Egypt MP's proposal to revoke child custody for mothers who remarry triggers backlash

Salma Shukrallah , Wednesday 7 Dec 2016

Egyptian child
Egyptian child plays with sand in front of a mural by Egyptian artist Riham El Sadany in Burullus, north of Cairo.

A proposal submitted in Egypt's parliament last week has triggered a backlash on social media for suggesting that an Egyptian mother who remarries after divorce should lose custody of her children to her ex-husband if he is able to find a female relative to be their caretaker.

Parliamentarian Sohair El-Hadady suggested the amendment to the 2000 personal status law that regulates child custody in cases of divorce.

Her proposal also included extending parental visitation for the non-custodial parent: the father according to the current law. It would grant the non-custodial father responsibility for the child for two days every week instead of the current three-hour visit. It also suggests that the non-custodial parent would host the child for one month during the summer school holiday.

Under the current law, custody is given to the mother in cases of divorce until the child reaches the age of 15, at which point custody transfers to the father. If the mother remarries before this time, custody transfers to the maternal grandmother.

El-Hadady's proposal, however, suggests that if the custodial mother gets remarried, custody should go to the father if he can provide a female caretaker for the child; either his current wife or a female relative.

"[The proposed amendment] assumes that [if I marry], any other woman is better for my children than me…on the other hand my husband is not only allowed to marry but he is actually encouraged," Loula Selim, a 32-year-old mother of two girls, tells Ahram Online.

Selim, who divorced nine months ago, agrees that the father should be allowed to see the children for more than 3 hours a week, and says she does not object to a two-day visit for the non-custodian. However, she says, a one-month visit over the summer is "too long" considering that the proposal does not specify how often during this month the custodial mother can see her children.

"How often can I see them and who decides that?" Selim says.

Selim was not alone in voicing her objections on social media following media reports of the parliamentarian's proposal—many voiced strong objections. Some suggested that the proposal would ultimately transfer custody from the mother to the stepmother, as it encourages men to find a female caretaker for their children. 

Azza Soliman, co-founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, agrees that a one-month stay should be bound to certain criteria, which the proposal does not include. Soliman suggested criteria including that the father is not abusive and has no history of trying to kidnap the child(ren) from the custodial mother before; a problem frequently reported.

The current law makes visitation contingent on these criteria.

“I totally disagree with taking custody away from the mother if she remarries…the law deals with women as if they lack brains, cannot judge what is good for their children and cannot protect them (from a stepfather) if necessary,” says Soliman.

However, the women's rights lawyer says the parliamentarian’s proposal is far from a draft law, as it has yet to be adopted by the parliament's legislative committee. It remains for now an unofficial proposal.

Several women's rights groups have drafted amendments to the 2000 personal status law which they have frequently argued remains discriminatory. Soliman believes, however, that amending the law now is not a priority for the government. 

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