Detention of Minors: A New Wave of Brutality

Omar Salah Bora S Kamel.jpg

A new era of brutality has emerged in Egypt where the targeting of children has become far too frequent. Ahmed Moselhy, a lawyer in the Egyptian Coalition for Child Rights (ECCR), estimates that at least 7,415 minors were arrested in the past year in Alexandria and Cairo alone. Since January 25, 2013, with the most recent wave of clashes, a conservative estimate suggests that 604 children have been detained in Cairo. Many of these children say they have been tortured by Egyptian police forces.

12-year-old Mohamed F. is just one of many. He testified that he was arrested on his way to see his aunt near Tahrir. He began to see people running, he ran as well, but fell; the police caught up with him, beat him, and dragged him off. He was taken to a police compound, Gabal Ahmar camp, where he and the children with him were beaten, electrocuted, and dumped into barrels of water.

Some sources estimate that there may be over 3 million street children in Egypt today. A majority of these children are driven to the street to support their families financially or escape domestic abuse. Despite this, society as a whole, from the general population to the police and the courts, treat these children as criminals. It is all too common for police in Egypt to conduct sweeping arrests of these children to remove them from the streets. Recently however, there have been a large numbers of street children and other minors detained along with the adult protesters after many of the large demonstrations. Some of these children have been apprehended in parts of Cairo that are not even close to the location of the protest.

Mohamed A. , a 17-year-old, was near Tahrir when he stopped to buy a laser pointer before heading home. He was approached by a policeman in plain clothes who arrested him, threw his phone on the street, stole his money, and ripped up his ID card. He spent the night in a police van with about 25 other children. Among the 25 children was a 15 year old who was thrown out of a 2-story window after being chased by police.

The conditions and treatment of detained children is unprecedented. Many lawyers say that even the worst cases during Hosni Mubarak’s presidency do not match what is taking place in prisons today. The children are jailed with adults, even though the law specifically refers juvenile offenders to child courts. The children also spend nights in overcrowded cells, are at times not even fed, and are tortured through electrocution, severe beating, and being thrown into barrels of cold water.

According to Egypt’s Child Law No. 126 of 2008, children have the right to “protection from all forms of violence, injury or abuse, physical, mental or sexual, neglect, or default or other forms of abuse and exploitation.” Furthermore, Article 70 of the Constitution declares that “every child, from the moment of birth, has the right to a proper name, family care, basic nutrition, shelter, health services, and religious, emotional and cognitive development.”

The actions of the Ministry of Interior and the treatment of these children by MOI police forces is a deliberate violation of both the Egyptian Constitution and Egypt’s Child Law.

Earlier this month, the Egyptian Coalition for Child Rights (ECCR), demanded that Article 70 of the Constitution be amended to ensure that children are properly protected from abuse, child labor, and so that they are able to obtain the right to legal protection. In their statement, the ECCR urged the reactivation of certain laws already in place in the Egyptian law, as well as the actual application of existing laws, starting with the state’s treatment of children in prisons and during detention.

Adel M., a 14-year-old, was arrested during a protest along with 28 other children. He was beaten and despite a clear laceration on his head, was refused treatment for 4 days. The only food he and his fellow inmates ate was the food that activists and lawyers were able to bring them. Adel was released after 4 days of severe abuse.

In addition to violating Egyptian laws, Egypt is also in violation of international law as per the agreements and declarations the country has signed, including the Declaration of Child Rights, the Minimum Age Convention, and the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention. Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that a child should be arrested or detained “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” In many of the recent cases however, some of the children are arrested for up to 15 days before release.

It is unclear why so many children are being targeted. However, whether it is a result of a politicized judiciary or a corrupt police force, there is little consistency in the authority’s treatment of detained minors. Specific police stations are known for fierce brutality such as the Galal Ahmar camp as in M.F.’s case. In other cases, such as Mahmoud Adel, 14-year-old bone cancer patient, the judge was at fault and refused to abide by the law. Mahmoud Adel was released after 11 days of pressure from lawyers, media, and society. In other cases, it is pure carelessness and lack of accountability or discipline.

Omar Salah, a 12-year-old sweet potato seller, was shot in his heart by a military policeman in Tahrir on February 3rd. The Ministry of Interior, days later announced the accidental death of a street seller. In a video testimony, Omar’s father was told that it was an argument between the child and the military conscript that led to his death; a display of power.

Pressure from civil society is escalating as more children are arrested. In the past demands were made to the Ministry of Interior to investigate these violations, but this is becoming increasingly difficult as a growing number of violations are originating from the government itself. With Law no. 126 already in place, applying the existing law is the first step towards tackling the societal stigmas Egypt has come to associate with these children. 

All testimonies are first hand accounts as recorded by The Popular Campaign for the Protection of Children. Testimonies can be read here.

Amira Mikhail is a member of the Popular Campaign for the Protection of Children. She is a scholarship coordinator for the MEPI Tomorrows’ Leaders Program at AUC. She blogs at

Photo: Bora S. Kamel

Image: Omar%20Salah%20Bora%20S%20Kamel.jpg