CAIRO: Many divorced fathers in Egypt are feeling indignant at the outcome of the amended custody law. Besides denying the father custody of his children until the age of 15, it has also made custody a matter of choice for the children once they reach that age.
Under the new law, ‘al rueya al shareya’ or what is known in Western law as ‘access to the child,’ remains controlled by the mother. And even though the law, in theory, doesn’t sanction the mother’s failure to show up in the specified meetings, many say it gives women the upper hand.
One year after its introduction the law remains one of the local media’s hot topics. Besides fathers feeling that their parental rights are disregarded, there is also the issue of the timing and type of places where the ‘rueya’ is implemented.
These places are either the local youth centers or one of the premises of the National Democratic Party. Both venues are used in cases when access to the child has to be carried out by the force of law.
In addition to reported reluctance of the women to show up with the children in the designated place at the specific time, fathers noted that it’s a stressful atmosphere for the children. The children always feel tense and tend to avoid the rueya by coming up with any excuse, the fathers explained.
With the reluctance of the mothers and the children combined, contact between the father and the children in some of these cases has diminished. Some have tragedies to tell.
State-run daily Al Akhbar reported that a divorced man who has been working as a teacher in a Gulf state returned to receive the shock of his life: his son started calling him “uncle and his grandfather on the mother’s side “dad.
In another case, the mother changed her son’s name giving him that of her father so as to misguide the true father about the whereabouts of the child, reported another Arabic-language daily.
In the worst example of such cases, one man was said to have converted in an attempt to get custody of his son, using the pretext that his divorcee was now of a different religion and, therefore, ineligible to bring his son up.
“One day, the whole street was abuzz with people who came running, intrigued by the shouts of a couple who began tearing each other’s clothes and exchanging insults, Nabil Asqalani, of the National Democratic Party in Maadi, recalled. Asqalani is responsible for mediating the rueya.
Ibrahim Badr, a legal expert who is currently arbitrating cases at the Helwan Family Court, says that cases are increasing under the new law. “Having control over the rueya, the women sometimes abuse their former spouses financially, asking for more money in exchange for seeing the child, he said. He believes measures have to be taken to rectify the situation.
Egyptian custody laws were amended early last year. Under the old law issued in 1929, the custody of a male child went to the father as soon as the son reached age 10, for girls the age was set at 12. But now the age has been raised to 15 for both boys and girls and the father’s custody rights can only be implemented with the child’s approval.
“And sometimes seeing him or her is a struggle in itself as the child s thoughts are poisoned by the mother against the father, said divorcee Naguib.
“Whether they like to be with the father or the mother is a matter that can be decided by the children themselves, said Magdy Rifaee, a psychiatrist. “Provided they know who is more suitable for their upbringing, they can play a vital role in cases where the custody has to be decided by a court.
Rifaee continued: “The final decision, however, depends on the reasons behind each divorce and the children’s level of awareness which should, if satisfactory, enable them to make the right choice.
“But I would like to note that, contrary to the belief that the children of separated parents are always the victims, sometimes it’s either the father or the mother. Divorce can either mar the children s life or contribute constructively to their well-being, depending on circumstances.
Rifaee suggested that special psychiatric units should be set up to deal with the problems of custody and divorces. “Each case is different; we can’t simply generalize, he noted.
The fathers claim that their divorcees sometimes fail to appear on purpose to emotionally torture them. When this happens several times, the father is finally put out and decides not to insist on seeing his children who will eventually belong to his former wife and in-laws.
Although the father can take legal proceedings to correct this kind of behavior on the part of their ex-spouses, many are reluctant and opt out.
“The procedures take time and cost money, said Hazem Abdel Alim, an accountant who divorced his wife three years ago.
He added: “What’s the use of all this? Even if I win the case, again she’ll let me see him for three hours.
The mothers claim that their excuses for not appearing for the rueya are valid in general.
Nahla Adel (not her real name) explained that sometimes the child is sick or has exams.
“I know some mothers do abuse the law to torment their former husbands, but this isn’t always true, she said.
The amended law has been disappointing for many men who think they have lost the battle in a tug-of-war after a series of laws have been passed in the interests of women during the past three decades.
The most important of these has been her right to maintain ownership of the flat as long as she has custody of the children. Then came the khole’ law which entitles a woman to initiate divorce procedures. But the biggest blow remains the amended custody law, which, for many men, is one way of depriving the father of seeing his children.
Although Rawia Fahim is happily married, she believes that all these laws are a reaction to the injustices suffered by women over the years.
“Men had been given so many rights which they abused, said Rawia. “What can you say about the humiliations that resulted from abusing rights like polygamy, and the old custody law before women got justice with the enforcement of these laws?
“Not every man is an angel, agrees Hafiz. “But we can’t generalize assuming that every woman is an angel either. The fact that men have abused women over the years isn’t an excuse for tilting the law towards them, he adds.
Five of Rawia’s close friends got divorced two or three years after their marriage.
“Aside from the reasons for these divorces, I don’t remember that any of them had any problem with children seeing fathers. Perhaps the problem is more common amongst the working classes, commented Rawia.
But Asqalani underlined that the cases with the most disputes and violence were among educated divorcees. “Unfortunately, although these people are educated they don’t build their marriages on a sound basis and this is the result, said Asqalani.
“But I have to note that under the old law the father used to torture the mother after he got custody of the children. This happened simply because there were no deterrents in the old law, he added.
Asqalani remarked that it is unrealistic that the encounters of fathers and children will go on like this for years. “Impossible, he said. “At the Maadi National Democratic Party premises the cases have dropped dramatically from 33 to 3 only. The divorcees have decided to arrange terms outside. They no longer come here.
Many social workers believe the presence of the father is an essential cornerstone in the upbringing of children.
“I would rather recommend that divorced parents settle their differences and not make their children scapegoats, commented Madiha Al Safti, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo.
“I agree this is an ideal area for social workers provided they are properly trained on how to use their expertise. But, unfortunately, there is a dearth of social workers who can undertake this hard task, added Al Safti.
Fathers are demanding to extend the rueya from three hours to a full day every week.
Some are suggesting that divorced pa
rents should alternate custody weekly provided that each has the setting suitable for that arrangement.
Some mothers do not seem to mind. “But give us the assurance that the kids will be in safe hands when meeting the father. Give us the assurance they will return to us. Only then things will get better, says one mother.