay for years of silence that we’ve lost

Those still fighting for tomorrow have reason to believe
And yes change will come, no, no that’s not naive

It’s a struggle for justice, one that will continue
Thousands of heroic sacrifices that can’t but win you

Of course it’s a long rough journey, yes, I understand
But when hope dies, nothing blooms on that land.

Be Socrates – The First Street Worker

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Yesterday I met a 23 year old girl who has just finished her second year at university, she’s incredible. She used to be a street child here in the UK. She had parents who could no longer look after her and she fell through the social services and child protection net and ended up on the streets. It’s always hard isn’t it when something like this happens in your own back yard? You cannot so comfortably shake your head in disapproval towards those ‘primitive developing countries’ that don’t appreciate the beauty and innocence of childhood. But I’m talking about a child who slept rough in the UK that you and I have never met. I hate statistics, but just for context, did you know that a child runs away from home every 5 minutes in the UK? That’s 100,000 children under 16 a year, and 70% of those children are never even reported missing by those who are supposed to care for and protect them.

She spoke for a while about her experiences and the negotiations she had to make to ensure her safety during the nights. As a child in London, sleeping on benches, in parks, riding up and down night buses, asking to lay on a piece of carpet at friends who could sneak her in after their parents had gone to sleep. She spoke about the ‘interest’ that she succumbed to during her years on the street, interest that she was lured into because of her need to be loved and cared for.

She spoke too of the tiny gestures of genuine kindness from adults and people on the streets who she considered the best types of ‘street worker’ even though they did not realise that this is what they were being, often’,she said those acts of kindness saved her life. She said that sometimes even a smile would change how the day was for someone on the street.

There was so much that was remarkable and humbling and empowering about her story. One of the many things I took away though, was how great this country is, how forgiving. Despite the many battles we need to still passionately pursue for gender equality, we must also stop to celebrate the huge achievements we’ve made so far. The fact that this young woman was given a second chance, is admired for her resilience, encouraged on her path or rebuilding, and not made to cower in the shame of a past she did not chose, as my girls must suffer in Egypt, is definitely a cause of pride for this country.

The other thing is, each and everyone of you is a street worker, whether you chose to be or not, the very fact that you use the street and are in it make you one. You can be the act of kindness that help the homeless experience a better day, or indeed, save their life. All you need to do is remember how incredible powerful you are. Do not refrain from helping because you think your help is insignificant, you’re not. Hold on to, and use that power.

And remember Socrates, yes the philosopher. Socrates devoted his life to the poor and underprivileged spending a considerable amount of time in street markets: the prototype of the street worker at the time. Be Socrates.

الحل البرازيلى

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نشرت صحيفة «المصرى اليوم» مقالا لكاتب أرى أنه ينبغى إلقاء القبض عليه بتهمة استخدام خطاب يحض على الكراهية؛ تحت عنوان «أطفال الشوارع: الحل البرازيلى».

ويبدأ الكاتب مقاله، بسرد الأخطار التى يمثلها أطفال الشوارع على المجتمع؛ محددا الجرائم التى يحملهم مسئوليتها، ومن بينها فيروس نقص المناعة البشرية/ الإيدز، إلى جانب الاغتصاب والقتل وما إلى ذلك. وبعد هذا السرد، يذكرنا بـ «الحل» البرازيلى الذى، يقول إنه قد يكون مؤسفًا، ولكنه شجاع! فى ضوء ما تعانيه البرازيل من مصاعب اقتصادية.

وأشاد بالقرار الصعب الذى اتخذته السلطات البرازيلية، موضحا كونه لا إنسانيا ويائسا، ولكنه ضرورى! ويذكر أيضا أن السكان على الرغم من معرفتهم بما كان يحدث، قرروا غض الطرف، من أجل المصلحة الكبرى للعمل الجاد، والمواطنين الذين سوف يستفيدون من هذا «القرار المصيرى» لإعادة النظام الى المدينة. ويقول إنهم كانوا يدركون أن التصرف الأكثر أخلاقية هو مساعدة الأطفال على الاندماج فى المجتمع، ولكن هذا من شأنه أن يتحقق بتكلفة اقتصادية عالية لا يمكن تحملها. ويخلص نصار عبدالله إلى الزعم أنه بفضل اتخاذ تدابير «شجاعة» من هذا النوع، نجح الحل البرازيلى فى تخليص الشوارع الرئيسية من أطفال الشوارع، ودفع ما تبقى منهم إلى الأحياء الفقيرة، ويشير إلى أن ما يسمى «نجاح» لا يبرر هذا العمل، ولكنه يبرهن على وجود إرادة حقيقية لتصحيح علل المجتمع، ويربطه بما تلاه من ارتفاع معدلات العمالة.

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وبالنسبة لمن لم يتابعوا الأحداث التى يشير إليها المؤلف، إليكم ملخص الوقائع: أطلقت فرق الموت فى البرازيل النار على الأطفال بينما كانوا نائمين خارج الكنائس. وقتل 50 طفلا مشردا أثناء النوم على أرض كاتدرائية كانديلاريا فى وسط مدينة ريو دى جانيرو، عندما أطلق مجموعة من المسلحين النار على الأطفال العزل فقتلوهم. وتم خطف أولئك الذين لم يموتوا، وضربهم وتعذيبهم وأطلقت عليهم الأعيرة النارية، فماتوا بعد أيام قليلة.

ولست متأكدة من المستوى الذى يفيد فى التفاهم مع هذا الكاتب، ولكن اسمحوا لى أن أتحدث بشكل مختصر وبسيط: على الرغم من كونك أستاذا للفلسفة فى مصر لم تفعل المبادرات النازية على مر العصور سوى جلب العار على كل من القادة والأتباع ومن يغضون الطرف عنها، من أولئك الذين يعيشون داخل خطاب تلك المعتقدات. فليس أطفال الشوارع مرضا يتطلب علاجًا؛ وإنما عرض من أعراض علل؛ ليس فقط المجتمع ولكن الحكومات والدول الوهمية والضعيفة التى تعجز عن وقف هروب الأطفال المعرضين للخطر، من البيوت والكبار والبحث عن ملجأ فى مخاطر الشارع.

ولتعلم، أن الأطفال الذين تتحدث عنهم، وحملتهم مسئولية فشل المجتمع، هم نفس الأطفال الذين كنت أعمل من أجلهم، لأكثر من عامين. وهم الأطفال الذين هربوا من التعذيب؛ من تقييدهم وإلقاء الماء المغلى على أجسادهم، لعدم قيامهم بأعمال التنظيف جيدا، أو عدم الانصياع لأوامر الآباء جيدا، والأطفال الذين هم أصغر من أن يتحملوا الانتهاك الجنسى والعاطفى والنفسى والمالى. أدعوك، يا سيدى، أن تأتى ولتعمل معنا لبضع ليال، وتقوم بزيارة الأطفال الذين ينامون ويتجمعون معا ـ طلبا للأمان ـ تحت الكبارى، الذين يتعرضون للاغتصاب كل ليلة ولكنهم لا يزالون يشعرون بالأمان، أكثر مما كان عليه الحال فى منازلهم، أو فى المؤسسات الإصلاحية؛ حيث يتم تقييدهم فى السرير، ويتعرضون للضرب بأخشاب السرير. أدعوك لمرافقتنا، نحن الذين نعمل مع هؤلاء الأطفال، إلى أجنحة الولادة والتعرف إلى تعامل الموظفين هناك مع الفتيات اللاتى تتراوح أعمارهم بين 13 أو 14 عاما، المرعوبات، اللاتى نأخذهن للولادة لأنهن يحملن، وحدهن، عار الاغتصاب من قبل أحد أفراد الأسرة، أو رجل شرطة، أو موظف الرعاية، أو أى شخص فى الشارع. أدعوك، سيدى، أن تأتى معنا ونحن نحاول استخراج شهادات الميلاد أو الوفاة بالنسبة لأولئك الذين لا يعيشون كمواطنين من الدرجة الثانية حتى. عندها فقط، يا سيدى، هل يمكن أن تكون فى وضع يسمح باقتراح حلول «شجاعة»؟

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ولكن، دعنى أتحدث إليك، على نحو ربما يمكن أن تفهمه بصورة أفضل. نشكرك على اقتراحك لكيفية تحسين علل مصر، لكنه حل لم ينجح فعليا. ففى 30 أبريل 1996، صدرت أحكام بالسجن على الضباط الذين تورطوا فى إطلاق النار لمدد تصل إلى 309 سنوات. كما توضح الإحصاءات الأخيرة أن هناك نحو ثمانية ملايين من أطفال الشوارع فى البرازيل (800 ألف منهم يعملون فى دعارة الأطفال) وكان معدل البطالة فى البرازيل عام 1993 نحو 5.4 فى المائة، بلغ هذا العام (5.2 فى المائة (بعد مرور 21 عامًا). وأوصيك بالبحث قبل أن تعتبر أن سرقة حياة الأطفال، نصيحة لإثبات جدية الدولة فى اعتماد نهج إصلاحى لمشاكلها. وأنا أتفق معك فى شىء واحد: حاجة الحكومة لإظهار الشجاعة. ولكن، يا سيدى، نحن لسنا من أهل الكهف، ولسنا نازيين. يجب أن تبدى حكوماتنا الشجاعة فى الاعتراف بأنها لم تدرك منذ البداية كيفية حل المشكلات التى تدفع بالأطفال إلى الشارع. يجب أن تتسم بالتواضع وتعترف بحاجتها إلى مساعدة من الباحثين المحترفين والعاملين فى المنظمات غير الحكومية، للعمل معا ومعرفة ما يقود الأطفال إلى الشوارع، وأسباب بقائهم فيه، كما ينبغى أن تظهر شجاعة فى استثمار الأموال من أجل تجربة الرعاية البديلة الخاضعة للمراقبة، حيثما تسىء الأسر معاملة أطفالها خارج المنازل! ولاشك أن هذا الكاتب يمثل حلا مفرطا فى الشجاعة!

‘Hunting Street Children Like Dogs and Shooting Them” is NOT the Solution! My Response to the Horrific Op-Ed in AlMasry AlYoum Today

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I am writing this blog post today out of pure and simple RAGE!!

 

An article published in Al Masry Al Youm (regrettably, but appropriately named “The Egyptian Today”), an Op-Ed contributor, whom I contest should be arrested for hate speech and locked up pending investigation of being a dangerous psychopath, wrote an article entitled “Street Children: The Brazilian Solution”.

 

In this article, the author starts out by listing the dangers to society that street children contribute to; naming HIV/AIDS among the ‘crimes’ that they are responsible for, alongside rape, murder, etc. After listing these, the writer reminds us of the Brazilian ‘solution’ which, he says may be regrettable, but bravely, in light of it’s economic hardship. He applauds the difficult decision the Brazilian authorities took, noting how inhuman and desperate the measure was, but how necessary. He also mentions that despite the population knowing what was happening, they decided to turn a blind eye for the greater good of the hard working, worthy citizens who would benefit from this ‘determined decision’ to bring back order to the city. He says they knew it would be more ethical to help the children reintegrate into society, but that this would come with a high economic cost that they could not afford. He concludes by saying, it is by taking brave measures such as this, that the Brazilian solution worked in ridding the main streets of street children and pushing what was left over from them in to favelas. He notes that the so called ‘success’ may not excuse the action, but what it does do is demonstrate a real will for correcting the ills of society and he links this to a following rise of employment.

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the events the author is referring to, here is an unemotional, factual summary. Death squads in Brazil, shot children whist they were sleeping outside churches. 50 homeless children were sleeping on the grounds of the Candelaria cathedral in downtown Rio de Janeiro, when a group of gunmen drove past, shooting unarmed, sleeping children, to their deaths. Those who did not die, were abducted, beaten, tortured and shot. They died a few days later.

 

I am unsure as to the level I need to engage this author with but let me keep this brief and simple, as I am unsure he has the intellectual capacity of understanding much of what I will say – despite the fact that you are a professor of philosophy in Egypt (apparently). Sir, Nazi initiatives have done nothing over the ages but bring shame to both the leaders and followers and blind eyes of those who live within a discourse of those beliefs. Street children are not a disease for which you try to find a cure. Street children are but a symptom of the ills, not only of society but of delusional and weak governments and states that cannot stop the vulnerable children from escaping abusive homes and adults and finding refuge in the dangers of the street.

 

The children you speak of and whom you place the burden of responsibility on, for a failing society, are the same children I have worked for, for over two years. They are children who have escaped torture, ran away from being tied and scorched with boiling water for not cleaning well, for not giving blow jobs to step parents well, children who are too young to endure sexual, emotional, psychological, financial abuse. I invite you, Sir, to come and work with us for a few nights and visit the children who sleep huddled together for safety under bridges, who get raped every night but still feel safer than in their own homes or the correctional institutions where they are tied to beds and beaten with their wooden frames. I invite you to accompany us, who work with these children, to the maternity ward and see the abuse of the staff there towards the frightened 13 or 14 year olds who we take in to give birth as they carry the shame, alone, of being raped by a family member, or a police man, or a carer, or someone on the street. I invite you, Sir, to come with us as we try and issue ID, birth or death certificates for those who do not even make is as second class citizens. Only then, Sir, can you be in a place to suggest ‘brave’ solutions!

 

But let me speak to you, in a manner that you may understand a little better: Thanks for your suggestion of how we might improve the ills of Egypt, but it DOESN’T actually work. On 30th April 1996 those police officers involved in the shooting were sentenced to 309 years in prison – not so much of a blind eye after all. Also, the latest statistics show that there are almost 8,000,000 street children in Brazil (800,00 of them child prostitutes) and the unemployment rate in 1993 in Brazil was 5.4%, this year it’s 5.2% (21 years later). I recommend you do your research before suggesting that stealing the lives of children is the recommendation for demonstrating state seriousness in adopting correctional approaches to it’s problems.

 

I agree with you on one thing: a need for a government to show bravery. But, Sir, we are not cavemen, neither are we Nazi’s. Bravery must be shown by our governments in admitting they have not got the first clue on how to solve the problems that lead children to the street. They must be humble in admitting they need help from professional researchers and NGO staff to get together and find out what’s leading the children to the streets, why they stay there and they must be brave in investing money to trial solutions of monitored alternative care where families have abused their children out of their homes! This Mr Op-Ed writer is a far braver solution.

 

Below are a couple of photos of some of the street children I have met, none of them have committed crimes, none have raped anyone, none have HIV/AIDS, none are stealing anyone’s jobs. Does your suggestion for brave measures include ‘fishing’ and ‘shooting’ these little ones? Or will the cute ones escape the executioner?!

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Update: The article has been successfully taken down from the Newspaper’s online website!! Well done for the public outrage that made the newspaper bring it down!! For those who missed it… Here is a copy

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I’m going to start this post by telling you what criminals who traffic children into the UK do to them as soon as they arrive in the country. They dress up as British police, take them to abandoned buildings, beat and violently gang rape the children. They do this to scare the child from authority, so that they don’t trust anyone that approaches to help them. I’ve always believed that torture was never just about physical abuse. Torture is about that and about taking away any hope you have that this torture can stop, or that one day you can reach out to someone who can help make it all go away.

On the records, 10 children are trafficked into the UK every week, destined for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or child labour – that’s over 500 children a year. Imagine who many more never come to the authority’s attention? 6 out of the 10 children, who are recorded eventually as trafficked, disappear. The authorities don’t find them and no one really ever knows what happens to them. But an even more audacious problem is that even when the children come to the attention of the authorities, they are often prosecuted for the offenses they have been forced to commit.

It’s an important moment for us in the UK. It’s important because we can DO something about it. Britain is publishing the world’s first Modern Slavery Bill under which perpetrators of the crime will be jailed for life. The Modern Slavery Bill is the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century. Though this is all excellent and great – we need children to be specifically referred to so that they are afforded legal guardianship to protect them and keep them in the system. The Netherlands and Scotland are GREAT at doing this.

We need to lobby for three things:

-       Every child should have a legal guardian – someone to ensure they get the support they need to stay safe

-       Trafficked children should not be prosecuted for crimes they have been forced to commit

-       There should be a specific offense for child trafficking and exploitation

To find out more about the Modern Slavery Bill:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/draft-modern-slavery-bill/

I recently attended a UNICEF campaign training session and I want to share with you the following information on how you can help. Do this – it doesn’t take time, it DOES make a difference and it will make you feel amazing when something gets done… so here it is…

If you don’t feel up to meeting your MP… please write this letter to the Home Secretary, Theresa May. Make sure you include your own address in the letter. Here’s the address to save you time searching for it:

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department
The Home Office
2 Marsham St
London SW1P 4DF

And if you don’t know what to write – here’s a good template you can use:

To the Rt Hon Theresa May MP,

I’m devastated to know that at least 10 children are trafficked every week in the UK.

The Modern Slavery Bill has the opportunity to transform the lives of trafficked children by making sure law protects them. Please don’t let the Bill fall short of its potential. For every child who has been sold, sexually exploited or forced into slavery, I urge you to ensure the Modern Slavery Bill includes strong measures to protect children. Specifically:

  • Every unaccompanied child should have a legal guardian – someone who is there to look out for them, hold authorities to account and help children cope with any abuse they’ve experienced.
  • It’s shameful that trafficked children are prosecuted for crimes they have been forced to commit. The law must be changed to protect them.
  • Very few child traffickers are ever held to account under current laws. There needs to be a specific offence for child trafficking and exploitation, to ensure those responsible are prosecuted. 

If you are feeling up to it and want to do more than write the letter, contact your MP’s office to book an appointment. Try calling and follow up with an email. All you need to do is take the above letter and tell them you would like him or her to attend the next scheduled reading of the Modern Slavery Bill and would like them to represent your concerns in child protection and that the laws on prosecuting the children and not affording them legal guardianship needs to change.

Ask your MP to keep you informed about what is happening with the Bill – it’s your right to ask this. Remember the MP represents YOU.

To find your MP

http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/

Some General Information on Child Trafficking:

Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs (Palermo Protocol, adopted 2000)

  • Child trafficking differs from adult trafficking in that it need not involve coercion or deception
  • Any situation involving children being recruited and moved for the purposes of exploitation is considered trafficking as a child is deemed unable to give consent to their own exploitation

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have and you write the letter or visit your MP, please write and let me know.

Picture from the UNICEF campaign website.