Egyptian Mothers Naming and Registering their Children .. A Suspended Right!
The issue of registering a new born baby, or choosing a name for him/her, may seem very easy and intuitive!
But the reality is the opposite for many countries.
Egyptian mothers, for example, are deprived not only of the right to go to the health office on their own to obtain a birth certificate for their children, but also of their right to name them.
Egyptian Mothers .. by Childbearing Only!
“I had just given birth to my son, and the cesarean section hurt. But, I was exhausted from the trips between the departments and the courts to register my son.”
This is how Mona Muhammadin, a mother of 3 children, began her conversation with “Sharika Walaken” complaining about what happened to her when she wanted to register her new child several years ago.
She added, “Before I registered my son, there were problems between me and my husband, who was abusing me. So I took the children with a custody decision from the court.”
She pointed out that when she went to register her child, she called her husband, and he said that he would come to register him.
While she waited for him in front of the health office, and called him, he did not answer, nor did he answer anyone from her family.
She said, “I did not care about the absence of the father and his evasion of responsibility. So I went to the health office to register him, and I was carrying the marriage document, and a number of my relatives accompanied me.”
But, she indicated that “the office staff refused to register him, and to issue a birth certificate, and they questioned me and the paternity of my child.”
Mona was treated badly by the staff at the time, which prompted her to call her ex-husband again, hoping that he would go with her to end this problem.
But, he disavowed again, and that was before she knew that she could go to the police station and file a report on the father for refusing to register his child.
Then she discovered that this report is administrative only, and is not binding, but rather for documentation. When the father found out, he increased his intransigence towards the mother and the registration of the child.
Historical Ruling: “The Child’s Birth Certificate is The Right of The Mother”
In 2015, a ruling was issued by the Administrative Court in Alexandria, which was described as historic.
It ordered a halt to the implementation of the government’s negative decision to refrain from recording the birth of children in the birth records.
It also bound the government to record the births in the birth records.
And to issue birth certificates to Egyptian mothers, without considering the objection of the father and his family, as it is a physical and psychological harm to the mother, provided that the marriage relationship is proven by a legal contract.
But it was not the first ruling of its kind. Also, last year, a ruling was issued to record the birth of a child, and to give the mother his birth certificate.
Despite this, health officials are still obstinate in registering births by the mother.
Mona mentioned that the employee at the health office claimed that there was no ruling “obligating her to issue this child a birth certificate.”
When she went to court, a judge advised her to file a “paternity case,” but she refused at the time.
“How can I allow my son to start his life with a case like this?” she said.
After 15 days had passed during which she was unable to register her son, one of her relatives advised her to bring witnesses along with the report she made at the Public Prosecution Office, but no one would listen!
Mona describes what happened to her during that period, and the long distance that she used to travel from her home to the health office, as “a period of humiliation, degradation, indolence, and disdain.”
The matter was not resolved until she was able to obtain mediation from the Health Bureau, which informed her of the availability of a “legal affairs” department within the office, which no one had informed her of from the beginning.
Suffering and Humiliation Along With the Pains of Childbirth
Samah (a pseudonym) shares Mona’s suffering and humiliation which ever Egyptian mother receives when registering their children.
Although she had recently given birth, no one showed her mercy!
About this experience, she said to “Sharika Walaken”: “When my due date approached, I told him about it, because he was still my husband at the time, so he stipulated that I give up all my rights in exchange for registering the child.”
She added, “When I refused, he laughed. And he answered me: I asked my lawyer, and he told me that you would not be able to register the child without my presence or the presence of the child’s grandfather or uncle.”
That was the only attempt she made before she decided to embark on a long journey, which she decided to take to register the birth of her child.
So she began her arduous journey, which was accompanied by the pains of childbirth, and she went to the police station to file a report on the father’s refusal to register his child.
After obtaining a copy of the report, she went to the Public Prosecution Office, which put her in an endless cycle.
The employees lost the copy of the report, and then asked her for a copy of the father’s I.D, when she certainly didn’t have either!
Samah described all of these requests as “insurmountable.”
Despite this, she was able to obtain the father’s birth certificate, after 10 days of suffering and exhaustion, between the official institutions.
Through the prosecution’s report, a copy of the marriage certificate and the father’s birth certificate, she was able to finally obtain her child’s birth certificate.
Unregistered Births.. Its Repercussions and Effects on Both Male and Female Children
UNICEF confirmed in the report “Women, Land, Property and Housing”, that without a birth certificate, many boys and girls are unable to obtain the regular immunizations and other health care services.
He/she may not be able to attend school or register for exams.
As a result, their future opportunities to get a job are very limited, which increases the likelihood that they will fall into poverty.
The report also noted that in a number of countries, women do not have the same rights as men when it comes to birth registration.
Some women are not able to register their children at all, while others may be able to register a child only in the presence of the father.
Intransigence Against Egyptian Mothers
As a form of intransigence against the mother (M.S), a father refused to register his child with her.
While she was suffering from the pain and effects of childbirth, she still visited more than one health office to register her son. And she couldn’t, of course.
The employees told her that “only the father, or the paternal grandfather, uncle, and aunt have the right to register.”
After many consultations with the father, he registered the child but under his name only, as a kind of stubbornness against the mother, who was rejecting him.
He also refused to give her the original copy of the birth certificate, which is necessary for the child to receive his vaccinations.
But she was able to extract another certificate through the computer.
During a field research we conducted in the health offices, we met the director of one of the offices, who refused to reveal her name.
She said to “Sharika Walaken” that “the current law only gives the father, and the paternal uncle, grandfather or aunt the right to register the child, otherwise the mother must submit a report of the father’s refusal to register, and she can then register the child with a copy of the report.”
And she pointed out that “it gets worse in cases where the father and the mother are still together, but the father is abroad, then the mothers cannot enroll their children, even in schools, without the father or his family or through a power of attorney.”
The List of Disadvantaged Egyptian Mothers is Endless
The list of the suffering of many Egyptian mothers is long and endless.
During a meeting with Heba Nasser, she told “Sharika Walaken” her story and her arduous journey.
Heba told us that she “left the marital home while she was in her third month of pregnancy. And when she gave birth to her child, her husband told her this is not my son. You broke up with me and you weren’t pregnant.”
Certainly, the matter was not resolved except through the use of “wasta” or “connections” with a person who works in a health office, through her neighbor.
He took the money from her, the copy of the father’s I.D, the marriage certificate, and her brother’s signature instead of the father, but that did not prevent the harsh looks she was receiving from the health officer.
It is noteworthy that although the law is currently granting that right, the Egyptian Dar Al Iftaa issued a strange fatwa of its kind years ago!
In the fatwa, it was said, “The principle regarding the right to name a newborn is fixed on the father, just as the father is the one who has guardianship over his wife and guardianship over his child.”
Risks of Not Registering Births
Women, not only in Egypt, but in all Arab countries, suffer from sexual discrimination.
This does not affect them alone, and its repercussions do not cast a shadow on them alone, but on their sons and daughters in the first place.
So, birth registration is the only legal way to obtain a birth certificate for children.
This would protect them from violence, abuse, exploitation, human trafficking, child marriage, and child labor.
Civil Society Efforts
Regarding the efforts of civil society in this field, the researcher in the field of women’s rights and a member of the New Woman Foundation, Lamia Lutfi, said, “Civil society, especially my foundation, worked on this issue in 2003 because of the case of Hind al-Hinnawi and the artist Ahmed al-Fishawi. It was said at the time, according to official reports, that the number of unknown parents in Egypt is very large.”
She added, “The campaign stopped in 2008, when the Child Law was issued, which carried many of the campaign’s goals that were achieved, but not all of them.”
The campaign worked on several axes. The first was the lineage of children from consensual relationships whose parentage is denied, because the law did not take DNA tests into consideration.
At that time, Lamia was surprised that the number of cases proving parentage from marriage relations was very high.
Fathers refuse to register their children, even though they are married. The mothers may enter into a lengthy legal process, possibly lasting years, to establish parentage.
Lamia also confirmed that “the law at the time gave Egyptian mothers the right to obtain a birth certificate, but administrative decisions, customs, and the fear of health office employees continued to delay this.”
She explained that a large number of women fall victim to their lack of knowledge of their rights. They either go through a long and complicated process of procedures, or they submit to the husband’s blackmail. They may waive their rights or even pay money to obtain the document.
While Lamia considered that “the intransigence of parents sometimes against registering sons/daughters is similar to the intransigence of some of them in cases of alimony and other rights.”
She explained, “Working during this period on issuing a civil law that guarantees the right of children to a name, lineage, identity, and nationality. And that they receive parental care from the first day, without any of the parents abandoning their care.”
And between a right guaranteed by international conventions to equality between women and men, and a legal right that supports that equality without discrimination, women remain at the mercy of the male and his family.
So, the time has come to review this methodology, and all forms of discrimination that exist in laws, customs, religion, and traditions.
How can a mother carry a boy or girl in her body for nine months, but she does not have the right to register him/her and name him/her?