A coalition of 100 Egyptian child rights advocacy groups is intensifying its pressure on the government to take measures to counter rising child abductions across the country, threatening to resort to the UN if the government does not take action.
“The government does not attach enough importance to the problems suffered by children,” Hani Helal, secretary-general of the Egyptian Coalition on Children’s Rights, told IRIN.
“This leads to increasing violations against the children. But if the government does not act now, we will have to take the matter to the UN.”
A noticeable rise in child abductions has swept through the country, with the media reporting a new child abduction case every day - either in the capital Cairo or in the other governorates, putting parents on alert and challenging the police service.
The Interior Ministry has not given exact figures about the rise in child abductions, but independent security experts say it has increased as much as threefold since a popular uprising ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The political transition has been accompanied by an almost total collapse of Egypt’s security system, with police absent from the streets for extended periods of time.
“The kidnapping of children has become a very worrying phenomenon,” ex-policeman and security expert Maher Zakhry told IRIN. “Our country’s deteriorating security conditions make this crime more possible.”
Egypt’s National Motherhood and Childhood Council called on the government to take action against what it described as a “rising crescendo of child abductions”, warning against the serious consequences of turning a blind eye to the problem.
The council has launched a new hotline service through which it can receive complaints by parents, refer them to police and better lobby the government.
The Coalition on Children’s Rights says the number of calls about abductions it receives from parents has increased 300 percent -- from one or two a day before the revolution, to six or seven on some days now.
Helal says most of the people who call his coalition are poor and have no connections. They come from all governorates, but more often from Cairo and the coastal city of Alexandria. Most of the kidnappers know the families of the children they abduct, he added.
“We have major difficulties dealing with the government, which does not view children as first-rate citizens like everybody else,” Helal said. “But what I want to say to the government is that its silence will encourage criminals to kidnap even more children in the future.”
Advocates are calling for tougher action by the government against criminals; a larger police presence on the streets; and laws that would increase punishments for those who violate children’s rights.
Many Egyptians, especially activists involved in the revolution, believe the government is intentionally neglecting safety and security to increase a desire for “the good old days” under Mubarak and to justify the continued rule of the military council that took over after Mubarak left.