Although one year has passed since the incident, sorrow still prevails at the residence of student Marwan Mustafa. His injuries rendered his right hand impaired, and left his family devastated.
Marwan is a victim of the Dual Training System (DTS), a technical education system known as ‘Mubarak–Kohl’. The Ministry of Education is selling this dream, which has turned into a nightmare at some of the sweatshops and schools involved in training the 50,000 enrolled students; representing 2% of the total number of technical trainees in Egypt.
This investigation exposes the employment of female and male students enrolled in this programme as cheap labour at private sector factories under the pretence of vocational training, in violation of the Child Labour Law no. 12 of 1996 which was amended by Law 126 of 2008. This law stipulates the legal working hours, safety procedures and measures which these sweatshops violate. The Ministry of Education’s lack of monitoring and evaluation of the programme has manifested into systematic negligence, leaving some students severely injured, with some injuries even amounting to death.
ARIJ monitored violations in 5 governorates: Giza, Port Said, Sharkia, Fayoum and Suez, and gathered testimonies from 50 students and their families, including 20 interviews, 10 surveyed testimonies and 20 student complaints collected by the Egyptian Centre for the Right to Education.
The violations varied and included abuse, ill treatment, permanent disability, two deaths documented by the investigation, in addition to one death reported by Egyptian newspapers.
Between 2015 and 2018 the percentages of violations from those questioned were as follows:
President Hosni Mubarak and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl agree on a programme of Egyptian-German technical cooperation. The Mubarak-Kohl Initiative-Dual System (MKI-DS) entered a preparatory phase the following year with a grant agreement between the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, and Egypt’s Ministry of Education for the amount of 28.5 million Euros.
The Mubarak–Kohl initiative is launched in the 10th of Ramadan City of the Sharqia governorate, offering a limited number of vocational trainings which have now mounted to 49.
The Egyptian-German cooperation results in a total of 24,000 graduates.
The Enhancement of the Egyptian Dual System (EEDS) is initiated upon President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s visit to Germany.
On February 5, 2019, Marwan Mustafa, a 15-year-old student at a Mubarak-Kohl School in October 6th City started his vocational training at Factory “F” for textile processing and printing in the city’s second industrial zone. Upon the directive of the Ministry of Education, for four days a week, he would receive vocational training.
However, according to Marwan, what was meant to be vocational training, entailed fulfilling the requests of supervisors, also known as “Ostas’” (masters of the trade), which were limited to running errands: ‘bring food’; ‘sweep the floor’; ‘move that box’, etc., and provided no vocational training in printing. Marwan expressed how, even when he tried to stand next to the Ostas’ to learn by observation as they worked, he was shooed away and told to “sit aside”.
On the day of the incident, one of the Ostas’ asked him to clean a machine with paint thinner, despite knowing of Marwan’s allergy. Marwan requested that he use gloves, however, the Osta’s response was: “Do I still have to wait on you son of a b****”. Marwan was shocked, froze, and found himself fending with his bare hand against a pair of scissors flying towards him. This incident left the flexor tendon of his right hand’s middle finger injured, resulting in surgery and a two week-cast, after which he began physiotherapy, as documented in the police report and the final medical report dated February 26, 2019.
To date, Marwan’s family continues to pursue the case with the prosecution, all while seeking to obtain a second forensic report in an attempt to fairly redress their son’s grievance, especially considering that he is no longer able to train vocationally, and has been transferred to a clerical position at another factory where he keeps attendance records and simple work using his left hand.
On April 2, 2019, an official request was sent to Factory ‘F’ for textile processing and printing via registered mail to inquire about their stance on the incident, however, to date we have not received any response.
Students enroll in the Dual Training System (DTS) at factories in accordance with an agreement made between the school, the factory, the student, and the regional unit in each governorate that serves as a mediator between schools and factories.
The second article of the agreement stipulates that the training facility is to deliver the required set of skills to students in line with the Ministry of Education’s plan; provide a safe space; and provide all industrial safety measures and protective clothing including instructions and training on how to use them. The factories are also required to abide by child laws pertaining to training. Article 9 further stipulates the remuneration of trainees, with first level trainees expected to receive 300 Egyptian pounds per month ($19); second level trainees, 400 Egyptian pounds ($25); and third level trainees, 500 Egyptian pounds ($32).
Most factories operate in violation of said articles, by, for example, not fully remunerating students; overworking students to up to 10 or 12 hours per day; abusing their power; and having students run errands unrelated to vocational training. This further mounts to direct violation of the provisions of Child Law which prohibits children from working over six hours, with a one hour break, given that no child should work more than four hours in a row.
Abdel Hafeez Tayel, head of the Egyptian Centre for the Right to Education believes that “factories breach the agreement and violate students’ rights due to the Ministry of Education’s lack of monitoring and evaluation of vocational training facilities, thus failing to live up to its role in protecting students.”
The decree issued by former minister of education, Al Hilali Al Shirbini, stipulates forming a supervisory committee in each governorate that includes representatives from the Ministry of Education and regional units, in addition to a teacher whose role is to visit factories once a week to follow up with students, and who is reimbursed for transportation.
Tayel added that “the training agreement itself places the student at the mercy of the owner of the factory”, because grading vocational work is left up to the discretion of facility owners. The Egyptian Centre for the Right to Education has documented testimonies of similar violations that students of the DTS have been subjected to, in a documentary entitled “Vocational Associate Degree”. It recorded testimonies from around 500 students from various governorates and further describes what the students of the Mubarak–Kohl initiative endured as a full breach of Children’s Rights.
The morning of May 29, 2018 marked the last breath taken by Macarius Shukri, a 15-year-old student at an October 6th school for dual training. He left his family, his home, his neighbourhood in Giza to seek an education, but never made it home alive, and instead became yet another victim of negligence.
Macarius would leave home at 7AM sharp for work at a food processing factory in Giza, before returning home at 7PM. At the end of the month he would receive 200-250 Egyptian Pounds ($12-$15) without the slightest complaint despite the long and tiresome hours he would endure, according to his brother, Mina Shukri.
Macarius was pronounced dead after sustaining injuries from an incident in the factory’s elevator, which at the time was loaded with heavy sheets of steel that crushed him, according to the victim’s brother.
On May 29, 2018, the Ministry of Education published a statement conveying its condolences to Macarius’s family, and its intent to open an investigation into the tragic accident in order to uphold the victim’s forensic and insurance rights, and prevent such accidents from reoccurring. However, to date, there has been no indication that the ministry ever conducted such an investigation.
Macarius’s brother filed a report against the factory, at Kardasa police station, accusing them of negligence. However, his family dropped the charges in return for financial compensation.
Mina stated: “We had no other option; we dropped the charges in return for the compensation because there would be no chance of us winning the case against the factory.”
On April 2, 2019, ARIJ sent an official letter via registered mail to Factory ‘H’ for food processing. The letter included the documentation relevant to student abuse, exploitation, working hours in violation of the Child Labour Law, and the breech of agreement relevant to stipulated financial compensation, yet, again, to date, there has been no response.
Huda Ibrahim, a teacher at Al Sadat Industrial School for Girls in Suez, states that there are similar accidents that go unnoticed due to media blackouts: “Due to lack of monitoring and evaluation of factories no one holds them accountable for what happens to students on their premises.”
Another incident dates back to 2015, where Salma Saber Hussein, a female student at Esco Dual Training School, lost her life from an electrical shock while training at a clothing factory in the governorate of Al Qalyobia.
In Port Said, Basant Adel, a 2017 graduate of the Ahmad Zawil School for Dual Training says: “I used to work just like other workers at the factory; an average of 8 to 10 hours per day. I couldn’t wait to take my one hour break in two sessions just to get off my feet for a bit, but at the end of the month the employees used to get 2,000 Egyptian pounds while I only received 250 for the same work.”
Mohammad Zackaria Hassouneh, Deputy of School Activities at the Ahmad Zuwail School, and Chairman of Independent Teachers in Port Said, reported that teachers are constantly negotiating back-and-forth with factories in an attempt to improve the working conditions of students as much as possible.
He continued: “Despite all odds, schools have succeeded in making factories employ females in line with their respective vocational majors and further pursued commitment to the curricula. However, in terms of distributing students to schools, the dual training system puts all the power at the hands of regional units within each of the governorates, thus rendering schools powerless.”
The situation is not any different in Fayyoum. Shaimaa A., a student in the Textile Department of the Technical School of Al-Hadkah in Fayoum, says: "We are asked to produce 100-200 pieces a day; we are overworked — how on earth can we maintain our health?!"
During a working day, the longest break female trainees have at the Factory ‘T’ for clothing in the village of Al Azb in Fayoum, is 20 minutes, according to their testimonies.
Injuries are another norm among female students, says R.M., Shaymaa’s classmate at both the school and the factory: “Our hands are always susceptible to cuts and wounds either from the machinery or the clippers during the finishing process, yet there isn’t a pharmacy on the premises.”
Mahmoud Al-Badawi, child legislations expert and head of the Egyptian Association for the Assistance of Juveniles, describes the conditions under which students work in the Mubarak-Kohl Initiative as “a form of child exploitation, and the worst form of employment ever.”
On February 7, 2019 a formal letter was sent to Factory ‘T’ via registered mail and despite acknowledging receipt of the letter, the factory has made no effort to respond to any of the violations listed in the letter.
At Sharqia Governorate, 2017-graduate Ahmad Al Attar, a former student at ‘Q.M’ School and a factory in the village of Josaq, recalled an incident during his training: “A worker physically assaulted me, and left me needing four stitches, which I had to arrange at my own expense since there isn’t an in-house physician on the premises. The perpetrator was only subjected to a 3-day salary cut.”
He continued: “There are no forms of redress or complaint mechanisms available to students. The principal does not care about what happens to us at the factory, and when the ministry sends a committee to school, we complain to them yet they all turn a blind eye.”
Despite contacting each of the factories listed in this investigation via registered mail, in order to give them the chance to respond, none of them did.
On November 15, 2018, the German Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ) responded to an email sent on July 24 of the same year, in its capacity as the donor of the Enhancement of the Egyptian Dual System (EEDS).
The response stated: “The best way to meet the requirements of the dual education system is to subject the trainees to a real work environment for a span of three years, and since trainees do not have the same set of skills, expertise, or productivity as the actual employees it is not possible for them to receive the full salaries.”
It further noted that its support to the ministry included providing the factories with onsite training on professional health and safety.
Deputy Minister of Education for Technical Education Affairs, Mohammad Mujahid, said: “I do not like to bury my head in the sand and deny that there are negative aspects, however on the other hand let’s not exaggerate and generalise these issues so we do not lose the dual education system.”
In response to the exploitation the students face at factories, he said: “Student exploitation is wrong and we will find a way to avoid it.”
However, to date, the ministry has not announced taking any action to rectify the conditions which the deputy minister acknowledged as wrong.
On the other hand, Mohammad Hilmi Hilal, Representative of the National Centre for the Development of Human Resources, and also member of the Egyptian Businessmen’s Association (one of the monitoring and supervisory parties), did not see a problem in having students work 8 hours a day, stating: “We need our children to be men and endure hardship as long as there is a good income.”
He further acknowledged violations committed by some regional units and investor associations relevant to child exploitation as cheap labour. He then clarified that the Businessmen’s Association had requested that the ministry have all supervisory parties report to the national centre, all while, similarly to the deputy minister, promising to work on rectifying the mistakes to ensure system reform.
Regarding the incidents students are subjected to, he commented saying: “So long as an industry exists, there will be injuries”; indicating that there is an emergency fund replenished by investors' donations to deal with such accidents.
Having multiple supervisory parties, including schools, regional units in governorates, the National Centre for the Development of Human Resources, and the ministry, allowed each party to point fingers and shift blame. However, this fact does not remove the Ministry of Education’s responsibility towards protecting students of the Mubarak-Kohl Initiative from the inhumane working conditions of these factories; especially considering that it remains the main party responsible.