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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.

The use of our shelter kids photo inappropriately by news outlets.

Dear readers,
Recently, you may have followed my brief campaign to remove pictures of a child from our shelters used inappropriately in a news article about an arrested child molester.
I have thought it would be of interest to you to follow the email trail I have been having with the news outlets asking for assurances that those photos be deleted permanently from their databases. I will be updating the post with their responses. The most recent emails will be at the top of the thread.
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UPDATE – EMAIL REPLY RECEIVED Monday 24th JUNE 2013

 Dear Nelly and Soraya,

This is to further extend our sincerest apologies for any offence caused by the image Egypt Independent published for our story on child abuse allegations in Nasr City.

The incident was totally out of line with the ethics and standards to which we are committed. Unfortunately mistakes do occur, despite us checking and re-checking work repeatedly before publishing something.

That said, this incident was unacceptable. Internal procedures are currently underway to prevent any future slips.

Going forward, all photos of children taken from your shelter have been deleted from our database. And more generally, children’s images will not be used in connection news articles like the one we covered from Nasr City.

By way of explanation for Soraya, and as mentioned in an earlier email – a member of our translation/editing team inappropriately selected the image for this story from Al-Masry Al-Youm’s online image database, without checking its suitability or the context of the photograph itself.

The content produced by Soraya was upon an agreement between her and our former colleagues (representing Egypt Independent, owned by Al-Masry Al-Youm Corporation). As far as I’m concerned, Soraya’s work during her time with Egypt Independent is part of Al-Masry Al-Youm Corporation’s database.

Even so, what happened on Monday June 17 was completely unacceptable and we guarantee that this will not happen again.

I hope you will still consider contributing to and visiting Egypt Independent as we continue to strive to report on important issues in Egypt and the wider world, responsibly and to a consistently high quality.


Please do not hesitate to get in contact if you have any further questions.

Yours Faithfully,

Mostafa Abdelrazek

Egypt Independent, News editor

—————————————————-
Dear Tom (EgyIndependent) and Farida (MSN Arabia)
 
Thank you, both for removing the photograph as soon as the matter came to your attention, and for the email you have each sent in way of apology. 
 
However, I am writing to you requesting a number of actions. I am sure you are aware of the outrage and distress, the use of the child’s picture from the shelter in which I volunteer has caused, both to me and those who follow and are passionate about the cause. I have been an enthusiastic contributor to your news outlets in the past, seeing them as an avenue to promote awareness of the plight of children who are in most need of a channel to voice their reality, and in that capacity, I am greatly disappointed. 
 
There are a number of pictures that are freely circulated around the internet of vulnerable and disadvantaged children – often I use these myself. However, these are pictures taken with consent, have been used by international organisations for raising awareness and most importantly are pictures that ensure the child cannot be identified (in terms of location at the very least). Permission was given by the shelter to use this photo in a specific capacity. In the story which this child’s photo was originally attached, her shelter was mentioned raising awareness of all the positive work they do. Even in that capacity I had grave reservations and concerns that the picture was used, however, permission from my superiors, her guardians, was granted. 
 
It is important to note that my response to seeing any child’s photo associated with this news article would have been the same, and it was not so aggressive only due to the fact that this particular child’s photo was used, making this achingly personal to me.  Although this girl is one of the children with whom I work and who I have a very close relationship with., it is maddening to think that because any kid that does not have parents who are able to get angry at the inappropriate use of her photo, it could be easily, mistakenly – as you say, misused. The carelessness with which the rights of this child was dealt with, is completely unacceptable. 
 
I am concerned that the general rule of your news outlet is to not use pictures of children inappropriately. This is not something new, nor is it an acceptable oversight. All your journalists, translators etc. should understand which pictures they are allowed to use and which will pose huge ethical problems. This is their responsibility as much as it is the news outlet who should ensure these guild lines are firmly instilled in all who have access and permission to use material stored in your data bases. 
 
Going forward, I would like assurance that all photos of children taken from our shelter be deleted with immediate effect from your data base. More generally, I would also like assurance that children’s photos, in general, will not be used in association with such news articles. 
 
The particular set of photos where this picture came from belong to Suzee Morayef (who has asked to be cc’d in this email) and who would like an explanation of how her photos were used without her explicit permission, raising copy right issues that you will need to deal with separately. 
 
 
Yours sincerely, 
 
Nelly Ali
Advocate for Children in Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Situations. 
 
————————— REPLY TO EMAILS BELOW—————————
 
 
From: Tom Rollins <tomwrollins@gmail.com>
Subject: Egypt Independent apology letter
Date: 18 June 2013 12:37:08 BST
To: nelly.ali@gmail.com

Dear Nelly,

I am writing to you regarding our earlier correspondence concerning the image Egypt Independent published on Monday with the story “Man arrested for molesting children after Quran lessons.”

Egypt Independent wholeheartedly apologises for the offence understandably caused by this incident.

By way of explanation – a member of our translation/editing team inappropriately selected the image for this story from Al-Masry Al-Youm’s online image database, without checking its suitability or the context of the photograph itself.

While I’ve been unable to verify exactly why the image was on our database in the first place, (re-)using it was a basic oversight which has clearly had wider implications. Egypt Independent failed to take into account the rights of the child or how it may have affected her or those close to her. This is unacceptable.

The issue has been dealt with internally and we assure you this will not be happening again. The image concerned has been permanently deleted from our database by way of guarantee. The story has also been removed from the website.

I hope you will still consider contributing to and visiting Egypt Independent as we continue to strive to report on important issues in Egypt and the wider world, responsibly and to a consistently high quality.

Please do not hesitate to get in contact if you have any further questions.

Yours Faithfully,

Tom Rollins

Egypt Independent, Copy editor

——————————-
From: Farida Fahmy <faridafahmy@me.com>
Subject: Picture Issue
Date: 18 June 2013 13:30:44 BST
To: “nelly.ali@gmail.com” <nelly.ali@gmail.com>
Hi Nelly,

Hope this email finds you well.

First please allow me to introduce myself, this is Farida Fahmy business development and marketing manager of MSN Arabia.

I’m writing you with regards to the above mentioned subject, before any explaining I would like to first apologize for this picture and for any problems or issues that might have occurred due to it.

I would like to inform you that the article has been removed from the site, not just the picture, and an apology tweet addressed to you has been released. Please note that this article was aggregated from another provider and it was not our original content as you might have seen the credentials on the article when it was published.

Anyhow, please accept our genuine apology and rest assured that the minute we got notified about it it was removed, we will also take this issue to the source of the article.

Have a safe trip.

Regards,
Farida

Street Children: Reem and the Four Year Old Eyes that Haunt Me

She looks at me very seriously every time I walk through the door to the children’s room on the third room. As the other under fives come crawling or running towards me, depending on which they can do, Reem stays where she is looking me, piercingly. It’s hard not trying to interpret and analyse Reem’s looks, her tone, her words. She looks at me as if she is waiting to see if I have delivered a justice she is expecting. I ache at these looks and I want to tell her to stop looking at me. I want to tell her the burden she is expecting me to carry is one too heavy. But when she eventually joins the other children to either fight to hold my hand or crawl up on my lap, the warmth of her small body balances out the cold with which she had looked at me.

She never speaks till she is spoken to – a lesson; I imagine she has learnt a hard way. Heba who speaks with a vulgarity that is shocking to those who come for visits for the first time and endearing to me for it’s unpretentious spontaneity, tells me “mama, Reem was holding a glass and she was going to cut herself and the Miss took it off her, she wanted to do it because she was angry”. Calmly, but with a hint of defensiveness, Reem tells me, “No, I’m going to do it because I want them to know I want to be with me sisters!” Not having the slightest idea how to deal with the issue of self-harm with a four-year-old, despite years working in a child helpline, I say, “you must miss them very much… you only have one more year Ya Reem to join them in the big girls shelter, did you know that?” She nods once, not humouring my attempt at making her feel better.

But I’m not going to give up. I am here for Reem as well as all the other little ones. Despite the way she looks at me and questions me, her little fingers wrap around mine, her little head rests in competition with the others over the parts of my body that they fit themselves on and around. I’m amused by a thought that jumps to my head: for a moment I am grateful that I am fat so there is more of me they can sit on! I laugh and Reem asks me if I’m laughing because I’m happy to be with them. I tell her I am. I tell her that I am happy because I am around children that I love. She responds without compliment, “I am happy when I am with my big sisters. They cry when they know what Hassan does to me”. I ask her who Hassan is and she tells me that’s her father’s name. “Hassan did this the last time, look” and her little fingers leave my hand and she jumps off my knee to give me her back as she lifts her little hand-me-down t-shirt and shows me some bruises.

Is it because Reem’s story is so fresh, so current that I cannot deal with it the same way I am able to absorb the older girl’s stories that they relay from their past? Or is it because Reem, unlike them, has not had the years to teach her to accept it, deal with it, and sometimes laugh about it? I’m not sure, but when Reem is at the shelter I know that for nights to come I will not be able to sleep, I will call my mother and cry about injustice and I will hear her little voice and see her beautiful, accusing black eyes stare right at me asking me what have I done since the last time we spoke. I will her those frightening words she says in the little innocent four-year-old voice that will keep ringing in my ears and which I cannot shut out.

Without having asked for anything else, Reem says “Om Ashraf came in and kept saying “leave her ya Hassan, she’s only small, leave her and God will be pleased with you if you leave her,” and when he didn’t listen to her, she came in and pulled him off me and she carried me and hid me in her house till she bought me here.” I pulled her back up on my knee and 1-year-old Maria passed her a crisp right into her mouth; which Reem took. Reem rested her head on my chest and said “one day the police will come and get him and put him away so my mum can rest and if they don’t I’ll grow and be strong and kill him.”

Why am I writing this? Because I want to you, reader, to be outraged like me that there is nothing that the shelter can do to protect Reem from her abusive father. There are no laws implemented that can stop us handing over Reem when he comes to take her on “family visits”. We are campaigning and we are fighting for children’s rights… all battles so they can access services and are afforded protection they are entitled to. Money isn’t going to help us save these kids; rather, having a rights based understanding of how to help them will. Funding won’t ensure their inclusion in society, a will to include them, will.

Who Let The Street Kid Down?

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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

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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?