CAIRO: Yet another high profile case of abuse at an Egyptian orphanage has raised a media firestorm and calls for reform.
The story broke Tuesday when Al-Watan reported Ismailia prosecutors had started an investigation of a supervisor who allegedly sexually abused children inside a local orphanage. An employee there issued a statement to the police claiming severe violations.
Television host Rania Badawi broke into tears Wednesday as she was broadcasting her show Al-Qahera Al-Youm in a segment about the orphanage.
“[The children] don’t have a father who can soothe them or a mother who can come to ask why? They are the State’s responsibility. No wonder there are so many terrorists; these children will grow up hating society and plotting revenge against every single person in it,” Badawi said.
When security forces arrived at the orphanage, they found that the children were being mistreated and living in squalor, the prosecutors have alleged.
The prosecution also arrested the supervisor working at the orphanage after uncovering photos of him and the children naked together. A forensic report said the bodies of the children showed signs of sexual abuse, which backed up eyewitness testimony.
One of the former supervisors who used to work in the orphanage, Osama Hasan, told Youm7 Wednesday that he worked there for about two years. “Shortly after starting work, I found that some of the children and teenagers were abusing the younger ones,” he said.
Hasan said he tried to tell the orphanage head, but no one cared, and he decided to find another job.
Badawi, however, criticized Hasan’s actions. “Is that really all you did? You left the children there knowing that they were being abused daily because the manager didn’t listen. Why didn’t you go to the prosecution, ministry or even media?” she asked.
Hasan said the abuse continued for five years after he left, with no firm reaction by authorities. “The maximum punishment this teenager ever got was having his hair cut completely once, and being banned from using cell phones,” Hasan said.
However, despite the seemingly damning photo evidence, an official forensics spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday that their investigations with the children indicate that a 19-year-old orphan at the orphanage was actually responsible for the abuse, not a working supervisor.
He added that one of the children succeeded in avoiding the abuser, but others suffered from repeated rape.
Social Solidarity Ministry consultant Mosad Radwan said in statements Wednesday that investigations have not actually accused any of the workers as being involved in the abuse.
He added that the orphanage has about 117 children, who are facing different kinds of troubles, including that they were mistreated by workers generally, but not necessarily sexually.
Three of the teenagers inside the orphanage were arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail pending investigations, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm Wednesday.
Adoption is uncommon in Egypt, as very few people know the legal procedures for sponsoring orphan children and adoption is actually illegal under Islamic Shariah, according to Doaa Abbas, head of the Legal Association for Families and Children’s Rights NGO.
Abbas told The Cairo Post Thursday people tend to sponsor children and not adopt them, as specific procedures must be followed for a family to take sponsored children into their homes.
“The conditions usually don’t match a lot of families or the children, so they avoid it. Also, we witnessed similar things in which society mistreats children after the parents’ death, whether from their neighborhoods or the dead parents’ relatives,” Abbas added.
Abbas said the Ismailia incident is not a first or even a second, as lately there have been a number of high profile cases of orphan abuse. “That’s why the Social Solidarity Ministry stopped giving permission to establish new orphanages,” he said.
Back in August, another orphanage manager, Osama Othman, caused public outrage after a video of him kicking and beating children in his care with a wooden stick went viral on social media.
The video was uploaded to YouTube by Othman’s wife Elham Eid, who also worked as a manager at the Dar Mecca orphanage, according to comments she made in a video published by Youm7.
“After what happened in Dar Mecca orphanage, I thought presidential decisions would be released banning this incident from happening again, but all we’ve gotten were some comments and statements, now look at the consequences,” Badawi said on her show.
Seeking to usher in transparency and prevent future abuse, Abbas called on the Social Solidarity Ministry to allow NGOs and other groups to monitor orphanages as a way to solve their escalating problems.
“Even those who go from the ministry to inspect orphanages are not qualified enough to know if there are violations or not,” he said.