As is amply laid out in the Egyptian constitution, human rights are a cornerstone of Egyptian society.
Article Two of the constitution states that Islam is the religion of the state and that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation.
Article Three states that the canonic principles of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislation for their personal status laws and religious affairs.
Article Five calls for the respect for human rights and freedoms as clarified in the constitution.
Article 10 holds that the family is the basis of the society and that the state is committed to the preservation of its cohesion and stability, while Article 59 upholds every human being's right to a safe life and states that the state is committed to ensuring the safety and security of its citizens and all others who reside on its territory.
Article 64 provides that freedom of belief is absolute.
Under Article 80, every child has the right to a proper name and identity papers as well as the right to family or an alternative, healthcare, nutrition, shelter and religious, emotional and cognitive development.
The state is committed to caring for the child and protecting the child against all forms of violence, harm and maltreatment. The state shall strive to ensure the best interests of the child in all the measures it takes with respect to the child.
Article 92 provides that individual rights and freedoms are inherent, inalienable and undiminishable, and that no law regulating the practice of rights and freedoms can be formulated in a way that restricts their intent and essence.
Article 93 obliges the state to adhere to all international charters and covenants to which Egypt is a state party and which have acquired the force of law after ratification and publication in accordance with the established procedures.
Lastly, under Article 192, the Supreme Constitutional Court is solely empowered to oversee the constitutionality of all laws and regulations, and to interpret legislative texts.
Egypt signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. In fact, it was among the first 20 states to do so. In 1996, Egypt passed Law 12/1996, known as the Child Act. Subsequently amended under Law 126/2008, it was the precursor to the constitutionally stipulated rights of children guaranteed under the 2014 Constitution, which affirmed the right of the child to family care and protection.
Law 126/2008 states, "The state shall protect the child and motherhood, care for children and strive to foster the appropriate circumstances for their proper upbringing in every respect, in the framework of freedom and human dignity... The state shall, at the very least, ensure the rights of the child as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant international conventions in effect in Egypt."
As is well known, the first article of any law has unique legal valence. The first article of Law 126/2008 is in application of Article 93 of the current Egyptian Constitution obliging the Egyptian government to translate its commitments under international human rights agreements into national laws that ensure the faithful application of these rights in practice on the ground.
It is important to underscore how the constitutional provisions are framed in a way that gives priority to the role of the family in the life of any child. In accordance with this legal framework, which is consistent with the highest international criteria for human rights, the Egyptian government must ensure the rights of the child and, above all, the child's right to live in the embrace of a loving and caring family who will do their utmost to protect and raise their children, and enable them to reach their fullest potential.
This, I stress again, is the governing legal framework in which we must consider the case of the young Shanouda. The Egyptian state has committed itself to the principle that Egyptian children are endowed with inalienable rights that must be met, and it is legally bound to guarantee this, meaning that the state's executive, legislative and judicial institutions, and all other governmental and non-governmental organisations under the state's legal jurisdiction, must secure the rights of all citizens living on Egyptian territory. When Egypt voluntarily assumed this commitment, it set an example for many other countries.
In this context, it is important to draw attention to a matter of immediate relevance to the case in hand. Numerous academic studies and extensive field research carried out in many different countries by experts on the rights of the child have shown that placing children in foster care institutions is a practice that would be best abandoned because of the mark that the experience leaves on children for the rest of their lives, a mark that can be even more deleterious as the result of harmful practices that occur in some of those institutions due to poorly trained or otherwise unqualified supervisors and staff.
Accordingly, the new trend is to try to ensure the child's right to a home in a caring family environment. In the absence of biological parents, the child should be placed with a foster family. To my great delight, I learned that the Egyptian government has kept pace with this trend, preferring to place orphans with foster families instead of institutions. I hope this spirit prevails in the case of Shanouda and that he can celebrate this holy season back home in the embrace of the family who have loved and cared for him all these years.
*The writer is President of the National Council for Human Rights