“I always dreamt of being just like my friends; enjoying myself like them, forgetting what I went through, forgetting the torture and suffering. At other times I dreamt of being a public figure
“I always dreamt of being just like my friends; enjoying myself like them, forgetting what I went through, forgetting the torture and suffering. At other times I dreamt of being a public figure whose photograph is published in the papers, having been seized and tortured by security men.”
It is with these thoughts in mind that 13-year-old Hussein Nasreddin expressed himself through
a painting he produced for an art exhibition called kunna fil-meedan (We Were in the Square) held as part of the Popular Campaign for Children’s Rights (PCCR).
Taking a stand
The PCCR launched a campaign under the slogan wa’afa ba’a, literally “Time to take a stand”, in response to the treatment of children in police custody and within the criminal legal system where,
members of the PCCR said during a recent press conference, they are all too often dealt with as adults and denied the rights afforded them under the law. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 43 cases of Egyptian children being tried before military trials in 2012, while the Popular Campaign estimates that some 1,000 children have been tried in military courts since the army took over in February 2011.
Nasreddin, talking about his painting, said: “I was in the field on 28 January and like others I was throwing stones at the security men, and then among the rebels, I saw Ahmad Harara, who lost his eyes through gunshots. The main reason I went to the field was the death of my
cousin, who was shot by the bullets of the security men. I wanted to die in the field like my cousin.”
“We—some other boys and me—tried to hide from the security men in the side-streets,” Nasreddin remembers. “But there was no way out; we were caught. I was asked if I knew any of the thugs and their hiding-places.
“On the first day after we were seized I was subjected to the electric shock batons to talk about the places or the names of the thugs, and on the second day I was ordered to clean the toilets, and then I was released,” Nasreddin says.
Nasreddin then met Rabab Hakem, who illustrates children’s books and works with marginalised and homeless children. Dr Hakem, a member of the PCCR, listened to Hussein’s story. “Draw what you went through,” she said. “I drew an officer holding the electric baton
trying to harm me while I was lying on the ground and screaming in pain,” he says.
No to abuse
“My work with street children began two months before the revolution,” Dr Hakem says. “During the revolution, a number of children were in Tahrir Square and were part of the events. Our campaign aims at awaking the children to their rights: ‘You have the right not to be hit by anyone nor to be tried in military courts’.”
Children, Hakem says, should be tried before special courts and, if they have to be detained, are kept in places separate from the adults.
“I used to meet the children four days a week. They were accused of being thugs. When the PCCR decided to hold an exhibition I entered the artworks of the children I had been seeing since the uprising. Their paintings are testimonies to what they had gone through.
Protect the children
“Egypt’s Child Law of 2008 was reviewed by parliament, but so far it has yet to be activated. This was behind the holding of such an exhibition,” said Alia’ Musallam, an activist in the field of children’s rights and a member of the PCCR.
The PCCR’s initial objectives are threefold, according to Musallam. First, to document violations against street children; second, to raise awareness of the issue; and third, to lobby the authorities for the enforcement of the Child Law’s provisions on the treatment of children in state custody.
The issue of street children figured prominently during the recent clashes in Downtown Cairo between protesters and security forces, when dozens of minors were arrested. Some appeared on state television “confessing” to having committed acts of violence.
The PCCR will go on fighting. Musallam says: “The Egyptian authorities must protect children at risk of violence and abuse while in state custody.”
20 May 2012