Street children have lacked social protection far too long, so I thought that maybe by writing this, I could shed a light from a different angle on a phenomenon that many are so horrified by, and so unfamiliar with.
By writing this perhaps I could encourage someone to re-visit Egypt’s social protection system in order to see how it can better protect the most vulnerable children, those on the streets.
One girl, whom none of us at the shelter can ever forget, was lucky: She escaped the scarring on the face but needed sixteen stitches on her lower back where she was knifed as she escaped her rapists.
I soon realized that the words in the newspapers are actually the horrific stories about other sorts of Egyptian girls, about younger and older women, “welaad naas”, of the working and middle class.And while I was glad their stories were being shared, and that society at large was being made aware of these unacceptable atrocities, I must admit I found it troubling that the everyday lives of our street children are never highlighted in the same way.Violence against Egyptian women has received extensive coverage in the newspapers, accompanied by numerous online testimonials.Without looking too closely at the headlines, the sheer volume of stories might have led a casual observes to believe that the media had taken a keen interest in observing the everyday life of Egypt’s street children. Assiut is very conservative,” said the single Egyptian male, who is studying medicine at the faculty in his hometown south of the capital. “There you can only say good morning to a girl in the street.” The World Wide Web has indeed opened doors for the doctor-to-be, providing him with the opportunity to chat with single women online.
Waleed still goes online regularly in the hope that one day he will eventually meet his future wife.
In fact, one would have been justified in concluding that there was now an acknowledgement of the prevalence and near normality of sexual violence that very young children live through in towns and cities here every night.
I have been working with street children in Egypt for years, and when these young girls—and boys—are left in front of the doors of the shelters catering to them—gang raped, shot, or at times even dead—we are simply told that there has not been a crime “because a citizen has not been involved”.
We have an obligation as a society to break this taboo: speaking of sexual violence against women on the street is a great first step, but now we need to muster the courage to also speak about the scarring of the children of our streets.
When it comes to talk of scarring, a lot of attention was given earlier this year to the fact that the blade of a knife was used against a recent victim of an assault.
I have wondered about the timing of this: Just last month, I took one of my street girls to a plastic surgeon who had generously offered free reconstructive surgery for the scars she and others like her had suffered during such attacks.