Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Little ones being used

Exploiting orphans for political gains has resulted in angry reaction from many children’s rights organisations, reports Reem Leila

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eg052
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian Coalition on Children’s Rights (ECCR), the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) along with 11 other children’s rights organisations have condemned exploiting children to achieve political gains. The announcements came after the media and social media websites widely circulated pictures of orphans wearing light summer gowns in the cold while holding posters of Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi at a conference held under the slogan “Al-Sisi is the president by the will of the Egyptians”, referring to a possible presidential bid the minister appears to be making.

Orphans were also seen coming out of a bus carrying the name of Al-Radi Orphanage like workers going to their work at a factory. Azza Al-Ashmawi, secretary-general of NCCM, says this is children trafficking and violates the Children’s Accord and international conventions ratified by Egypt.

Al-Ashmawi said using children for political purposes is a violation of Article 291 of the penal code which was added to Child Law 126/2008. “Child trafficking is a crime and its perpetrator is penalised with a life sentence with hard labour,” said Al-Ashmawi.

“Children’s rights are greatly protected in the upcoming constitution. I won’t rest until I see those criminals behind bars. Shame on them, committing such a crime against our children,” she added.

In a statement issued by ECCR, the coalition called on all similar organisations to intervene and to bring all defendants to trial so as to prevent any future exploitation of children. “We must stop such crimes against our children,” the statement said. It also called on all concerned authorities to start an immediate investigation into the incident as it called on the military institution to urge its supporters to refrain from such “shameful” practices.

Hani Mehanna, spokesman of the Ministry of Social Solidarity, stated that after the minister received a report about the incident, he started an immediate investigation with board members of Al-Radi orphanage. “The ministry will not allow any exploitation of children for the sake of serving personal or political matters,” said Mehanna, adding that there is a high possibility that all the managing board members of the orphanage could be dismissed.

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Al-Radi Orphanage Adli Al-Sherif denied any abuse of the children. “Children and members of the orphanage were keen to attend the conference in order to show their support of Al-Sisi,” said Al-Sherif.

At the same time, he added that children were wearing heavy clothes over the summer gowns. “We are human beings, not devils to let young children wear light clothes in this cold weather,” he said.

The story began, according to Al-Sherif, when the orphanage’s bus arrived at the conference headquarters. A photographer asked the children to take off their jackets to take a photo for them. “She wanted them to look pretty and neat with their united pink dresses. That’s it. I swear they were wearing their jackets all the time,” he said. “I have a photo on my iPad showing the children with their jackets. Anyway, I am willing to take the responsibility for what happened. I love Al-Sisi and I am willing to die for him.”

This incident, according to Hani Helal, secretary-general of ECCR, took place without any sense of mercy or responsibility, and was done intentionally. “This severe violation was committed with the knowledge of the media and officials of that hypocritical conference, in collaboration with the officials of Al-Radi Orphanage,” said Helal.

The incident is considered a crime, according to Helal, because all concerned officials made use of the children’s innocence in politics to support a specific man in the upcoming presidential elections. “Bringing children to attend such a conference, with such light dresses in that cold weather, means that officials of the orphanage and those of the conference decided to sacrifice these children and present their lives to the authority,” said Helal.

“This crime is not only the responsibility of Al-Radi Orphanage officials, or that of the conference’s organisers, but also of those whom the conference was organised for. What do children have to do with all this mess?”

This is not the first incident where orphans have been exploited for political reasons. In August 2013, supporters of toppled president Mohamed Morsi drew widespread condemnation after a video showing children participating in pro-Morsi demonstrations while wearing death shrouds during the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in which lasted for more than 50 days.

A similar incident took place when photos of young girls in Alexandria appeared in demonstrations, and when a video appeared showing a group of children saying that they were against the coup.

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