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Egyptian children trade childhood for money

Written by: Staff
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CAIRO, Dec 4 (Reuters) Mohamed Gad walks barefoot through the muddy tannery, seemingly not bothered by the acrid odours of chemicals and the stink of unprocessed skins.

He places piles of shaved leather on a cart, pulls it across the workshop and unloads the lot next to the colouring drums where the leather is cleaned and tanned using chrome.

Tall and well-built, Gad joined the tannery shortly before turning 15, after working in several menial jobs for four years since quitting school.

''The school was failing me every year and still charged me money, so I quit,'' he said while arranging the leather on the cart. ''Now I want to learn this craft to make money out of it.'' Helping Gad was Mohamed, who looked younger but was too shy to speak.

Around 2.7 million children work in Egypt, or about 10 per cent of the under-14 population, official figures show. The majority work in agriculture, mainly harvesting crops and hand-picking pests off cotton.

Hundreds of thousands of children, many of them homeless, also toil in menial jobs at tanneries and garages, or sell tissues and newspapers at traffic lights.

''There is abject poverty in Egypt, so families use children as breadwinners,'' said Nevine Osman, child labour expert for the the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Cairo.

Gad says he earns about 56 dollars a month, more than some state employees. He sends half the money to his family in Assiut, a poor area in Upper Egypt.

Mahmoud Mortada, who runs a non governmental organisation helping children who work at pottery shops, said many families approve of children working.

''There is a social acceptance among families of child labour,'' he said. ''People are unaware of the dangers of children working for more than 10 hours a day in front of a stove.'' ''OUR PARENTS ARE THE REASON'' Gad's tannery is in Cairo's working class area of Magra al-Oyoun, where streams of sewage run along narrow, unpaved alleys and piles of animal waste are left to rot.

At a shelter run by Hope Village, an Egyptian NGO helping street children, 12-year-old Wagdy Abdel-Aziz says he was paid to roam the streets to collect plastic between dusk and dawn to avoid detection by the authorities.

The shelter hosts around 25 homeless children each day, offering hot meals, showers and beds.

MORE REUTERS LL RN1331

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