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“Invisible” children suffering from neglect, says UNICEF

[Egypt] Children begging or selling tissues are a common scene on Cairo's streets. [Date picture taken: 10/13/2005]
Children begging or selling tissues is a common scene on Cairo's streets (Sally Sami/IRIN)

Many children in the Middle East continue to suffer from abuse, exploitation and discrimination, while health and education services are not reaching those most in need, according to UNICEF’s 2006 State of the World’s Children report.

Findings for the Middle East and North Africa suggested that endemic instability and weak governance had resulted in uneven progress, which had widened already existing disparities within and between countries in the region, said a press release.

“Many countries in the region have successfully addressed education, health and other human development needs in the past twenty years,” said Thomas McDermott, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Yet within these countries, many children continue to live in communities totally cut off from the progress around them.”

Homeless children constitute one such community. Highly visible on the streets of many regional capitals, many are fleeing abusive or poverty-stricken homes.

The problem is particularly acute in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, where UNICEF estimates that between 200,000 and a million children are living.

There have been “a lot of improvements” in the last few years, said Siham Ibrahim, head of Egyptian NGO Tofelti, which works with street children in the city. The ministries of interior, health and education had become much more sensitive to the problem and willing to help, she said.

But, “it’s not enough just to give them attention. We need more people who believe in these children, more facilities, more services”.

According to Ibrahim, discrimination is an obstacle to NGOs working in the field: “Most associations are afraid of dealing with this category of children. They assume they are criminals.”

Disease and disability also frequently result in exclusion from society. In Egypt, mentally challenged children, for example, do not enjoy the same rights as able children, according to Nada Thabet, director of an Egyptian NGO.

“There is no school specialised in teaching these children,” she said “and no programme to train teachers to deal with them”.

However, at least awareness of their needs had improved, she added. Previously disabled children “were left hidden at home”.

Disabled children remained dependent on small centres run by NGOs and private schools for their education, while many remained at home, said Thabet.

No provisions had been made to integrate them into the public school system, she added. Most public health care was administered to children through schools, excluding handicapped children from these services as well.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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