This picture is drawn by one of our street girls, our artist. All her drawings feature a child crying, except one, a girl in a wedding dress smiling. But, in our society, will a fifteen-year-old, ex street girl mother, get to wear one?
This post was originally published in the weekly print of Egypt Independent (AlMasry AlYoum) 16th January 2013 and can also be found here
A lot of people have recently started asking me what the hardest moment working with street children has been for me. As soon as I am asked this I am flooded with choices. My mind quickly scans the children and I try to decide which story to tell. In a matter of seconds I go through the ones that have moved me the most. Moved me, not so much because of the pain and horror a child has gone through, but because I, as part of “main stream society”, have either been blind to, oblivious of, or – as is often the case – not quite sure about and so ignore.
Was it Maya who tugged at the cords of my heart the most? Maya is a great example of our failure as a society on many, many levels. No one was there to notice or to follow up her familial situation after the divorce of her parents when she was three years old, so no one found out for the next three years her step mother had drawn an imaginary circle that she put her in to sleep, play, eat, drink, wee and soil herself in. When at 6 years old she was allowed out of the circle to become the house maid to clean and cook for her family, and new sisters when she accidently burnt the rice and paid the price with the metal garlic crusher thrown at her head, when people saw her run out blood streaming down her face to the local coffee shop to find refuge with her father, when he, high on drugs took her to the roof and tied her and beat her, stripped her naked for upsetting her step mother, no one could get involved because we are a closed society, because what business did you or I have to interfere in their family affair? Was it her family?
Oftentimes people make fun at Egyptians; saying that if anyone were to lose their nose they could be sure to find it in someone else’s business. But this is not true when it comes to children. There is a sense of ownership that parents have over their children that has not, till today, been adequately challenged. Maya’s story is not an extreme example when it comes to her father. Her stepmother is sadistic no doubt, but her father? Maya and her family come from our society which where the saying “break a girls’ rib and she will grow twenty four” is common– a father beating his daughter is often seen as a form of discipline that will do her more good than harm. Maya suffers coming from a society where it’s more honorable for a father to see his child on the street than in an institution. Maya is (not) protected by a law that states no one can report familial abuse except from someone with in the family; a social care system that wont accept Maya into alternative care without the signature of her father. Was is society?
Did Maya’s story hurt my conscience the most because when she ran away to the streets, getting on to a train to another city where she knew no one, she was raped by four adult men 6 days later? Was it because I did not hear of the story, campaign outside the local police station till someone, somewhere was held responsible for the scars, mentally and emotionally this resilient, fragile little girl had been subject to in the last four years of her life? Was it the street?
Or was it that Maya spent three years in an adult prison when she was thirteen years old that angers me the most? Having tried for over two years to get herself into a shelter that couldn’t accept her without her fathers signature, Maya returned to her street family who told her they would only accept her if she gave herself up for a mugging that they had committed. The police accepted her confession with no thorough investigation, accepted the fake name she gave with no idea and she spent three years in the most high profile adult women’s prison in Egypt. Was it the police?
Is it her continued bad luck that makes me often wake up in my sleep teary? That when she finally got married, she married a man who in her own words “made me miss my step-mother and all the pain my father inflicted remembered like tickles” – the only happy thing about this story was that her husband was put in jail for fifteen year for a drug related crime; two days after Maya fell pregnant. Was it her husband?
Or is that the two hours I held Maya’s daughter Summer, rocking her after her mother had thrown her across the room and she had bounced back on the hard floor, her one year old body already crippled from the physical abuse. Was it because I couldn’t blame Maya, because I couldn’t protect Summer, or because Maya was inside cutting herself to rid herself of what she told me later was her guilt for what she did to her daughter? Was it her daughter?
By the time I just go through one story in my head, the conversation is already changed, we’re now talking about the Coptic 10 year old boys being arrested, whether FGM is really that bad, what age a girl should get married. These are the topics people are concerned about after a revolution. But street kids? Street kids, the ones running around burning building and throwing molotovs? Because after all, when did society let the street kids down?