CAIRO: Ambassador Susan S. Jacobs, Special Advisor to the Office of Children’s Issues, arrived in Egypt to meet with various government officials to engage them in discussions to protect the welfare and interests of children.
Jacobs was appointed the Special Advisor to the Office of Children’s Issues by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 25, 2010. The US Department of State created Jacobs’ position in order to address inter-country adoptions and international parental abductions.
Jacobs has already met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Subcommittee of Good Intentions — comprised of representatives from various ministries despite officially functioning as a subcommittee of the Ministry of Justice.
“We have been meeting with leaders, opinion-makers and non-governmental organizations,” said Jacobs, adding that she has engaged in civic discussions about children’s issues that are “growing in the world today.”
Jacobs recognized the importance of having discussions like these in Egypt. In addition to making an impact on the country itself, Jacobs said she wished to utilize Egypt’s leadership and influence in the Middle East to stimulate change in the overall region.
“Once discussion begins, change happens,” she added. “Without discussion, nothing happens.”
Jacobs specializes in the issue of child abduction — an issue of inter-country marriages in which one parent takes a child to their home country and abandons the other parent. From the US to Egypt, there are currently 28 child abduction cases. From Egypt to the US, there are currently four cases of child abduction.
“The difference is [that] the [abandoned] parent in Egypt often has success in US courts, [yet] the other way around is very unusual,” Jacobs stated.
The Egyptian government has been helpful in locating children, according to Jacobs. However, the outcome of child abduction cases from Egypt to the US depends heavily on whether or not the parent is willing to agree to mediation. If the parent is willing, then a temporary agreement can be reached before a final court decision is made. However, if parents don’t agree to mediation, it’s quite difficult to reach an agreement that favors the abducted child, leaving Jacobs to “rely on persuasion.”
“We believe that each parent has the right to reasonable access to [a] child to have a loving relationship,” Jacobs stated.
According to the Hague Abduction Convention of 2009, judicial jurisdiction for child abduction cases rest on the country in which the child habitually resides. Thus, if the child’s habitual residence is in the US and they are abducted to Egypt, then the case goes to US court, and vice versa.
Despite the Hague Abduction Convention of 2009, its terms conflict with the laws that are currently in effect in various countries, said Jacobs. As a result, Jacobs stated that the primary goal is to resolve child abduction cases through mediation so that both parents could have reasonable access to spending time with their child.
Egypt is not a part of the Hague Abduction Convention of 2009, which makes meditation, counseling, and abiding by child custody orders issued local courts the only viable solutions, she said.
She noted that they have been having interesting discussions with the Egyptian authorities in this regard.
“We won’t reach a rapid agreement to join the Hague [Abduction Convention] or [to] change custody laws; this takes place over time,” Jacobs stated. “Parents need to [bring] the interests of the child to the forefront. Just because the marriage failed doesn’t mean a child [must pay] for it. Courts need to respect [the decisions] made in other countries.
“The best agreement is for both parents to have access [to their children].”
Jacobs added, “[Child abduction] doesn’t happen to only Americans parents. It also happens to Egyptians, Italians, etcetera, as there are more [mixed nationality] marriages taking place.”
Jacobs’ office also specializes in inter-country adoption.
“[Our office ensures that the adoption is carried out in an] ethical, honest, transparent way to protect the rights of the birth mother, the child and the adoptive parents in the United States,” she said.
Her office hasn’t dealt with inter-country child adoption in Egypt, however, since adoption is not permitted under Sharia law.
“We respect that [Egypt does not permit child adoptions] so we don’t do it … every country has the sovereign right to determine its own laws and policies,” she said. “If [the Egyptian government states that] adoption is not an option, then it is not [an option].”