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When Magda lost her father, she and her mother had to go and live with her uncles. At first, things went well. But after a while, Magda’s uncles started feeling the financial pinch. They started pressuring Magda’s mother to send Magda away to her grandmother, or for work in Cairo.

Magda became a part of Coptic Orphans just in time. Children like Magda who get sent to Cairo to work cleaning houses for the wealthy, or to extended family members, can end up suffering abuse.

Some in Egypt think of street children as criminals. NPR says that Street kids have gotten caught in the middle during Egypt’s revolutionary demonstrations, and often ended up the ones arrested.

But child labor and abuse are common threads in the stories of most children who end up seeking a better life on the streets of Egypt.

A UN estimate is that 98% of children on the streets got there because of poverty and lack of education in their families. Of those, it was a break in family structure that pushed 62% or more onto the streets, such as the death, abandonment, or long-term illness of a parent. Losing a father can especially mean trouble in a family already barely hanging on through poverty. Boys as young as 10 become the breadwinners for the family and girls can get sent away as servants or married off, leaving both vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

A old but vivid UNICEF Paper, Street Children in Egypt: from the Home to the Street to inappropriate corrective institutions traces that journey well for many children.

Some highlights:

  • Street children are nearly all there because of difficult family situations, with poverty, being paternal-orphaned, having to work and dealing with abuse the main factors. Even if the police bring them back to their families, it probably won’t resolve the real issue.
  • Street children fear going to institutions almost as much as going back to their families. Orphanages are included in this, and outcomes for most children who end up in orphanages aren’t very good.

So what’s the solution?

It seems to begin and end with families. So Coptic Orphans’ approach is a big piece of the solution: reach children who have lost a father from the poorest areas of Egypt–the children most at risk of ending their education to work or get married early–resolve their family’s poverty, keep them in school, give them the protection and mentorship of a volunteer who visits them every week, find and end any abuse, and connect them to  opportunities.

What do you think? What other solutions are there, and what more can we do?