CAIRO: The new anti-human trafficking law is an important step but it is overdue, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) Hafez Abu Saeda told Daily News Egypt Tuesday.
“At first the government totally denied this phenomenon existed in Egypt. Then it admitted it and [decided] to pass a law,” he added.
“I think the law is a preliminary step towards admitting that human trafficking crimes are committed on a wide scale and in different forms in Egypt.”
Nevertheless, lawmakers argue that the law is not late.
“We instantly responded to the draft law submitted by the Ministries of Family and Population and Foreign Affairs. Had they presented it a year ago, we would have discussed it at that time,” MP Magdy Allam told Daily News Egypt.
Allam explained that the law was first approved by cabinet before it was presented to the People’s Assembly. “It took us no more than a month after the government pushed the law to parliament.”
According to the new law that was passed on Sunday, victims of human trafficking are not to be questioned for any crimes they committed under duress. The government has also said that it is committed to protect the victims by offering them an enabling environment that would help them reintegrate into society. A fund will also be established to give financial assistance to these victims.
On April 21, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo praised the strong political commitment of the Egyptian government to tackle human trafficking.
However, at a press conference wrapping up a 10-day visit to Egypt upon the invitation of the Egyptian government to evaluate the situation, she noted that there some challenges needed to be addressed in order to protect and respect the human rights of the victims of trafficking.
Ezeilo pointed out that that there were indications that trafficking for compulsory marriages, forced labor, transportation of human organs and body tissues may be much higher than the current estimates.
The PA adopted the new law to combat human trafficking one day before the press conference.
In June 2008, Egypt was severely criticized by the Trafficking in Persons Report published by the US State Department.
According to the report, Egypt is a transit country for women trafficked from Uzbekistan, Moldova, the Ukraine, Russia, and other Eastern European countries to Israel for sexual exploitation.
The country is also a source for children trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, the report added.
Some of Cairo’s estimated 1 million street children — both boys and girls — are exploited in prostitution.
In addition, wealthy men from the Gulf reportedly travel to Egypt for “temporary marriages” with Egyptian women, including, in some cases, girls who are under the legal age of 18, in unions often facilitated by the girl’s parents as well as marriage brokers. Some Egyptian cities have also been singled out as destinations for sex tourism.
“Reports published by entities like the UN and the US State Department exposing such facts … shocked Egyptian public opinion, which made the government eventually make a move,” Abu Saeda said.