CAIRO: The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) accused the presidential campaigns this week of “using children.” The claims come amid arrests this month at a nonprofit for street children, whose founders are accused of paying children to attack security forces in protests.
In a press statement released Monday, NCCM Secretary General Azza al-Ashmawy addressed both campaigns, saying the political exploitation of children violates the constitution and child laws, and could be penalized with a minimum jail sentence of five years and 50,000 EGP as a minimum fine.
The group said in January, a foster house called el-Rady organized a rally to urge then Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to run for president. The children appeared carrying Sisi’s poster, and controversy arose over the use of children in campaigning, and their light clothing despite the cold weather.
Most recently, the campaign for candidate Sisi organized several activities in Alexandria, in which children were seen carrying posters and flying kites, MENA reported on May 19. However, the large number of children cheering for Sisi could also be due to the increased participation of their mothers.
According to the NCCM, the “exploitation of children in both presidential campaigns” has occurred on “several occasions over the past weeks,” which its operation room has been monitoring and documenting, in coordination with UNICEF, the Ministry of Interior and civic organizations.
In the past, children were seen in large numbers during pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests and during sit-ins, mainly in the square of Rabaa al-Adaweya. Doaa Abbas, a lawyer for children’s rights, said it is easy to manipulate children to participate in protests for small sums of money, in an April 25 statement.
In 2013, NCCM condemned the political exploitation of children by the Brotherhood at sit-ins and protests. The children’s lives were endangered, NCCM said, as they were used as human shields and subject to beating and physical violence, which led to the death of several.
The State Information Service had published NCCM’s report, which demanded the Attorney General take action to protect children, especially after it became known the sit-ins would be dispersed by force.
In several videos of the protests supporting the Brotherhood after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, children were seen wearing shrouds and walking in a line, carrying posters of those killed in protests.
At a protest in July 2013, a child was seen carrying a poster that said his father was a martyr. When asked by a reporter, the child said his father was still alive and that they had been given the posters and asked to carry them at the protest. Several similar cases occurred.
Since then, rights groups and authorities have been on alert concerning children’s participation in protests.
On May 4, police arrested a woman and her husband who were running a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helped street children. One of the children testified and appeared on television claiming he was receiving money in exchange for participating in protests, and that the more the violence, the more money. The interview raised a debate over suspicions that the children were being manipulated by the police to testify against the NGO.
Nonetheless, this opened the door for closer monitoring of children’s participation in political activities.
The state of children’s rights in Egypt has reached a critical stage. In the past few months, reports on violence against children have increased, especially cases of sexual violence. Victims of incest rape and their families have been speaking out to rights groups and demanding prosecution of their assailants.
Media has also been focusing on violations inside orphanages and foster homes, as rights groups are tracing child abuse cases, such as beating, burning, and electrocution, in addition to the detention of children and minors in unacceptable conditions.