The right child
As Reem Leila is pleased to find out , children's rights figure preminently on both the National Council for Human Rights and UN Population Fund's agendas
In the arena of children's rights, Egypt has come a long way since social mobilisation cut child mortality rates in the mid-1980s. Still, measured against the stipulations of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the country lags behind. Happily both the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) are prioritising the issue -- with the latter's deputy head, Kamal Abul-Magd, stressing the importance of a collective vision for poverty and illiteracy, for which, he said, "we will bear future responsibility".
According to Law 12/1996, children should have not only education, social care and health insurance -- the latter now extended to schools and infants -- but access to extracurricular interests. And Education Minister Ahmed Gamaleddin Moussa is already reporting progress on the way to achieving just such goals: among the precepts of "a new system of education" aimed at abolishing private tuition, and for which 35,000 teachers and administrators have been trained, is the introduction of the concept of human rights into primary school curricula. Favouring quality over quantity and eliminating gender and geographical discrepancies in access to education are also on the cards. Already school children's parents like Qadreya Othman are noticing improvements: far-between exams replaced with continual class work assignments, for example. "I am happy with the new system as it makes my child study all the time,"
Homeless children continue to undermine an otherwise impressive range of achievements, however: according to Minister of Social Affairs Amina El-Guindi, there are some three million of them, subject to sexual and drug abuse and prone to becoming criminals. To live up to international standards, El-Guindi explains, Egypt must introduce community workshops to raise awareness of street children and curb the tendency to incriminate them: "These courses will start by 2006, and will be held in collaboration with the relevant NGOs."
Combined with political support, effective initiatives make the outlook of the average Egyptian child considerably brighter than it was a decade ago. Egypt was one of the first 20 countries to ratify the convention, and was one of the initiators of the 1990 World Summit for Children. Such a record gained greater credence when President Hosni Mubarak launched the second Declaration for the Protection of the Egyptian Child in 2002, extending health insurance to 90 per cent of the child population and vaccination for 95 per cent. Ihab Eid, medical professor at Ain Shams University, today Egyptian children by and large have the most basic of all rights -- the right to survival. Over the last decade, he elaborated, there occurred a 50 per cent drop in the number of children who die before their fifth birthday: "Sadly about one out of every 20 still do, and mortality among children remains much higher in Upper Egypt than in the rest of the country." Improvements in vaccination, however, will help control this problem.