Child labour in Egypt exacerbated by the economic crisis

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Two Egyptian children were killed a few days ago, and 40 other children were injured when a pickup truck carrying them to work on a farm in the Ismailia governorate overturned. The accident is not the first of its kind, as hardly a month goes by without a similar accident whose victims are young children who left school in search of a livelihood in light of increasingly difficult economic conditions.

The phenomenon of child labour is not new to Egypt, despite that there is no recent government data announced about it: the last national survey in this regard dates back to 2010, and at that time, it revealed that there were 1.6 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 working, representing 9.3% of children, which is equivalent to one working child in every ten children. Many pieces of evidence indicate that this number has increased significantly over the past years due to economic crises that push more families into poverty and force them to put their children to work.

According to Dr Heba El-Laithy, advisor to the head of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics and one of the supervisors of the income and expenditure research 2019/2020, Egyptian families tried to overcome the deterioration of living conditions after the flotation that occurred in 2016 and the difficult economic decisions that followed, by reducing expenditures on education, as the percentage of enrollments in public secondary school decreased in 2020 compared to the situation in 2017. The rate of child labour increased by 3%. It is expected that the economic crisis that Egypt is currently experiencing will contribute to the exacerbation of this phenomenon. According to a recent survey conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, to assess how families in Egypt respond to economic pressures, 25% of families had to reduce their spending on education, 1% of families withdrew their children from teaching, and 2% of families pushed their children to work to get money.

Many of these children work in poor working conditions, dangerous occupations, and inappropriate hours for their age. According to the National Child Labor Survey 2010, 82.2% of children work in poor conditions, and about 1% work in hazardous occupations, 28.9% of these children are forced to work more than 43 hours per week, and 12.5% of them work between 35 and 42 hours per week. These conditions are still going on and getting worse. An investigative report published in September 2022 documented the prevalence of child labour inside quarries, violating international legislation and local laws, which classify work inside quarries as hazardous. Children represent about 23% of the total employment in this sector, which makes them vulnerable to severe injuries that lead to permanent disabilities and pulmonary stones. These children work for meagre wages; the wages of children from 9 to 12 years old range from 20 to 30 pounds (less than one dollar), while their counterparts from 12 years and over are paid up to 50 pounds per day (less than two dollars), for work ranging from 12 hours to 14 hours a day.

Violation of the constitution and the law

Child labour in Egypt often violates international conventions, provisions of the constitution and laws. The Egyptian constitution stipulates the right of the child to health and family care, nutrition, a safe shelter, and the right to education, as well as the state’s commitment to care for the child and protect him from all forms of violence, abuse, maltreatment, and sexual exploitation. It also affirmed the prohibition of child employment before he reaches the age of completing primary education and the banning of his career in jobs that endanger him.

Egypt is among the signatories to the Convention on the Minimum Age for Child Labor No. 138 of 1973, the Convention on the Rights of the Child under United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 44/25 of 1989, and the Convention for the Prohibition of the Worst Forms of Child Labor of 1999. The Egyptian Child Law No. 126 of 2008 stipulates, in Article 64, the prohibition of the employment of children before they reach the age of 15 full Gregorian years, and in Article 65, the ban on the employment of a child in any work that, by its nature or the circumstances of its performance, could endanger him.