Ahmad Abdel-Rahman
June 28, 2024

Child labour in Egypt: poverty, loss, and other crises

Egyptians woke up on May 21 to the news that a minibus in which several farm girls were travelling had crashed while it was crossing a ferry, and most of the passengers (about 17 girls) had drowned. The fact that the girls' drowned  was not a surprise however, because there are many accidents with  trucks transporting workers, in Egypt.

Last Ramadan, a "truck" (a vehicle not originally intended for passengers), carrying workers on their way to work on a farm in Assiut Governorate in Upper Egypt, overturned, injuring 19 workers, most of whom were children.

The unspoken problem

Many traffic accidents  reveal the hidden phenomenon that has returned after decades... working children.

The National Survey of Child Labour in Egypt in 2010 shows there were about 1.6 million working children between the ages of 12 and 17 years. In other words, 9.3 percent of Egypt's children were working in 2010, or 1 in 10 children. Most of these, according to the survey conducted by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMS), were exposed to poor and unsafe working conditions.

In 2021, the Egyptian Household Health Survey showed that 1.3 million children, or about 4.9 percent, engaged in activities related to child labour, including 900,000 children working in poor and unsafe working conditions.

And a UNICEF report links child labour exploitation to avoidance of local laws and the lack of comprehensive information.

Poverty, the low value of education, and the high number of children are stifling any efforts to break out of the persistent and rampant cycle of child labour.

The informal economy

The phenomenon of child labour has increased in Egypt over the last two decades, specifically in the agricultural sector, as confirmed by a paper published in 2021 by the Maat Organization for Peace, Development and Human Rights.

Maat points out that child labour in Egypt is linked to many economic and social challenges, such as the expansion of poverty, especially in rural areas, and society's acceptance of child labour as a strategy to combat this poverty. In addition, the absolute majority of families that send their children to work - their numbers are in the millions - are not aware of the extent of the physical, psychological and social danger that child labour causes to their children.

Although the vision of the Maat organization only dates back to 2021, the severe economic crisis that Egypt is going through has negatively affected everyone, including children. The use of child labour comes without any significant legal penalties or real efforts to prevent the involvement of more children.

It is difficult to prevent families from enrolling their children in the informal labour market when the economy is dire, and millions of families face poverty. Therefore, the employment of children has become an inevitable necessity for poor families, especially in rural areas. Family planning has also diminished or declined in the past few years, exacerbating the problem of childbearing for families who believe that every child is an additional source of income. As soon as a child grows to nine or 10, he or she joins the marginal labour market. As the child grows older, new job opportunities open up, and thus the income promised to the family increases.

Photo. Many Egyptian families encourage the use of child labour. ( by Adobe).