Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
A demonstrator in Cairo runs with an injured child during clashes with security forces last month. A growing number of children are participating in anti-government protests, and their numbers are rising among the casualties.
A demonstrator in Cairo runs with an injured child during clashes with security forces last month. A growing number of children are participating in anti-government protests, and their numbers are rising among the casualties. Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
In Egypt, a disturbing trend has emerged in recent clashes between protesters and security forces: children placing themselves on the front lines.
Activists say several have been killed or wounded in recent months by gunfire and tear gas. Plus, 1 out of every 4 protesters thrown in jail following clashes in December was a child.
Their advocates say most, if not all, of these kids live on Cairo's streets, and that they see the revolution as a way to escape their isolation from society.
Every Friday, crowds of Egyptians gather in Cairo to chant slogans against their military rulers. But recently, a small group tried to bring attention the plight of street children who take part in demonstrations — a problem few protesters like to talk about.
They shout that the ruling generals should be ashamed for killing or jailing the children.
Rally organizer Amira Abdelhamid hands the children who show up helium-filled balloons.
Eleven-year-old Ahmed Adel says he likes going to protests to check out what's going on. Ahmed admits he throws stones at the soldiers and then runs away.
Partners In The Revolution
Abdelhamid lauds children like Ahmed for braving bullets, beatings and tear gas on the front lines with other protesters.
Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images
A protester shows a picture of his son, who was killed at a rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Dec. 23. Soldiers at the rally were taped beating female protesters, sparking international outrage. Advocates say there has not been similar anger over the deaths of children.
A protester shows a picture of his son, who was killed at a rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Dec. 23. Soldiers at the rally were taped beating female protesters, sparking international outrage. Advocates say there has not been similar anger over the deaths of children. Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images
The 20-year-old university student says the children are valuable partners in the Egyptian revolution given their speed, agility and small size, which make it harder for security forces to stop them.
She adds that it is important to recognize their contribution, which is why she and a teen acquaintance organized the rally.
"I wasn't communicating the message of whether it was good or bad because I don't know. It's bad for them, but it's good, it helps us as well, it helps us in the front lines. I was just saying thank you," Abdelhamid says.
Abdelhamid is frustrated that only a few dozen people showed up at the rally. Many more demonstrated nearby against Egyptian troops for attacking female protesters last month.
The photo of one veiled woman stripped down to her blue bra and being dragged by soldiers who kicked and beat her drew worldwide condemnation.
Abdelhamid says the story of an Egyptian boy who was shot by soldiers during the same series of protests drew far less attention.
In a YouTube video of the incident, rescue workers try to stop the frightened teen from bleeding to death from a bullet wound to his chest.
"A lot of controversy happened about the women's march and about that girl who was stripped. [People asked,] 'Why ... was she there?'" Abdelhamid says. "But I don't think anyone would say, 'Why were the children there?'"
Finding Comfort Among Protesters
It's a question the ruling generals are asking, however.
At a recent news conference, Gen. Adel Emara accused activists he did not name of paying children and teens to throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces.
The general also showed a poor-quality video of a boy named Sami confessing to his interrogator that he received the equivalent of $33 to attack buildings.
Many children's rights activists in Egypt suspect the confession was coerced. They accuse the generals of using the kids to try to discredit the pro-democracy movement and justify soldiers' use of deadly force.
Lawyer Tarek El Awady is representing 82 children arrested for taking part in last month's violent demonstrations outside the Cabinet and parliament buildings.
He says these street children sought shelter, food and companionship from protesters encamped downtown.
Abdelhamid says the children tell her and other protesters that they are the only Egyptians who make them feel they are important.