The Children of Garbage City Highlight Egypt’s Broader Problems with Child Poverty

ICC Note:

The situation of the Zabaleen in Egypt’s Garbage City highlights the broader problem of an increase of child poverty while critical support languishes. These are Christians who live, work, eat, and sleep among the garbage collected from across Cairo and brought into their homes. The children join their parents in collecting and sorting the garbage; the opportunity for them to simply be a child is nonexistent. Their situation is only the tip of the iceberg regarding Egypt’s child poverty. Because Christians are treated like second-class citizens, many of their children are forced to leave behind their childhood and join their parents in pursuit of income generating activities.


01/14/2018 Egypt (Al Monitor) –  In the days leading up to Coptic Christmas on Jan. 7, Ezzat Naem, the founder and director of the Spirit of the Youth Association, was preparing gifts of clothing for some of the children of Cairo’s Manshiyat Nasr neighborhood. Naem’s organization, established in 2004, seeks to educate children from Manshiyat Nasr about how to recycle safely along with reading and mathematics.

A suburb in the hills of Mokattam, in eastern Cairo, Manshiyat Nasr is home to the Zabaleen, the mostly impoverished garbage collectors who recycle much of Cairo’s rubbish.

“About 60% of the kids are outside the formal education system,” Naem explained to Al-Monitor. “The opportunity for school is out because they go with their fathers to collect the garbage from households and merchants. Once they return, it’s too late for school.”

“They don’t play like [other] kids,” Naem said. “They don’t have fun, so they don’t have something nice, except some days they go to church. So they are losing a lot of their birthrights as children.”

Among the Zabaleen, children often start work as garbage collectors at the age of 7 or 8 to supplement their parents’ low incomes. For the boys, work means waking up with their fathers at 4 a.m. and collecting rubbish from apartments across Cairo and returning home at about 11 a.m.

After the boys and men return, work begins for the women and girls, during school hours, sorting through the rubbish to select what can be recycled and what can be given to their pigs.

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