Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April 2014, 16:25 GMT

2003 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Egypt

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 29 April 2004
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2003 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Egypt, 29 April 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48c8ca13c.html [accessed 16 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Government Policies and Programs to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Government of Egypt has been a member of ILO-IPEC since 1996.[1469] In 2000, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) launched the Second Decade of Protection and Welfare of Children action program that included a component to reintegrate working children into schools, their families, and the community.[1470] In 2002, the NCCM designed a National Program for the Progressive Elimination of Child Labor focusing on interventions to alleviate poverty, especially among female heads of households, and to provide psychosocial and educational services to children in four governorates.[1471] The NCCM further coordinates policy dialogue between key ministries and local authorities. Among other child labor initiatives, the NCCM launched a pilot program designed to protect and improve the working conditions of child workers and provide them education and health services, as well as income generation activities for their families.[1472] In 2003, the NCCM set up a hotline to receive calls from children in distress, particularly those who complain of working in unsafe or unhealthful conditions.[1473] Also in 2003 the NCCM organized workshops in four governorates with the highest rates of working children to create awareness of the social and economic problems created by child labor, especially its worst forms. It is anticipated that the reports of these and subsequent workshops on child labor will be used by policy-makers.[1474] In 2000, the government established a Child Labor Unit (CLU) within the Ministry of Manpower and Migration (MOMM) to coordinate investigations of reports of child labor violations and to ensure enforcement of the laws pertaining to child labor.[1475] In 2003 ILO Egypt worked with the NCCM, the MOMM, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, and UNICEF to begin formulation of a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.[1476] In 2003, the CLU provided training to labor inspectors; worked to establish a database on working children; and organized a media campaign to increase public awareness of the issue.[1477]

ILO-IPEC and the government have collaborated on several initiatives to combat child labor, at least five of which are ongoing.[1478] Current projects include a direct action program to contribute to the progressive elimination of child labor in leather tanneries, pottery kilns, and other hazardous industries,[1479] and a collaborative project with the U.S. Customs Service and the Arab Labor Organization to provide technical assistance to the CLU.[1480] Other ILO-IPEC programs involve public awareness raising, capacity building, and interventions, including a community project that aims to withdraw children from hazardous work in auto repair workshops, and textile and plastics factories.[1481] In 2003, USAID funded a collaborative project with international and local trade unions to train local child labor inspectors. The training was followed by the formation of community child labor committees (CLCs) in nine villages to survey child labor in those areas.[1482]

The Government of Egypt is committed to battling illiteracy and bridging the gender gap in education.[1483] A National Taskforce for Girls' Education, comprising members of key ministries, authorities, UN agencies, and members of civil society, was formed in October 2001.[1484] To this end, a number of measures have been taken, including the establishment of one-room schools for girls, community schools for children ages 9 to 13 years old, and mainstreaming graduates of those schools into preparatory schools.[1485]

The World Bank's Education Enhancement Program Project was developed to enhance the Ministry of Education's stated goals of ensuring universal access to basic education, with an emphasis on girls, and improving the quality of education.[1486] Egypt was the first country to officially join the UN Girls' Education Initiative.[1487] Since 1992, UNICEF has supported the Girl Child Initiative with the Community Schools Programme.[1488] USAID is funding a number of education projects, including the New Schools Program, which targets over 28,000 girls from ages 6 to 14 years, who have never attended school, or have dropped out. Another USAID project supports the Center for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA).[1489] These activities are intended to expand educational opportunities for girls not enrolled in formal education through scholarships and other incentives. In 2002, an initiative for boys was also launched.[1490] By building new schools within walking distance of homes, increasing the number of female teachers, and providing grants, uniforms, and meals to children at school, enrollment and attendance have improved.[1491]

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

In 2001, the ILO estimated that 8.8 percent of children ages 10 to 14 years in Egypt were working.[1492] Studies have suggested that rural children and children from poor households account for the overwhelming majority of working children.[1493] Rural children are largely found working in the agricultural sector[1494], particularly on cotton-farming cooperatives.[1495] Reports indicate a widespread practice of poor rural families making arrangements to send daughters to cities to work as domestic servants in the homes of wealthy citizens.[1496] Urban areas are also host to large numbers of street children who have left their homes in the country-side to find work, and often to flee hostile conditions at home.[1497] Street children work shining shoes, begging, cleaning and parking cars, and selling food and trinkets.[1498] Street children are particularly vulnerable to being forced into illicit activities, including stealing, smuggling, pornography, and prostitution.[1499] Children in urban areas also work in leather tanneries, pottery kilns,[1500] glassworks,[1501] blacksmith, metal and copper workshops, battery and carpentry shops,[1502] auto repair workshops, and textile and plastics factories.[1503] While there are no official accounts of trafficking in the country,[1504] some reports indicate that Egypt is a country of transit for child trafficking.[1505]

The Constitution guarantees free and compulsory basic education for children ages 6 to 15.[1506] In 2000, the gross primary enrollment rate was 99.6 percent, and the net primary enrollment rate was 92.6 percent.[1507] Girls' enrollment and attendance still lags behind that of boys.[1508] In 2000, the gross primary enrollment rate for girls was 96.1 percent, compared to 102.9 percent for boys. The net primary enrollment rate was 90.3 percent for girls, compared to 94.9 percent for boys.[1509] Primary school attendance rates are unavailable for Egypt. While enrollment rates indicate a level of commitment to education, they do not always reflect children's participation in school.[1510] A 2000 national survey of children ages 6 to 15 found that 14 percent of girls were not currently attending school, compared to 8 percent of boys.[1511] Working and street children are predominantly school dropouts or have never been enrolled in school.[1512] In the past a number of NGOs have worked to provide literacy programs, medical care, shelter, meals and protection to working street children.[1513] However, a law was passed in June 2002 that severely restricts the capacity of NGOs to continue work on this issue.[1514]

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

The Government of Egypt ratified a new labor law in June 2003 prohibiting the employment of male and female juveniles below the age of 14. The new law also sets maximum hours for the employment of children in addition to employment conditions; the law does not apply, however, to children working in the agricultural sector. Ministerial decrees that complement the labor law compensate for this shortcoming, especially Decree No. 118 of 2003, which prohibits children below 16 from working in 44 hazardous professions, including agricultural activities.[1515] The new labor law also stipulates penalties pertaining to the employment of children, which include fines that range from 500 to 1,000 Egyptian pounds (about USD 81 to 163) per employee.[1516] The Children's Code and Labor Law of 1996 permits children ages 12 and older to participate in training for seasonal employment provided the work does not interfere with their health, growth, or school attendance.[1517] The law also prohibits children from working over 6 hours per day or for more than 4 consecutive hours, at night, overtime, or during their weekly day off.[1518] The Constitution does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons; however, it does prohibit forced labor and prostitution.[1519]

The MOMM is the government agency responsible for enforcing child labor laws.[1520] The government's enforcement of child labor laws is inconsistent. In state-owned enterprises, enforcement is adequate while enforcement in the private and informal sectors is inadequate.[1521]

The Government of Egypt ratified ILO Convention 138 on June 9, 1999, and ratified ILO Convention 182 on May 6, 2002.[1522]


[1469] ILO-IPEC, All About IPEC: Programme Countries, ILO-IPEC, [online] [cited June 13 2003]; available from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/ipec/about/countries/t_country.htm.

[1470] The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), NCCM, [online] [cited June 10, 2003]; available from http://www.nccm.org.eg/achievements.asp.

[1471] Ibid. See also Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Government Initiatives and Responses to Child Labour, USDOL, August 1, 2003, 6.

[1472] The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), NCCM Website.

[1473] U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6904, Cairo, August 18, 2003, 2.

[1474] U.S. Department of State official, electronic communication to USDOL official, February 23, 2004.

[1475] U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6904, 2.

[1476] U.S. Department of State official, electronic communication, February 23, 2004.

[1477] U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6904, 2.

[1478] ILO-IPEC official, electronic communication from ILO-IPEC, Spreadsheet of ILO-IPEC Projects, to USDOL official, August 16, 2003.

[1479] Ibid.

[1480] U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 8087, December, 2001.

[1481] Ayse Sule Caglar, ILO-IPEC official, electronic communication with USDOL official, January 7, 2002. See also U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6469, Cairo, October 2001.

[1482] The CLCs also organized village meetings to raise awareness of the nature and extent of the problem. See

U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6904, 2.

[1483] The Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt: Amendment Ratified on May 22, 1980, (May 22), Article 21; available from http://www.sis.gov.eg/egyptinf/politics/parlment/html/constit.htm. See also Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Government Initiatives, 2.

[1484] The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), NCCM Website.

[1485] Arab Republic of Egypt, Education Development: National Report of Arab Republic of Egypt from 1990 to 2000, National Center for Educational Research and Development (NCERD), Cairo, 2001, 17; available from www.ibe.unesco.org/International/ICE/natrap/Egypt.pdf.

[1486] World Bank, Egypt-Education Enhancement Program Project, World Bank, [online] 1996 [cited June 13, 2003]; available from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSServlet?pcont=details&eid=000009265_3970311113957. See also World Bank, The Arab Republic of Egypt Education Enhancement Program, staff appraisal report, 15750, World Bank, October 21, 1996, 1; available from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/1996/10/21/ 000009265_3970311113957/Rendered/PDF/multi_page.pdf.

[1487] Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Government Initiatives.

[1488] UNICEF, At a Glance: Egypt – The big picture, UNICEF, [online] [cited October 7, 2003]; available from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/egypt.html.

[1489] USAID, Education: Improving Basic Education to Meet Market Demand, USAID, [online] [cited August 29, 2003]; available from http://www.usaid-eg.org/detail.asp?id=9.

[1490] Ibid.

[1491] The successes are a result of programs that address barriers to children's education. See Kristin Moehlmann, Girl-friendly Schools Improve Egypt's Report Card, UNICEF, [online] [cited June 16, 2003]; available from www.unicef.org/information/mdg/mdg07.htm.

[1492] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2003 [CD-ROM], Washington, D.C., 2003. It should be noted that children under the age of 15 years comprise approximately 38 percent of Egypt's total population. See Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), Labour Force Survey, in ILO LABORSTA, [database online] 1999 [cited October 10, 2003]; available from http://laborsta.ilo.org/cgi-bin/brokerv8.exe.

[1493] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002: Egypt, Washington, D.C., March 31, 2003, Section 6d; available from http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18274.htm. See also El Daw A. Suliman and Safaa E. El-Kogali, "Why Are the Children Out of School? Factors Affecting Children's Education in Egypt" (paper presented at the ERF Ninth Annual Conference, American University in Sharja, United Arab Emirates, October 28, 2002), 20; available from http://www.erf.org.eg/9th%20annual%20conf/9th%20PDF%20Presented/Labor/L-P%20Suliman%20&%20Safaa.pdf.

[1494] At the request of NCCM, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) conducted a household survey on child labor in Egypt from 2001 to 2002. According to the survey, more than 70 percent of working children are in the agricultural sector. See Gihan Shahine, "Fighting Child Labour," Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), May 9-15, 2002; available from http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/585/eg5.htm. To date, the survey is being used by the NCCM for internal policy making. The survey is expected to be released following the Egyptian First Lady's launching of the national strategy on the elimination of the worst forms of child labor, perhaps in 2004. The figure released by the NCCM for the number of working children in 2001 was 2.4 million. See U.S. Department of State official, electronic communication, February 23, 2004.

[1495] As of 2001, over 1 million children ages 7 to 12 were working in cotton pest control. The work involves manually removing pests from cotton plants, extended exposure to highly hazardous pesticides, and rampant abuse by foremen. Under a 1965 decree by the Ministry of Agriculture, families were required to provide child workers to local cotton-farming cooperatives to control leafworm infestations between the months of May and July. See Human Rights Watch (HRW), Underage and Unprotected: Child Labor in Egypt's Cotton Fields, Vol. 13 No. 1 (E), Human Rights Watch, New York, January, 2001; available from http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/egypt/Egypt01.htm#P46_655. Responding to international pressure from organizations such as HRW and USAID, a new labor decree in June 2003 repealed the 1965 law and specifically prohibits the employment of children in cotton compressing or any work involving hazardous chemicals, including pesticides. See U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6904, 1.

[1496] As domestic workers, children are excluded from the protections of the labor code and are highly susceptible to domestic abuse and exploitation. See Karam Saber, "A Situational Analysis of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Egypt" (paper presented at the ECPAT International North Africa Regional Consultation on the Elimination of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Rabat, Morocco, June 13, 2003), 13; available from http://www.ecpat.net/eng/ecpat_inter/projects/monitoring/rabat/egypt.pdf. See also Dena Rashed, "Born an Adult," Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), June 19-25, 2003; available from http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/print/2003/643/fe2.htm.

[1497] A 2002 survey of urban street children found that in almost every case, the children were living and working on the street because of severe family crises. Their experiences as street children are also plagued with trauma as Egyptian police routinely arrest and detain them, often subjecting them to extreme forms of abuse. For a more detailed discussion, see Clarisa Bencomo, Charged with Being Children: Egyptian Police Abuse of Children in Need of Protection, Vol.15, No.1, Human Rights Watch (HRW), New York, February 2003, 9; available from http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/egypt0203/egypt0203.pdf.

[1498] Ibid.

[1499] Due in part to the extremely taboo nature of discussion on any sexual issue in Egypt, particularly involving children, information on the extent of commercial sexual exploitation of children is limited. See Saber, "Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Egypt".

[1500] Caglar, electronic communication, January 7, 2002.

[1501] United Nations, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention: Addendum-Egypt, CRC/C/65/Add.9, Committee on the Rights of the Child, November 11, 1999; available from www.unhchr.ch/TBS/DOC.NSF/385c2add1632f4a8c12565a9004dc311/8f1898b2a712708c802568b200501ed2/$FILE/G9945502.doc.

[1502] This study was based on sample of 355 male workers ages 7 to 19 years. F. Curtale and et al., "Anaemia among Young Male Workers in Alexandria, Egypt," Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, 6 5/6 (September-November 2000); available from www.emro.who.int/Publications/EMHJ/0605/20.htm.

[1503] U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6469.

[1504] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Egypt.

[1505] Saber, "Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Egypt", 6. See also Dr. Mohamed Y. Mattar, "Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, in Countries of the Middle East," Fordham International Law Journal 26 721 (March 2003), 10, n133; available from http://209.190.246.239/article.pdf. See also The Protection Project, Human Rights Report on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children: A Country-by-Country Report on a Contemporary Form of Slavery, Washington, D.C., 2002; available from http://209.190.246.239/ver2/cr/Egypt.pdf. See also U.S. Embassy-Cairo, electronic communication to USDOL official, February 26, 2004.

[1506] Constitution of Egypt, Articles 18 and 20. See also UNESCO, Egypt National Report: Education For All 2000 Assessment, prepared by National Centre for Educational Research and Development, pursuant to UN General Assembly Resolution 52/84, October 1999; available from http://www2.unesco.org/wef/countryreports/egypt/contents.html#cont. Despite the constitutional guarantees to universal education, in practice, education is not free, and parents are increasingly responsible for both the direct and indirect costs of education. In fact, Egyptian law allows for public schools to charge fees for services, insurance, and equipment. The 2000 Egypt Demographic Health Survey found median family expenditures per child among children ages 6 to 15 attending public schools were 133.9 LE for registration, tuition, uniforms, textbooks, supplies and other educational materials (approximately USD 36 at the time). See Bencomo, Charged with Being Children, 11. For currency conversion, see Oanda.com, FXConverter, in FXConverter, [online] [cited October 10, 2003]; available from http://www.oanda.com/convert/classic.

[1507] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2003. For a more detailed discussion on the relationship between education statistics and work, see the preface to this report. See also Ragui Assaad, Deborah Levison, and Nadia Zibani, "The Effect of Child Work on School Enrollment in Egypt" (paper presented at the ERF Eighth Annual Conference, Cairo, January 2002); available from http://www.erf.org.eg/html/Labor_8th/Theeffectof child-Zibani&Assaad.pdf.

[1508] Twice as many girls as boys never attend school. See The American University in Cairo, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2000 (EDHS), [online] 2000 [cited October 14, 2003]; available from http://www.aucegypt.edu/src/girlseducation/statistics_edhs2000.htm.

[1509] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2003.

[1510] For a more detailed discussion on the relationship between education statistics and work, see the preface to this report.

[1511] Mothers of children who had dropped out or never attended school overwhelmingly cited cost as the reason, and more than half specifically cited a need for the child's labor. See Suliman and El-Kogali, "Why Are the Children Out of School?" 16-17. See also Bencomo, Charged with Being Children, 11-12.

[1512] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Committee on the Rights of the Child – NGO Alternative Report, CRC.26/Egypt, prepared by NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child, pursuant to Article 44 on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, January 2001, 24; available from http://www.crin.org/docs/resources/treaties/CRC.26/egypt_ngo_report.pdf.

[1513] Khalid Abdalla, "Take a Long Look: When is a Child Not a Child?," Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), November 11-17, 1999; available from http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/1999/455/feat2.htm. See also, Bencomo, Charged with Being Children.

[1514] Law 84/2002 grants the Minister of Social Affairs the authority to dissolve any NGO that the state determines to be "threatening national unity [or] violating public order or morals." NGOs are further prohibited from receiving funds from abroad, affiliating with international organizations, or from selecting board members, without the state's approval. The law further stipulates that NGOs may be dissolved at will, and any assets and property may be confiscated without a judicial order. The law establishes criminal penalties for unauthorized NGO activities, punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and substantial fines. Since the passage of the new law, a number of human rights organizations, including some working in the area of child labor, have been dissolved and leading NGO workers have been imprisoned. See (HRW) Human Rights Watch, Egypt's New Chill on Rights Groups: NGOs Banned, Activist Harassed, [press release] June 21 2003; available from http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/06/egypt062103.htm. See also U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Egypt, Section 4.

[1515] Occupations are defined as hazardous based on the definition of hazardous activities in ILO Convention 182. Decree 118 specifically prohibits employment in cotton compressing, leather tanning, and working in bars and auto repair shops or with explosives and chemicals (including pesticides). The decree identifies maximum allowable weights that male and female children are allowed to carry and stipulates that employers provide health care and meals for employed children and implement appropriate occupational health and safety measures in the work place. See U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6904, 1.

[1516] Fines double if the violation is repeated. Violations of articles pertaining to occupational health and safety result in imprisonment for a period of at least 3 months and/or a fine of up to 10,000 pounds (USD 1,634). See Ibid. For the currency conversions, see XE.COM, Universal Currency Converter, XE.COM, [Currency Converter] [cited August 29, 2003]; available from http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert.cgi.

[1517] United Nations, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties, Addendum: Egypt, CRC/C/65/Add.9, Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 11, 1999, para. 48; available from http://www.unhchr.ch/TBS/DOC.NSF/385c2add1632f4a8c12565a9004dc311/8f1898b2a712708c802568b200501ed2/$FILE/G9945502.doc.

[1518] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Egypt, Section 6d.

[1519] Ibid., Section 6f.

[1520] U.S. Embassy-Cairo, unclassified telegram no. 6904.

[1521] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Egypt, Section 6d.

[1522] ILO, Ratifications by Country, in ILOLEX, [online database] [cited June 16, 2003]; available from http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/english/newcountryframeE.htm.

Search Refworld

Countries