February 20th, 2011 The untold story of Egypt’s revolution
Ask seven-year-old Abdullah what he remembers of the recent uprising in Egypt, and his answer is as unequivocal as it is shocking.
“Bombs,” he says, waving his filthy hands to demonstrate: “Bombs with petrol.”
He goes on to explain how protestors hurled Molotov cocktails on the streets of southern Cairo, and how he feared that a near-by petrol station could explode.
He speaks with bravado, mindful of his older brother watching him, but his story is a stark reminder that Cairo’s poorest children were caught up in the recent unrest.
Abdullah works on the rubbish-strewn streets of southern Cairo; it seems a long way from the leafy avenues of the city centre here.
Working alongside his mother and twelve brothers and sisters, Abdullah ekes out a living selling whatever cheap items he can find to motorists stuck in the capital’s notorious traffic jams, and washing cars for a few pennies a time. He has never been to school, and has no plans to start any time soon because his family rely on the meagre income he brings in.
Abdullah is one of Cairo’s estimated 50,000 street children; a lost generation cut off from Egyptian society by poverty and lack of opportunity. Amongst his peers social problems are rife. Drugs, teenage pregnancy and abuse are common amongst street children, whose poverty and the fact they are often alone makes them especially vulnerable.
Children like Abdullah rely on the support of local organisations running drop-in centres to help them. They are one of the few sanctuaries for street children; a place they can get something to eat, receive first aid and learn basic life skills. Many children attend the centres every day.
But during the unrest, the centres were closed. With no-where to go, many of the children were drawn to the demonstrations taking place across Cairo, attracted by the sense of solidarity and the chance of a free meal. For some, it was a fateful decision.
Save the Children has confirmed the death of at least one homeless child in the violence that erupted during the protests and knows of others who were badly wounded.
Because they are born in abject poverty in the slums and are not registered with the authorities, there is no official record of them and they are locked out of basic services like healthcare and education. With no proof of identity, it is extremely difficult for street children to register later in life.
For many their fate is decided on the day they are born.
Save the Children works with local partner organisations to help Cairo’s street children. We believe it should be easier for them to get the identification papers they need to live a normal life. The protestors on the streets of Cairo last week demanded that the country was changed for the better; 50,000 children’s futures – Abdullah’s included – depend on just that.