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CRIME : Recent Incidents of Violence Against Children Shock Cairo

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In this crumbling metropolis where being an adult is difficult enough, the case of 7-year-old Emad Nagah Madi has the city wondering what is happening to its children.

Emad, like millions of other Egyptian children, took a job in an auto upholstery shop instead of going to school, to help make ends meet for the family. About a month ago, the shopkeeper next door sent him to fetch a sandwich. Emad must have grumbled. The man pulled him over to an air compressor, inserted the hose in his anus and turned it on.

Emad was left rolling in pain in the dust, his intestines ripped open. Now he lies in a hospital bed in downtown Cairo with a colostomy bag attached to his stomach. Guards stand outside the door; they fear his stepmother will snatch him away to prevent him from testifying against the shop owner, who police believe has paid the family to keep quiet.

The case, which has launched an uproar in Egypt, is only the worst of many incidents of violence against children in recent months in a country largely unaccustomed to any kind of violent crime:

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* A 17-year-old boy was drenched in gasoline and set afire in front of his mother in the southern Cairo suburb of Maadi after his mother, who reputedly was fencing stolen goods, had a falling-out with her alleged suppliers.

* Last month, a 10-year-old boy who worked in a bakery had his hand held inside the roaring oven by an angry employer.

* A 9-year-old boy working in an auto repair shop earlier this year had his skull fractured when he was hit with a wrench by an angry boss.

* A 12-year-old girl working as a maid was repeatedly tied down and tortured with a spoon heated on a stove. She had suffered severe burns by the time police interceded.

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Sociologists, law enforcement officials and psychiatrists say that such incidents reflect a number of social factors working together to destabilize Egyptian families.

Thousands of families have become effectively fatherless in recent years as Egyptian men have migrated to Europe and the oil-rich Persian Gulf countries for higher-paying jobs. Families are increasingly penny-pinched as inflation has sent prices soaring, and it is now not uncommon to send a child as young as 7 or 8 out to get a job paying as little as $1 a day.

The National Center for Sociological Research has estimated that 2 million to 3 million Egyptian children have forgone school to take jobs.

Egyptian law allows 12-year-olds to enter the job market, but not in dangerous fields such as heavy industry or mines, nor in places that would present a moral hazard, such as nightclubs.

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Police officials say there is as yet no trend toward violence against children. “The man who committed the attack on Emad is a sadist, and whether he had a child or an adult standing in front of him, he would have done the same thing,” said Capt. Hussein Sawah, deputy director of Cairo’s youth crimes division.

“The problem in most of these cases is due to the social changes that occurred in the last couple of decades: economic and political reasons that led to a deterioration in situations for a large number of families, that eventually were forced to put children to work,” said Ahmed Magdoub of the national social research center.

“The problem is a very complicated one. It is very easy to say children should be in school, not working. But you cannot tell these people to take their children to school and starve.”


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