Children in the Muslim Middle East successfully aspires to open a whole new topic. Fernea brings together forty-one short pieces that range in area from Morocco to Afghanistan, in subject matter from orphanages to child soldiers, and in genre from scholarship and literature to speeches and lullabies. Over thirty of the book's contributors hail from the Middle East, and a fair number of chapters have been specially translated from Middle Eastern languages. Together, they put Middle Eastern children on the research map.
Chapter titles signal the children's bleak status. We learn of "girls' participation in combat" (in Lebanon), of "bodily mutilation of young females" (in Egypt), and of "working children in Cairo." According to Hassan al-Ebraheem of the Kuwait Society for the Advancement of Arab Children, there are 90 million Arabic-speaking children, of which "half today are threatened in their physical health by the dangers of hunger, poverty, and war." A majority of them, he reports, live in unsuitable dwellings, and 3,500 of them die each day from treatable diseases.
Then, of course, there is the particularly debased status of girls. A sixteen-year old Turkish girl who does piecework sewing for her father's business sums up the predicament of her sex: "I work, but I have no value." Nor are matters improving, for, as Fernea explains, "in general colonialism intensified traditional family patterns, particularly those involving differentials of gender identity," and matters have changed little since independence. Taking on new roles in society appears not to have helped the status of females.