By Mohamed El-Lihweety
This story is part of a special reporting project, “What Lies Beyond”. It features students across six universities, who are reporting in-depth stories and investigations on many of Egypt’s current events and issues.
Three-year-old Abdallah used to take his small bicycle for a ride in the populous touristic district of Al-Hussein, but on 1 July 2014, he disappeared and never came back.
Abdallah, is among 207 other children who went missing during the same month across Egypt, according to reports filed at the child rescue department at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM). 5,550 reports were filed at the department during 2014, 1,336 of them from Cairo.
After a three-month Daily News Egypt investigation, meeting with families of missing children, researchers, lawyers and officials, it appeared that that some children who went missing were systematically abducted by anonymous people in a strikingly similar manner. Abeer, Abdallah’s mother, who works as a street vendor in Al-Hussein panicked when her son did not show up after a long period of time.
“I went to look for him, asking every single person in the place, but I only found his bicycle,” she told Daily News Egypt.
Surrounding eyewitnesses described to Abeer the features of a woman who they said they saw taking Abdallah, leaving his bicycle behind.
According to their description, Abeer filed a police report and the suspected woman was arrested. In police report 4979, which was exclusively obtained by Daily News Egypt, the woman confessed that she “sold the boy for EGP 200, a dress and 3 kg of meat” to someone whom she said she does not know.
The woman was acquitted two weeks later by the misdemeanour prosecution of Gamaliya on 13 July 2014 and the case was closed, yet Abdallah is still missing to date. The woman changed her testimony before the prosecution, saying “the police officer forced her to confess committing the abduction”, the police report stated.
The missing children phenomenon is not a recent development. However, their numbers have dramatically increased over the past three years, reaching a peak in 2014. The types of reports on missing cases vary between different kinds of violence, from street begging to organ trafficking, rape and even murder.
“There are many forms of child abduction. Mainly, the economic motive leads many people to do such inhumane, brutal acts to get money. Additionally, the security unrest over the past years made the process easier for kidnappers,” said Ahmed Hanafy, the director of the child rescue department at the NCCM.
He added: “We received at least 5,500 reports during 2014. Sometimes the kidnapper turns out to be from the kidnapped child’s family, out of vengeance. We have a second level when the child is found with a beggar. If he is not his child, then this case is considered child trade. Otherwise, when a child goes missing and is never found, this case is considered an organ trafficking case, and it is usually with kids under six years old.”Asmaa Basiony, a 27-year-old mother, lost her baby in February near the Central Security Forces camp at El-Darrassa. The baby’s three-year-old sister, who accompanied him then, said: “A car passed by, people came out of it, and quietly took my little brother and left.”
Similarly, when Youseef was playing in front of his home in Faisal, Giza, his mother went to look for him, but she could not find a trace of him. When she asked nearby drivers at a tuk-tuk parking, one of them recognised him and told her: “A woman took him with in of the tuk-tuks, he was crying and screaming; we thought he was her son.”
Despite endeavours by the missing children’s families to report the abductions to the police, their children never returned. According to the police reports on a group of missing children, their status is recorded as “missing” instead of “abducted”.
Mahmoud Lotfy, the father of a missing nine-year-old, went to file a report at the police station. “It was Tuesday, late at night. We received a phone call; a person asked me for EGP 150,000 ransom to return my child,” he said.
Police officers tracked the phone number and arrested the caller. He confessed his partnership with another guy. The police is keeping him in detention to date, while the whereabouts of his other partner and the missing child are still unknown. The police report stated: “The other kidnapper had run away with the child, and the status of Lotfy’s child is ‘missing’.”
When asked about Lotfy’s case, Major General Magdy Abdel Aal of the Giza police station, aggressively said: “We tracked the number of the blackmailer, and arrested at least three or four of the gang members. They said their fifth partner has the child and we are currently searching for them.”
In general, if the family of an abducted child is not contacted for a ransom, the police considers the case as a “missing child” case. When questioned on the families’ allegations that the police response in the cases is very relaxed, Abdel Aal said: “A Giza police officer managed to get back a four-year-old missing child within 24 hours.”
He further said: “Missing child cases are referred to orphanages, while we deal with abduction cases through tracking the numbers used for blackmailing the family.”
Article 1 of laws 288 and 291, regarding the abduction of children, states that the penalty of abducting children below 12 years is five years in prison. The penalty increases to 15 years if the kidnapped child was a girl who was raped.
Haitham Al-Gendy, a lawyer who deals with missing child cases, told Daily News Egypt: “There is significant shortcoming from both parties, the families for not escorting their children, and the police for not following up with the complaints.”
Most of the cases Al-Gendy dealt with were very similar. “The majority of the cases are reported on Saturdays, with [the abductions] occurring using very similar techniques. Usually no-one calls the family; they take the child and flee. This raises the suspicion that [the kidnappers] are trading their organs, or God knows what else,” he said.
Al-Gendy added: “There should be increased efforts in activating the role of community police, and in getting back the children of ‘common’ families equally as children of ‘influential’ families.”
In tears, Youssef’s mother said: “I wonder, if my lost son was any of the officials’ grandchildren, would they still ignore him?”
“I need an official to help look for my son. I have not done anything wrong to this country to be deprived from my son,” she concluded.