Monday, February 28, 2011

Call for OHEL Leadership Change!

Press Release - Ohel Jewish Childrens Home and Family Services

Call for OHEL Leadership Change

CONTACT:The Voice of Justice - VoiceOfJustice613@gmail.com
Sunday, February 27, 2011

The recent revelations about OHEL Jewish Children’s Home and Family Services in Brooklyn written by Hella Winston of the Jewish Week on February 24, 2011 were, without question, profoundly disturbing, but sadly, not entirely unexpected.

For many years OHEL has been awash with rumors and allegations regarding their staff not reporting incidences of sexual abuse to proper authorities as required by law. In addition, many supervisors at OHEL have reportedly instructed staff not to report the allegations of sex abuse. These allegations of OHEL’s non-compliance with Federal and state reporting guidelines put the entire organization in jeopardy of losing its government funding and non-profit status. It also puts senior staff and Board of Directors in jeopardy of possible criminal prosecution.

Further, serious concerns have surfaced in the community concerning the partnership and relationship between OHEL and KOL TZEDEK, which is a project of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, created to combat sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community. KOL TZEDEK's mission statement calls for providing support and assistance to victims and their families. Unfortunately this relationship appears to be a political one, without any substance at all. OHEL, a major partner with KOL TZEDEK, has not provided any emergency support to victims or families of the victims, especially in the recent high profile sex cases in the community, all of which resulted in convictions.

Neither David Mandel, the CEO of OHEL, nor any one of OHEL’s staff, have ever been present at any of the court trials relating to sexual abuse in our community, nor have they reached out to any of the families involved with any compassion or assistance. OHEL, which is one of the largest non-profit agencies in the New York City area, providing mental health and foster care services, should have reached out and offered its services to victims, alleged victims, and their families.

As Rabbi Yosef Blau, a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, pointed out, OHEL is an extremely important institution in our community and operates vital programs that are crucial and needed for the families in our community. However, these troubling issues cannot be swept under the rug. They must be dealt with in order to banish the dark clouds that impede OHEL’s overall effectiveness and compliance.

We respectfully ask OHEL’s Board of Directors to initiate an external investigation. A team of independent professionals, not associated with OHEL, must be invited in to carry out these duties. The external investigation and the implementation of their suggestions will hopefully bring about reinvigorated and honest leadership to the helm of OHEL. This investigation should be similar to the investigation of the Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) wherein confidence was successfully restored, (specifically after the Baruch Lanner scandal), resulting in the hiring of a new executive leader. We hope for similar results in this matter.

We firmly believe that bring new leadership to OHEL, specifically a CEO with clinical experience, to guide the agency through this pivotal and difficult period in the agency’s history, will help to restore OHEL’s original vision and vital mission of protecting Jewish children and strengthening Jewish families.***

Excerpts from The Jewish Week's piece by noted author Hella Winston PhD:

Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani (spiritual adviser) of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and a longtime advocate for abuse survivors, told The Jewish Week referring to the mother’s case as well as others of which he has knowledge.

“They have been the point men for the community [on this issue] and they have accepted the approach of the community, which is never to go to the police. They endlessly [hide] behind technicalities,” Rabbi Blau continued.

“Because [Ohel is] an agency that does wonderful things for children,” Rabbi Blau added, referring to the homes and services Ohel provides for foster children, it is not an agency he would like to see disappear. However, with respect to the handling of child sexual abuse, Rabbi Blau believes that Ohel “is the problem, in a nutshell. They [have shown that they are] not able to deal with the situation that they are legally required and morally required [to deal with]. The workers are all sincere people,” the rabbi added. “Solutions [to the current problem] would involve changing [Ohel’s] leadership. [And] you will know there’s change when they start reporting.”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do It My Vey - Gay Tzu Der Po-Li-Tzei!!!


Brooklyn ‘Rabbi’ Accused Of Molesting Girl Since She Was 12
Community Upset By Charges Against Nechemya Weberman
February 25, 2011

By Pablo Guzmán, CBS 2 News

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A father was convinced his 16-year-old daughter was having a relationship with a 17-year-old boy, so the father set up a hidden camera in the house. What he recorded shocked him — what he saw the daughter doing to please the young man.

They are Orthodox Jews, in Brooklyn. The father had already taken the daughter to seek counseling with Rabbi Nechemya Weberman in years past. Just as he had taken her older sister. It is a common practice in the community for a respected person to be a counselor, or serve as a therapist. Weberman is affiliated, police said, with Brooklyn’s United Talmudic Community, a yeshiva.

Now, the father went to the Brooklyn DA’s office with the tape, and Rabbi Weberman. The Brooklyn DA’s office has set up special channels of communication to bridge cultural gaps that might be beneficial to both sides. However, the more that investigators talked to the parties involved — especially when they spoke with them separately — the more that there were questions which indicated something was not right. Around Feb. 16, the girl told a counselor at school that the rabbi has been raping her for years. The counselor reported it, and when the investigators talked to her again, she claimed there were at least 16 incidents at 263 Classon Avenue, in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, which serves as Weberman’s home and office. It is where the counseling sessions took place. The girl told investigators it began in 2007, when she was 12; and continued through 2010.

Detectives assembled sufficient preliminary evidence to start a case; and arrested Weberman on Wednesday. He was brought to Brooklyn Criminal Court that night, and told he was being charged with rape, endangering the welfare of a child, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct against a child, and engaging in a criminal sexual act.

The Orthodox Jewish community that has gone to Weberman as a therapist and counselor, especially for young people, are in shock. Reeling. The debate has even gone to blogs on the Internet. But Weberman’s lawyer, George Farkas, told me, people should not jump to conclusions, warning that this all began within what he called “a dysfunctional family,” referring to the father setting up the hidden camera and the possibility that the daughter is striking out in anger against her father, who is trying to shut down her relationship with her boyfriend and slam Weberman in the process.

“The charges (against Weberman) are horrendous. They are disgusting. And they’re despicable. Not just — it’s absolutely awful. But what I will tell you is that this man will die before he’s branded a child molestor,” Farkas said.

Sources in the case said Weberman is not a licensed therapist. But on Friday NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly added one thing more: “The rabbi … is NOT a rabbi! He’s a 52-year-old male arrested for molestation of a young woman who is still a minor.”

After hearing this, I called Farkas, Weberman’s attorney. He took a deep breath.

“Have I asked to see his rabbinical diploma? No. Does he have a congregation? No. Does the Gentile world always understand when my world uses the term ‘rabbi’? No. I think you do, Pablo,” Farkas said. “We know each other. But many do not. Now: with that said, have people taken their children for years to see him as a counselor? Yes. Is he viewed as a therapist? Yes. Is he ‘respected’? Yes.”

Another respected member of the Brooklyn Orthodox community told me, “This is all very difficult for us. There is unfortunately a ‘tradition’, if you will, of the pedophile continuing to function, when he is in such a respected position. And the victim being ostracized. We have worked hard to change this. But it has been a long, uphill battle. Now, I do not know this man. But I will say this: since word began circulating, people are talking. Others are coming forward. I believe there may be as many as five other people who are preparing to report their own encounters with this man. We have to see what happens in the justice system.”

Some who are involved in the case have told me that is exactly what’s happening. More evidence is being presented, right now, to a grand jury.

Rabbi Weberman is due back in court March 9. Detectives are gathering information for a possible indictment.

Pediatrician in Abuse Case Killed Himself
Published: February 25, 2011

Dr. Melvin D. Levine, a nationally known pediatrician who was found dead last week, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a medical examiner said on Friday.

Levine, 71, was found in the woods near his Rougemont, N.C., home with a gunshot wound to his forehead. His death was reported a day after a class-action sexual abuse and malpractice suit was filed against him in Boston.

A report by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina said officers went to Dr. Levine’s home the night of Feb. 17 after his wife reported finding a suicide note, but they were not initially able to find his body. The contents of the note have not been released.

The Boston lawsuit charges that Dr. Levine performed unnecessary genital exams on 40 boys while at Children’s Hospital Boston from 1966 to 1985.

Although Dr. Levine, a Rhodes scholar, had long been dogged by charges of sexually abusing young male patients, he had maintained that he was innocent. He was never convicted on any abuse charge, and never faced criminal charges.

On Friday The Boston Globe reported that several men who said they had been molested as young boys had described encounters in which they said Dr. Levine groped, fondled or performed oral sex on them. One recalled a trip on which he and Dr. Levine were in the same bed, saying that when the doctor took off his clothes, he put his arm around the boy and fondled him.

Christopher Dean, now a 50-year-old architect in Roslindale, Mass., said Friday that for four years, starting when he was 9, he went twice a year to Dr. Levine’s office for a “checkup” that was simply an occasion for molestation.

“It started when he came to my school in Brookline, saw me in the nurse’s office, fondled me, and then said he would like to see me as a private patient,” said Mr. Dean, a plaintiff in the Boston suit, which will proceed against Mr. Levine’s estate. “I came out in tears and in shock, but didn’t tell anyone.”

Several plaintiffs said that Dr. Levine’s abuse had clouded their lives, and that they hoped for resolution in the lawsuit.

“It left me feeling very awkward; I never forgot it, and I always kept track of Dr. Levine,” said Donald Roy, now 46, who said he was abused by Dr. Levine at age 10, when he was having surgery at Children’s Hospital. “My mother knew what was going on because Dr. Levine invited me to visit his house, and I said I just wasn’t going to go, and I explained why. But she didn’t know what to do with it.”

Carmen Durso, a Boston lawyer for the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, filed his first suit against Dr. Levine in 2005, and followed with four more complaints before holding a news conference in 2008 at which he announced the charges. Those charges were resolved, but last week Mr. Durso held a news conference announcing the new complaints.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lessons From Libya - A Tale Of 2 Hats!

"Kadafi's biggest mistake was that he built his whole regime on pure fear," said Omar Amer, a member of the Libyan Youth Movement, a protest group that spreads its message through Facebook. "He totally abandoned civilizing Libya. He neglected education and development projects. He left the majority of his people in the dark ages and built his might on fear through torturing and killing political dissidents in public.

"But the fear that Kadafi built his empire with is gone, and that was his last shelter," Amer added.



Press Release - Meir Dascalowtiz
Statement from the Voice of Justice
In Defense of Abused Children

CONTACT: MARK M. APPEL (917) 804-3942 cell
FOR PUBLIC RELEASE Monday, February 21, 2011

On Wednesday, February 23, 2011, admitted serial child rapist, Meir Dascalowitz will appear in Kings County Supreme Court to plead to charges related to his many felony and misdemeanor sex crimes against children.

Dascalowitz’s charges include criminal sex acts with a child under 14, sexual misconduct with a minor, and sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14, almost 100 felony sexual abuse charges in total. Dascalowitz’s attorney is likely to have his client plead insanity. In order for our community to be safe, we need to show the public and Judge Riviezzo that we will not tolerate these crimes against our children and that we believe perpetrators of these heinous sex crimes should be held accountable in a court of law.

At previous court appearances, Dascalowitz has managed to garner support from individuals who mock, intimate, and harrass Dascalowitz’s victims and witnesses outside the hearings. The Voice of Justice is calling upon the Jewish community to gather in the courtroom on Wednesday February 23, 2011 at 9:00 AM to show support to victims of this dangerous admitted criminal, and their families.

To show your support of Dascalowitz’s victims, to demand justice, and to send a message that criminals who abuse children in the Jewish community deserve to and will be punished, please attend the Dascalowitz plea hearing below:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
9:00 AM
Kings County Supreme Court
320 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY
Judge Riviezzo

Monday, February 21, 2011



What I write below will likely not be news to any of the intelligent people who read this blog and support UOJ but may be news to some people on the fringe.

The most upsetting part of the whitewash meeting held at YTT in June in which David Mandel and Aron Twerski spoke – besides Rabbi Twerski’s undeserved, premature, ill-timed and ill-advised “haskamah” of Margo as “a man of great honor” - is this part of the story as reported by Jennifer Friedlin in the Jewish Week:

“[W]hen an audience member asked whether sex education could help to strengthen children’s knowledge of inappropriate behavior and empower them to come forward if someone violated them, Mandel responded that sex education was ‘not something realistic’ in a community that stresses modesty.”

There is so much wrong with that sentence, that it sends shivers up my spine.

1. Sexual abuse has about as much to do with sex and sex education, as rape has to do with making love.

What we have learned over the past thirty years is that rape is not a sex act but an act of violence and violation, of dominance, control and power. Many rapists, although clearly not all, have difficulty finding voluntary sexual partners. While they do achieve their own sexual gratification during the rape, it is through fear, power, intimidation, (and not through the intimacy shared between lovers) that is the tool to their climax. It is sick, perverse, criminal and traumatizing.

Similarly, sexual abuse of minors is not an act of love. It is a sick, perverse act of seduction of the helpless, of taking advantage by wielding power, intimidation, humiliation and violence. It is no less traumatizing than rape – for in its essence, it is rape.

2. Although sex education should be taught in all yeshivas, one can teach about sexual abuse without even using the term “sex” – and without getting into the mechanics of sex and sexual education.

We have really great educators who have spent decades testing age appropriate sexual education from very young ages (e.g., 4-6-year-olds and up), and every study shows that it does not cause an increase in teenage sexual activity – despite our primitives beliefs in the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox community to the contrary.

But lets say we’re right. Let’s say that Mandel is right – that sex education in a community that stresses modesty is not realistic. Teaching about abuse and about unwanted touching of a child’s private parts, and what is inappropriate behavior on the part of parents, teachers, Rabbis, and camp counselors, has nothing to do with sex! It can be taught without causing nightmares, without causing trauma, without talking about the mechanics of sex, etc.

There are well-trained, frum professionals: social workers, psychologists, doctors and nurses who are ready to come into our schools and inform our kids in a way that will make them feel less traumatized and less stigmatized about what has happened to them and about coming forward. It can be discussed by these professionals in a frum and tzne’usdikeh way.

But we refuse to do it. Why??? Because we are our own kids worst enemy! We are led by small-minded naysayers, by the “sha-shtill” crowd – the Margulies, the Twerskis, the Mandels, the Shafrans, the Schicks of our world - who believe that if we don’t talk about it, if we hush it up, it is a smaller problem that it really is, it will go away or it won’t even exist.


Not too long ago, I remember when the more modern yeshivas were faced with the following dilemma: They became fully aware of the fact that there are anorexics and bulimics in the girls’ schools. They knew there are drug experimenters among the boys and the girls. But if we teach them about the evils of these practices, aren’t we admitting to the world that THE KIDS IN OUR SCHOOL ARE BAD KIDS? Won’t the schools NOT tackling these problems point at those who do and say “They have that problem; not us.” And won’t that cause parents to enroll their kids elsewhere?

To an extent, the yeshivas were right. Small-minded people sometimes do think that way. But to their credit they came up with a solution. The modern day schools all banded together and decided to introduce those topics into their schools AT THE SAME TIME. They said, “We don’t know if it’s a problem here, but we do know it exists and we want to help our kids avoid it. So we’re not going to stick our heads in the sand ever again.” And besides the education they offered to their high school students, they made parents attend sessions at night on these topics. I attended them more than once. They had yeshiva kids who had been through drug rehab come and tell their first hand stories and talk about how wasted they were and how they almost lost their lives. Let me tell you, there is nothing more disturbing and nothing leaves a greater impression on you, than seeing a boy in a yarmulke or a girl in a long black skirt tell you about how they woke up after a three-day drug binge and didn’t know what day or time it was, where they were, or in whose bed they had slept – and what they had done there.

I thank God that those yeshivas had the courage to institute this education.

We need the same courage to introduce the subject of sexual abuse. And it cannot be limited to the modern yeshivos. It has to be across the board, in every one of them, including the chasidishe ones.

3. We have to teach all our children in school about inappropriate touching. We have to teach them about child abuse and the difference between a “potch” and a beating. We have to talk to our children about spousal abuse. And who to talk to if they witness it and how to report it.

And it can’t be reported to our existing ill-equipped rebbeim and principals. It has to be appropriately trained counselors, ombudsman and watchdogs.

And this education must take place in the schools for the following reasons:

(A) Most parents will not discuss it with their children at home.
(B) Most parents are not trained to discuss it properly.

We must have blanket education of all of our kids on this subject in a uniform manner in order for it to be most effective.

I’ve seen and reviewed the Torah Umesorah guidelines on child abuse. In and of themselves, they are not bad. The problem is: (1) They have not been uniformly and widely implemented, and are NOT mandatory (2) Without educating all our children about abuse, the guidelines are meaningless even if they were implemented and (3) There is no one in place who is appropriately trained for our children to report abuse to.

We can talk to our girls about taharas hamishpacha, we can discuss in graphic detail their menstrual flow, about why they should use sanitary napkins and not tampons, about why they should not hand a sefer directly to a rebbe – but we can’t talk (to our girls and our boys) about inappropriate touching!? I find that absurd.

I know that there are some stickers in frum homes with an abuse hotline number on it. But it is not in enough homes.

I guarantee you that for every call to Hatzalah, there is someone who should be calling or wants to call an abuse hotline, but doesn’t know whom to call. There should be an abuse hotline sticker under every Hatzalah sticker in every Jewish home.

And none of that matters if we don’t educate our kids in school about what abuse is and isn’t.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Watch 60 Minutes - Sunday - February 20, 2011

Sen. Scott Brown has revealed he was sexually abused by a camp counselor as a child.

Published February 16, 2011

The Massachusetts Republican, who rose to political stardom when he won the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy a year ago, is expected to discuss the childhood abuse in his book, "Against All Odds."

Saying he's never told anybody about the trauma, Brown opened during an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" set to air Sunday. Though he also suffered physical abuse at the hands of his stepfathers, Brown revealed he was sexually abused, multiple times, by a camp counselor who threatened to "kill" him if he talked about it.

"Fortunately, nothing was ever fully consummated, so to speak, but it was certainly, back then, very traumatic," Brown said. "He said 'If you tell anybody, you know, I'll kill you. I will make sure that no one believes you.'"

Brown said not even his mother knew about the abuse, explaining he was "embarrassed" and "hurt" by what he went through.

"When people find people like me at that young vulnerable age, who are basically lost, the thing that they have over you is, they make you believe that no one will believe you," the senator said.

Brown issued a brief written statement Wednesday addressing the subject matter in his upcoming book.

"My book is about overcoming obstacles. The physical and sexual abuse is in my book," Brown said. "It's a part of my life, but it certainly isn't the only part of my life story which I tell. My book will be out on Monday and I hope people will read it and be inspired by its message."

A Brown aide noted that when he was a state legislator, Brown worked on a number of bills to toughen sex-offender laws and strengthen protections for victims. He also proposes eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual abuse.

According to CBS, Brown explained in the interview that writing about the incidents felt cathartic. In the interview, he recalled how he also at one point wished he could have bought the house where he used to live with one abusive stepfather when it came up for sale -- so he could destroy it.

"I said, 'Man, I wish I had the money. I'd just buy this thing and burn it down,'" Brown said.

He suggested his past has made him stronger as a politician.

"When I'm getting the crap beat out of me outside, in the political spectrum, I'm like, 'Psst. This is nothing. Bring it on. Let's go'."

Monday, February 14, 2011

"No, People Will Make Us Free!"

U.S. Policy to Address Internet Freedom
Published: February 14, 2011

WASHINGTON — Days after Facebook and Twitter added fuel to a revolt in Egypt, the Obama administration plans to announce a new policy on Internet freedom, designed to help people get around barriers in cyberspace while making it harder for autocratic governments to use the same technology to repress dissent.

The State Department’s policy, a year in the making, has been bogged down by fierce debates over which projects it should support, and even more basically, whether to view the Internet primarily as a weapon to topple repressive regimes or as a tool that autocrats can use to root out and crush dissent.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will lay out the policy in a speech on Tuesday, acknowledged the Internet’s dual role in an address a year ago, and administration officials said she would touch on that theme again, noting how social networks were used by both protesters and governments in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries.

The State Department plans to finance programs like circumvention services, which enable users to evade Internet firewalls, and training for human rights workers on how to secure their e-mail from surveillance or wipe incriminating data from cellphones if they are detained by the police.

Though the policy has been on the drawing board for months, it has new urgency in light of the turmoil in the Arab world, because it will be part of a larger debate over how the United States weighs its alliances with entrenched leaders against the young people inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt.

Administration officials say that the emphasis on a broad array of projects — hotly disputed by some technology experts and human rights activists — reflects their view that technology can be a force that leads to democratic change, but is not a “magic bullet” that brings down repressive regimes.

“People are so enamored of the technology,” said Michael H. Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. “People have a view that technology will make us free. No, people will make us free.”

Click On Link To Read The Entire Article:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/world/15clinton.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=globaleua2

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Coming to America!


Failure to protect a child from abuse will finally become illegal this year, more than 12 months after Justice Minister Simon Power first announced it.

Mr Power said in December 2009 that the Government would make it a crime for adults to turn a blind eye to risk of death, serious injury or sexual assault of a child or vulnerable adult, such as the elderly, in their homes.

This followed Law Commission recommendations in the wake of the deaths of twins Chris and Cru Kahui in 2006.

Mr Power had said he would introduce a bill early last year as part of reform of the Crimes Act. However, this work had proved complex and the tougher child abuse laws would now be enshrined in separate legislation, the Crimes Act Amendment Bill, he said yesterday. He hoped to make an announcement before the end of next month.

"The legislation will ensure that it will no longer be an excuse to say you were not involved in abusing a child when you lived in the house and knew of the abuse taking place."

Prime Minister John Key, in a statement to Parliament yesterday, confirmed legislation would include tougher penalties for child abuse and measures to improve the treatment of children who appeared in court as witnesses and victims.

Further changes may stem from a ministerial inquiry into the case of a nine-year-old Auckland girl who was allegedly tortured by her parents, and the abuse concealed by several people.

"Despite decades of good intentions from government, we're still failing too many of our kids," Mr Key said.

The Law Commission recommended doubling to 10 years the maximum sentence for cruelty to children after the Kahui case, in which no-one was convicted and relatives were reluctant to co-operate with the police investigation.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

All Too Familiar With All Corrupt Systems - Rich at the Top - Uneducated and Desperate at the Bottom!


Mubarak Worth More Than $70 Billion - NEWSMAX.COM

Friday, 04 Feb 2011

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his family have amassed a fortune estimated at $70 billion according to analysis by Middle East experts poll by the London Guardian. And very little of that stash is kept in his own country, they say. Much of his wealth is in British and Swiss banks or tied up in real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and along expensive tracts of the Red Sea coast.

How does a dictator get so rich? Over 30 years as president, and before that a senior military officer, allowed Mubarak has access to the oligarchs who control much of the investment capital in Egypt’s very closed, highly bureaucratic system. Investment deals have generated hundreds of millions of pounds in profits for Mubarak. Most of those gains have been taken offshore and deposited in secret bank accounts or invested in up-market homes and hotels.

According to a report last year in the Arabic newspaper Al Khabar, Mubarak has properties in Manhattan and exclusive Beverly Hills addresses on Rodeo Drive.

His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. A protest outside Gamal's ostentatious home at 28 Wilton Place in Belgravia, central London, highlighted the family's appetite for western trophy assets.

Amaney Jamal, a political science professor at Princeton University, told the Guardian that the estimate of $40 billion to $70 billion was comparable with the vast wealth of leaders in other Gulf countries.

"The business ventures from his military and government service accumulated to his personal wealth," she told ABC news. "There was a lot of corruption in this regime and stifling of public resources for personal gain.

"This is the pattern of other Middle Eastern dictators so their wealth will not be taken during a transition. These leaders plan on this."

Poverty: Trapped by a poor education
By Heba Saleh

Published: December 15 2010 16:48 | Last updated: December 15 2010 16:48

The unpaved, rubbish-strewn alleys of Ezbet Gabra Zarifa, a Cairo slum, are in shadow because the shacks are huddled too close together to allow the sunlight to penetrate. The area is on the eastern edge of the city near the tanneries where its people find irregular low-paid work. It is one of many pockets of extreme poverty dotting Egypt and housing the poorest 20 per cent of the population.

But Ezbet Gabra Zarifa is also the scene of a two-year pilot project, sponsored by the government, which aims to break the transfer of poverty from parents to children. The Conditional Cash Transfers scheme gives mothers in 165 selected families a monthly stipend of $35 against obligations which include keeping children in school, attending meetings on health and hygiene and, crucially, receiving guidance and a monthly visit from a social worker.

“The cash transfer helps me to pay for lessons for my daughters,” says Reda Saad, an illiterate mother of four who lives with her entire family in one room. “My husband’s job is to unload trucks carrying skins to the tanneries. He might earn E£20 a day [less than $4], but it is irregular, so he doesn’t always bring money home.”

Hania Sholkamy, the anthropologist heading the programme, says work has already started to take it to 44,000 families in villages in the governorates of Assiut and Sohag in Upper Egypt. Rural areas in the south account for more than 40 per cent of the poverty in the country.

“This is the only programme that creates capacity to deal with poverty,” she says. “It provides a social protection floor which has to come before you can even give something like micro credit.”

Roughly 20 per cent of Egyptians live below the World Bank poverty line. Another 20 per cent, who hover above it, are considered near-poor. According to the government’s latest household expenditure survey in 2008, four-fifths of Egyptian families have less than $3,000 to spend each year.

Reducing poverty remains one of the government’s biggest challenges. So far, economic growth has had only a limited impact on those at the bottom of the scale. Before the global crisis hit, growth averaging 7 per cent between 2006 and 2008 produced a reduction in poverty from 23.4 per cent to 18.9 per cent. Since then, however, one of the highest rates of food price inflation in the world has wiped out much of the gain, with the poverty rate reaching 21.6 per cent.

Expensive food has added to the pressures on Egyptians, provoking a long string of localised protests and strikes by civil servants and workers. Protesters’ demands have been focused on the issues of pay and benefits and the government has usually tried to satisfy them, preventing their anger from acquiring a more political hue.

In addition, tough policing and the regime’s low tolerance for dissent ensure that opposition movements remain weak and unable to capitalise on public disgruntlement over prices.

To forestall any potential social explosion, Egypt has for decades subsidised some food and all fuel for its citizens. This year $11.5bn is allocated to fuel and $2.3bn to subsidising food, accounting for just over 20 per cent of all public spending and costing more than health and education combined.

Ministers say they recognise that the subsidies are a blunt and wasteful weapon for combating poverty, often benefiting the rich more than the poor and diverting valuable resources from crucial sectors such as infrastructure, health and education. There are plans to phase out some subsidies and better target others, but the implementation is expected to be gradual and hampered by fears of adding to both inflation and social disgruntlement. The start date is not likely to come before presidential elections next September.

“Egypt’s poor – generation after generation – have been marginalised and deprived of those rights which have been shown to break the cycle of poverty,” says this year’s Egypt Human Development Report. “Egypt is way behind other middle-income countries, let alone emerging economies, in raising basic standards of health, nutrition and education of the most vulnerable members of its population, namely children and youth.”

The report says that low educational attainment is the big factor in transmitting poverty across generations. It describes education as “the most obstinate divide that discriminates across society between the haves and the have-nots”. It recommends an overhaul of the country’s basic educational and vocational training systems.

Indeed, paying for private lessons for children who are already attending state schools is one of the heaviest burdens on poor families.

The World Bank says that spending by families on education is 2.5 times the amount spent by the government. Even the very poor find that they have to set aside hefty chunks of their small incomes to pay for lessons, sometimes from the same teachers responsible for their children at school.

Costly education, along with pressures that force the poor to send their children to work, mean that the drop-out rate is highest among the lowest strata of society. This in turn ensures that the children of the poor end up with low-paid work and fail to emerge from the poverty trap.