Safe Roads for Homeless Children

When we wander in the streets of Egypt, we may notice that some children sleep on sidewalks or under bridges, or even beg for money. These children are victims of various conditions such as poverty, domestic violence and other conditions, they are deprived of basic human needs and they live every day as if it is their last. These are homeless children, rejected by society and often sexually harassed, arrested or exploited, their organs trafficked and some of them may be involved in theft and other acts of prostitution. Despite all the problems they face, they prefer to live on the street because it provides them with more freedom and therefore the process of integrating them into society becomes difficult and requires a lot of effort.

One of the studies indicates that the phenomenon of homeless children is one of the most important problems that Egypt suffers from. According to this study, despite the lack of conclusive information about this phenomenon, social and economic indicators indicate that it is increasing, especially in major cities such as Port Said, which is considered a city that attracts these children by 16.8%, followed by Cairo 31.6%, followed by Suez 14.3% and Alexandria 6.3%.

A homeless child is defined as every child under the age of 18 for whom the street has become a place of residence or a source of livelihood and who does not enjoy the full protection, supervision or direction of adults. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) divides homeless children into two types; the first type is children who have a home but work full or part time on the street and then return to their homes and their families to sleep, while the second type refers to children who do not have homes and take the street as a place to live and sleep. This global phenomenon causes a lot of problems to millions of children; they lack basic necessities, live in inhuman conditions, suffer from hunger, harassment and sexual abuse, and are deprived of basic needs such as education and health care.

The study says that in addition to the various challenges faced by children from beggary, theft, working in informal sectors and low-paid jobs, the biggest challenge facing these children is the perceptions of community members about them and the way they deal with them. It is difficult to estimate an accurate number of homeless children because of their frequent movement within and between cities, and they are not counted in the national census or in health and education surveys. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates their number between 200,000 and 1,000,000, the majority in Cairo and Alexandria, and the Hope Village Association estimates their number at about 300,000 children. A survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund in 2001 shows that 88% of children come from urban areas, while 12% come from other areas. According to the survey, two-thirds of children are between 13-16 years old, and a quarter of this number is under 12 years old.

Children in street situations lack the care enjoyed by other children in society from the specialized entities such as family and other educational and health institutions. Constant exposure to harsh environments and their lifestyle makes them vulnerable to drug abuse, which threatens their mental and physical health. Most of these children resort to alcohol and drugs to escape psychologically from the painful situation in which they are living and caused by people around them. There are many efforts undertaken by the state and civil society organizations to change the children’s lives for the better, so (Kids Have Life) activity at Resala Charitable Organization is considered one of these activities that work to provide a better life for them and make them successful and superior models in various fields. This activity works to reintegrate them into society through a healthy and natural social environment. However, although the association was able to provide them with shelter and provide them with a better life, there are still some challenges related to the streets that children use in their daily commute, they shared some of these challenges with us during our training activities as follows:

1. Children use of the tuk-tuk as a means of transportation to go to attend their private lessons is unsafe due to either reckless drivers or sometimes driving on the highways, in addition to the lack of safety systems.

2. The older sisters accompany their younger ones to school, they are responsible for them, and both of them are considered children as they are not more than 18 years old,

3. During the training, the children shared many of risks related to the infrastructure around their schools, such as the absence of signs (school zone) and other sources related to people in the vicinity of the school, such as the presence of groups that pose a danger to them, or even the lack of awareness by the school administration of the necessary safety and security measures,

4. Most children go to school on foot, which makes them among the most vulnerable groups, namely pedestrians, according to the classification of road users most at risk.

These children, like other children, are at risk of road crashes, but the difference lies in the following points:

1. The social environments in which these children grew up, they lack awareness of the rules of road safety. The right to safe roads is considered a secondary right when compared to other basic rights,

2. The child’s upbringing in normal social conditions that make him feel love and fear for him, while these children may miss this feeling, even if they are compensated with this feeling, there remains a missing feeling of the importance of his life and this affects his behavior on the road.

3. There are some misconceptions among these children about death and the importance of preserving life, and belittling some behaviors that seem simple, but may cost their lives,

4. The general rules of road safety are new to children, as it is the first training of its kind through which children learn about road safety rules.

The upbringing and social conditions of children change in comparison with their needs, the right to safe roads appears to be a secondary right, while it is one of the basic fundamental rights that we demand for them and for all society members.