Thursday, January 20, 2022

The tragedy of Shorouk and friends : Victims of child labor

On Monday, hundreds of Egyptians in Nile Delta town walked in the funeral of a 13-years-old girl who captured many hearts and minds in Egypt with her smiling picture online as attempts of finding her body was underway for whole 8 cold days in the River Nile in yet another Egyptian tragedy.

Sometimes the Egyptian tragedies have this dark humor side because on the same Monday and probably at the same moment the funeral was walking in the streets of a small village in Monufia governorate, Egypt’s Senate approved articles related to child labor in the new labor draft law in Cairo without serious social dialogue officially.

Late Shorouk Yasser
Late Shorouk Yasser 

It is like some sort of very dark humor that I do not understand how it is happening or how it was allowed to happen, but this is classical Egypt.

When the Nile gathered the young egg gatherers

According to the official accounts, late Monday 10 January a half truck carrying 24 daily workers got on an unlicensed ferry to the Nile River when the truck diver lost control of his truck and drove it in to the river near Monshaet El-Kanater village in Giza governorate.

10 people drowned while 14 others survived.

Now those 24 workers were on their way home in Monufia governorate from a farm in Giza governorate late night in the cold winter. They were working as egg gatherers in a poultry farm for a fee that ranged from LE 25 to 50 per day according to their families

Their ages ranged between 13 to 20 years old as reported by the official Public Prosecutor’s statement on the accident. 

The youngest and the last one to reappear from the Nile was Shorouk Yasser.

The sunset of Shorouk

Shorouk Yasser’s body was found by a fisher in the Nile 10 km away from the original truck site. Before finding her, her photo smiling wearing pink veil and top was the only photo that surfaced for the victims of the accident which the mainstream media ignored.

Late Shorouk
Shorouk’s grim end started two months ago when she stopped going to the school because her family could not pay the fees of private tutorials according to her mother as her father fell ill.

Eldest among five siblings, the 13-years-old girl began then to become her family breadwinner. Not only she earns money for her family but also, she helped her sick grandmother too.

Too much on the shoulders of the girl whose name means in Sunrise in Arabic.

Shorouk’s childish face was older than her true age reflecting the hard life she had been enduring.

There are many questions, many wrongs and many fails when it comes to Shorouk alone aside of the rest 22 egg gatherers and their tragedy or rather tragedies. Many of those underage daily workers leave school to go to work for reasons similar to Shorouk’s

Now as Shorouk was being buried back in Cairo at the Senate, bunch of men and women were approving a set of articles related to child labor in the country in the new draft labor law.

Meanwhile in Cairo

Earlier this week, Egypt’s consultative Upper Chamber discussed the new labor draft law which was prepared and presented by the government.

On Monday, it was the turn of child labor related articles in the new draft law.

According to the new draft law, the minimum work age officially is 15 years old like in the current labor law and child law, but internship and training at 14 years old on the condition they do not drop out of school.

The job owner should issue an ID card for his underage employees whether interns or workers and he should inform the authorities about them and their work.

The articles stipulate Children should not work more than 4 hours straights and not more than 6 hours daily and in those 6 hours, the child must have one recess or more to have food and rest.

The new articles ban children to work additional hours or in weekends or officially holidays. It also bans children from working from 7 Pm to 6 AM.

I have not read that there was a serious social discussion about the law or its article, but I read that one MP criticized those new articles and said that they present a backdoor for those who want to hire underage children at the age of 12 years.

As I hinted before Egypt has already articles related to the child labor in the old labor law and the child law.

Egyptian Child labor
11-years-old Mostafa left school and works in a mechanic workshop 
in Cairo according to VOA's pictorial story on Child labor in Egypt 
in August 2021 by Hamda El-Rasam 

Needless to say, any visit to any mechanic workshop in Egypt, you will know that those articles are just ink on papers in the real world.

Children younger than 15 years old are working hazardous jobs across the country, especially in workshops when the laws stipulate that the minimum age for hazardous jobs is 18 years old.

Those articles in the new labor law will not help children as for a starter there is no restrict implementation of the old law nor will be to the new law when it comes to children.

What happened to Shorouk and her friends is the prefect example.

She was 13 years “less than the official minimum work age” who had to drop out of school “Ministry of education’s failure to help impoverished” and help her sick father “another government’s failure to help citizens in his situation”.

Shorouk and her friends were on their way home back from the farm after 6 PM and God knows when they arrived there. I do not know how many recesses or rests they had but I highly doubt in the owners of the farm know the articles related to child labor in the first place!!

There is no exact number in 2022 for children currently in the workforce.

The latest number I found recently is 1.8 million children according to International Labor Organization. This is less than the true number for real.

The underage workers are preferred over some adult workers in the blue collars professions as they cost less. Now I see the new child labor articles in that new labor draft law will support this notion more than anything.

The 15 and 14 years old teens can replace officially adult workers to save costs thus creating bigger unemployment and lack of education problems aside from psychological problems.

Instead of legalizing the underage works , we should stop making children like Shorouk drop out of school to work. By the way , I have not heard or read that there was an investigation on why Shorouk was working in this age officially 

Kids will continue to drop out of schools accordingly. The classical “the egg or the chicken came first dilemma” persists in the discussion about the child labor as a result of overpopulation problem in the countryside and whether the economic or social factors play. 

Personally, I believe economy plays here a factor now as many families tend to have more children so they can lend hand in working in the field and earn more money for the family.

The current Egyptian administration has spoken repeatedly about the overpopulation problem and despite it did not launch successful media mass campaign on family planning programme like in the 1980s and 1990s “I remember their ads”, it did not tackle the economic part which plays a significant role in the issue.

Limiting food rations on two children won’t make people in the country stop having children because they have more than two children to make them work and to get food outside the food ration system.

Up till there is no proper coverage for the horrible accident for Shorouk and her friends nor a serious discussion about new labor draft law in the mainstream media as it should. That tragedy should have opened about a serious belated dialogue about child labor but alas !! It did not happened.

Anyone who takes highways in the Nile Delta knows those daily underaged labor as they sit together in the half trucks coming or going to the fields and farms.

I think we should pray for their safety because they have been neglected for so long.

Or may be , we force ourselves to ignore them.

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