Egypt parliament rights committee working to abolish prison terms for debt defaulters

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 25 Aug 2018

Loan defaulters
A debt defaulter prisoner released on Tuesday and reunited with her children. 21 August 2018 (Photo: courtesy of Egypt's interior ministry)

Head of the Egyptian parliament's human rights committee Alaa Abed told reporters on Saturday that the committee is in the process of amending two laws with the aim of eliminating prison sentences for individuals who default on loan payments.

"We took this initiative for purely human rights reasons; to prevent individuals who take small loans just to help their families, and who are not criminal by nature, from facing prison sentences," said Abed.

"We also hope that this initiative will help safeguard Egyptian society from disruption and protect children whose mothers and fathers were forced to serve prison sentences for defaulting on loan payments."

The human rights committee's move comes a few days after Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi issued a presidential pardon on 21 August – the first day of Eid Al-Adha – for 2,376 prisoners, including 627 defaulters.

The pardon, which came under an initiative entitled 'Prisons Without Debt Defaulters,' aims to help individuals, particularly women, who have been imprisoned because they failed to repay loans borrowed for purely familial reasons, such paying expenses for their sons and daughters' marriage.

"Most of the female debt defaulters were forced to serve years in prison only for the reason that they took very small loans – not exceeding EGP 1,000 – to help their daughters marry or just overcome some hard economic and living conditions," said Abed, adding that "we should not allow deprivation and poverty to be reasons for putting poor women in jail or turning them into criminals because of social injustice."

Abed said the amendments of laws, particularly the penal code, will be drafted by the committee in order to be ready for discussion in parliament when it reconvenes in October.

"Articles 341 and 376 of the penal code will be amended to eliminate prison and custodial sentences, which will be replaced by allowing debt defaulters pay fines or do community service," said Abed.

MP Margaret Azer, a member of the human rights committee, also said in a statement Saturday that Article 232 of the Criminal Procedures Law will be also amended to prevent taking procedures that might lead to family disruption.

"We do not want children of loan defaulters to become vagabonds or become street and homeless children living a vagrant life," said Azer, adding that "we want to keep the life of poor families intact for human and social reasons."

Azer said that parliament's human rights committee, the small-scale enterprises committee, the ministries of planning and social solidarity and civil society organisations are currently in the process of launching an initiative that aims to help loan defaulters, particularly women, receive financial assistance to set up small-scale projects for them.

"We hope that these projects will be a source of income for poor families and women and will prevent them from resorting to loans," said Azer, adding that "we want the community of loan defaulters, both men and women, to be integrated into society and public life and become economically productive, and to make sure that they do not return to prison."

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