Ahmed Ramadan, aged 13, works 11 hours a day in a bakery in Cairo’s Kherbet Kheirala slum, where he says he works with hazardous machinery in unpleasantly hot surroundings, and is ill-treated by his employer.
“I wake up at 6am every morning and hurry to the bakery to get the chance to work that day. The bakery uses four different children but only takes on the first to arrive,” he told IRIN.
If Ahmed manages to arrive first, he earns 15 Egyptian pounds (US$2.6) for the day, which mainly goes on helping his family pay rent and utility bills.
His friend Tareq Al Sayed, 14, has been working as a carpenter for the past three years manning an electric saw. “I work 12 hours a day and earn 30 Egyptian pounds ($5.2) a week,” he told IRIN.
Egypt is party to International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 138 on the minimum age for work, and 182 on “the worst forms of child labour”, but a large number of children work, say experts.
A 2001 national survey on child labour commissioned by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics revealed that 2.7 million children aged 6-14 (21 percent of all children in that age group) work.
|Egypt's Child Law|
|Prohibits the employment of minors under 14, and occupational training for those under 12|
|Protects minors under 17 from working in hazardous jobs|
|Stipulates that working hours should not exceed six per day, including at least one hour of rest|
|Stipulates that minors must not work more than four hours at a time, and must not do overtime or work on weekends or official holidays|
|Stipulates that minors should not work 8pm-7am|
Nihad Gohar, child protection officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Egypt, blamed the phenomenon in part on “poverty, lack of awareness, and dropping out of school because of violence or parents’ inability to pay fees”, as well as a “culture that condones child labour”.
Further efforts should be made to reintegrate those freed from child labour into schools, she said, while pointing out that where this is not possible there should be more rigorous implementation of the law on health and safety at work.
Most children who work do so in small workshops or elsewhere in the informal sector, “where occupational health and safety measures are not applied or do not exist,” she said.
Ahmed and Tareq have been offered a new chance thanks to Plan Egypt (part of child development NGO Plan International) which is giving them three months of vocational training to raise awareness of health and safety issues.
“Our main goal is to return children to school - whether formal or informal - but if the child really has to work due to severe poverty, we have to work with shop owners and mothers to protect these children in their working environment”, said Jacinthe Ibrahim, child rights adviser at Plan Egypt.
“The main challenge is to persuade shop owners to allow the children to attend school, and another is [changing the perceptions of] parents who sometimes push their children into work to support their families,” said Ibrahim.