Friday, January 06, 2012

Egypt: Calls for minors to be kept out of political clashes

Photo: Amr Emam/IRIN
Activists protesting against police brutality in Cairo
Source: IRIN

The involvement of children in violence during ongoing clashes between protesters and police in Egypt should be addressed because it is against international norms, say child rights activists.

“I have seen hundreds of children leading the fight against military and civilian policemen in violent clashes across the nation over the past months,” Mahmud al-Badawi, a lawyer and the chairman of local NGO Egyptian Association for the Assistance of Juveniles and Human Rights, told IRIN. “This is totally against local and international laws.”

Children were caught up in deadly clashes between demonstrators and military policemen guarding the cabinet and parliament buildings in central Cairo on 17 December. Some were seen hurling stones at the police and setting public buildings on fire.

Some children were injured, others were killed in the violence, which has persisted since protests began against former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

“Too often children are caught up in the spiralling violence,” said Philippe Duamelle, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Egypt, in a statement on 22 December. “Reports and first-hand testimony by children paint a graphic picture of how the latest confrontations affect them.”

Children were also caught up in deadly clashes near Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 23 November. Activists say most of those involved in violence live on the streets. That is why the problem of street children should be at the top of the National Salvation government’s agenda, they say.

“The government has to pay some attention to these children who suffer a deplorable lack of the most basic services,” said Fadia Abu Shahba, an expert from the state-run National Centre for Social and Criminological Research. “These children have found no care whatsoever from society.”

Cash inducements?

According to Mahmud al-Badawi, children have been exploited and cajoled into participation in Egypt’s political conflicts.

When clashes occurred outside the cabinet building on 17 December, he hurried to the scene along with other colleagues and found children holding money and cigarettes.

“The fact that these children were holding money shows that they might have been paid by somebody to be part of these incidents,” said al-Badawi.

Whether these children were paid to attack military policemen guarding the cabinet and the parliament buildings remains to be seen. A large number of juveniles taking part in the clashes were arrested and are being interrogated, according to local media reports.

“UNICEF urges the authorities and all other parties to fully respect the rights of children and protect them in accordance with Egyptian and international humanitarian and human rights law,” said Philippe Duamelle. “They should not be victims of violence nor unnecessary witnesses to violence.”