As relationships break down and spouses decide to part ways, children are found to be the most likely to bear the brunt of the conflict arising between the warring parents, who may overlook the fact that their divorce will impact their children for many years. Post-divorce court battles are still a growing, festering problem of today’s society as divorce rates keep hitting their highest levels in Egypt.
Child visitation rights enshrined in the personal status law are currently at issue as many parliamentarians stepped in to introduce changes to the said law in an aim to achieve a societal stability and secure a child’s healthy life under a shared care of both parents.
However, the proposed amendments triggered an intense pushback by mothers and activists who say that they could portend a major setback for the rights of both children and female divorcees.
Current visitation law and proposed amendments
Proposed by MP Mohamed Fouad, who also serves as the spokesperson of the Political Party Al Wafd, the proposed amendments involve changes to article 20 of the personal status law. The said article stipulates the rights of the non-custodial parent to see his/her child after separation and regulate its respective legal proceedings.
Under the new amendments, the non-custodial will have the right to receive the child for two days a week, a week during the mid-year vacation and a month during the summer vacation, instead of the weekly three-hour-long visitation period laid down under the existing law.
As per the current law, the custodial parent, usually the mother, shall be punished by a six-month to a one-year prison term or fined with no more than LE 500 if she refuses to adhere to the court-ordered visitation for the child and that the father then has the right to hold an injunction to the court to demand the custody rights over the child.
While the non-custodial parent is not punished if he/she does not appear in the visitation schedule set by court.
Changes of article 20 were also introduced and adopted by MP Suhair El Hady, who also called on stripping the father of his child hosting rights if he skips out on his child support payments.
Are risks outweighing benefits?
Lawyer and activist Maha Abu bakr Bakr, told Egyptian Streets that the proposed amendeents should be governed by a set of guarantees and legal requirements to ensure the safety of the child in custody.
“In order for the child to get allowed to be hosted by the father, he/she must first be not younger than 15 so she/he becomes capable of discernment and then can look out for him/herself and stand up against any potential assault or abuse,” Bakr added.
She also demanded that the father must be proven to be psychologically and mentally sound to get allowed to host the child and have not been convicted of any criminal offences or manifested any abusive tendencies towards the mother or the children, stressing that the fathers who are behind the child support payments should be denied the right to host/see the child.
Bakr also demanded that the law must provide the necessary legal guarantees that would ensure the return to the child to the mother and must contain certain penalties and the necessary guarantees to enforce them if the non-custodial parent infringes the law and hid/kidnapped the child during the hosting period.
One of the founders of the campaign that aims to repeal the proposed amendment, Abeer Khedr said that the proposed changes do not require the mother’s consent in regards to letting her child be received by a father that might not be morally responsible or unable to provide a good residential care for the child.
In exclusive statements to Egyptian Streets, Khedr stated that he child in custody may find himself in a harmful family environment that could take its negative toll on his well-being, adding that the changes also do not specify a certain place where the child would stay in during the hosting period.
“The mother would then be clueless about the places that his child would live in, which is devastating to her.” Khedr added.
“In principle, the proposed amendments go in contrary to a previous religious edict issued by the Islamic research studies center and require the contest of the custodian and the child in custody to enforce the court-ordered child hosting.
For his part, Fouad said that the new amendments are basically aimed at ensuring the welfare of the minor and securing a shared parental care based on based on the principle of the international conventions on the rights of the child.
“It is unacceptable to let the child solely bear the consequences of parents deciding not to live with each other anymore and it is highly regrettable for any parent to seek revenge from the other to the detriment of their children.” Fouad said in a statement in early may.
On child abduction cases, Fouad said such cases are “singular” and that does not mean that we should deny millions of children of the rights to enjoy shared parental guardianship.
He stressed that the new proposed law will contain what is necessary to legally enshrine all parties’ rights.
Nine percent of the fathers that got court orders that allowed them to visit their children have abducted them during the visitation schedule, according to Iman Bibars, founder and director of The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women.