By Mariam Ismail
Egypt’s House of Representatives (Majlis al Nuwaab) is currently discussing a proposal to amend the Child Custody Law to increase the visitation period allowed for fathers with their children from two to five hours a week.
This decision comes after many fathers expressed how damaging the law is to their relationships with their children.
The current two-hour visitation period was issued by then-First Lady Suzanne Mubarak in 1985 as a means to ensure divorced women’s rights when it came to their children, but has been under attack ever since.
Today, many parties are included in the law amendment discussion: the House of Representatives, religious parties, men who have suffered from the law, The Council of Mothers and Children and the National Council for Women (NCW).
Mervat Abou Ouf, professor of practice at the department of journalism and mass communication and member of the NCW, said that while the current law is in favor of women, the NCW does not necessarily have to be against the amendment to the law, as their aim is to protect the rights of women in a way that is suitable for all parties.
“The most important thing, and what all parties must keep in mind, is that since there are children involved in this decision, we all must protect their welfare and be completely aware that they are the priority.”
She also added that the law as it is in fact harmful to children and fathers – the fact that they meet under strange and tense circumstances may cause the father to hold a grudge against the child or his mother and be vocal about it.
“What good can come out of this? Nothing,” said Abou Ouf.
In 1985, supporters of the Child Custody Law held that the mother caretaker role was more important than that of the father’s and used this to argue that the two-hour visitation period was sufficient.
“Those who say the mother’s role is more important than the father’s are mistaken. Both roles are just as important,” she said.
“The current law is a worst case scenario and is only implemented if the relationship between the father and mother is rocky and they cannot come to an agreement on their own,” Deputy General of the Ministry of Interior Emad Fawzy, told The Caravan.
If they do agree on certain terms, however, then the law is not at all applicable. The father can even have custody of the children, as long as the mother agrees.
He added that the worst part of this law is that women often use it as a way to punish the father, telling him that if he wants to see his children he should get a court ruling.
The father would then go to court and state that he wants his rights under the law, and once it is granted, they must specify a certain day and time for every week, keeping in mind the conditions, such as supervision.
If the woman still refuses to let the father see his children, she then puts herself in a position to lose custody.
Going through this, especially at a young age, could be psychologically harmful for the children, which is what Abou Ouf is most concerned about.
She said that if the culture and education were different and pushed for respect and dignity between both man and woman, the reality would be different.
The way girls and boys are brought up and taught to treat each other has a huge effect, she added.
The amendment may come too late for Mechanical Engineering junior Ahmed Salah.
A child of divorce from a young age, Salah, like many others, would see his father only once a week.
“My father was a stranger to me when I was little,” said Salah.
“I would be scared to go out with my dad. I didn’t know him or his relatives. He didn’t know me, and I didn’t understand what was going on.”
As he grew older, he no longer felt scared, but rather, he would feel “awkward” when spending time with his father.
“It affected the way I turned out,” he said, adding that most of his traits and the way he deals with life stems from his mother and her family.”
In the meantime, Fawzy believes that the amendment process may take time as the House of Representatives comes to conclusions about topics based on their importance, and that discussions may be shelved in the interim until after the presidential election.
Until the amendment goes through, Salah’s story is one of tens of thousands.
“I respect my father and my mother and I don’t hold anything against them,” said Salah, “but I wouldn’t put my own children through this.”