Monday,22 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)
Monday,22 October, 2018
Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Twist of luck

An interview with six teenagers arrested for smuggling shone the limelight on the hardships faced by many Egyptians, reports Mai Samih

 

Twist  of luck
Twist of luck

The arrest of a group of teenagers for smuggling foreign-made clothing in Port Said would probably have passed unnoticed were it not for a video showing them being questioned in a condescending and humiliating fashion aired on Port Said’s local television channel and posted on the official Facebook page of the Port Said governorate. The video quickly went viral, attracting a plethora of outraged comments, many directed at the hectoring and patronising manner of the person interviewing the handcuffed children.

Asked if he did not feel that what they did was wrong one of the teenagers, Mahfouz Diab, 16, replied, “you don’t feel what people are going through.”  When asked why he didn’t take a job with a cleaning service contractor he told the female interviewer: “The LE50 a day they offer would not be enough to feed my mother and three sisters. Now I make LE150 a day.”

Diab said there were few jobs in his hometown of Sohag and those that were available paid too little to feed his family.

“We were caught smuggling a few pieces of clothing. They prosecute the poor like us who make only LE150 but do not arrest the people who make millions out of smuggling,” he said.

The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood has requested prosecutors investigate the making and release of the video, pointing out that it contravenes the child protection law. Yet in a twist of fate the video has had some positive ramifications for the detainees. After watching it businessman Naguib Sawiris sent a lawyer to assist the teenagers and announced he would offer them jobs once their legal problems were sorted out.

The use of minors in smuggling is an international problem, sociologist Hoda Zakaria told Al-Ahram Weekly. The children are vulnerable and easily manipulated.

Zakaria says she understands the conditions facing the families of the children and the lack of opportunities available to them. Compared to the Nile Delta, parts of Upper Egypt, especially rural areas where large numbers of families live below the poverty line, offer few chances of making a living or obtaining a decent education.

Because they were not stealing from anyone the boys would have been unlikely to view what they were doing as a crime, says Zakaria. “They are used by the smugglers to carry goods.  They see what they are doing is trade.”

The use of children in criminal activities, including the transport of drugs, is a problem across Egypt, claims Zakaria. “There may be millions of them working in smuggling one way or another,” she says. “It was bad luck for them to be caught.”

The cases that do come to light, she adds, need to be studied carefully and appropriate solutions be found. And that, says Zakaria, must include taking action to break the circle of poverty and deprivation which afflicts large swathes of the country.

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