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Court ruling obliges authorities to register children from customary marriages
Courtesy: دعاء العدل

An Egyptian court issued a ruling obliging authorities to register children from customary (Urfi) marriages, and issue them birth certificates the state-owned Egynews website reported on Monday.

The Administrative Court ruled that employees at the Civil Status Organization, a registrar authority affiliated with the Interior Ministry, must register children born into customary marriages, guaranteeing their right to access health and educational services. Authorities currently decline to register children who are not born from official marriages.

Customary marriages are a form of marriage that is not officialy registered with the state, whereby a couple signs a document as proof of marriage, in the presence of two witnesses who also sign. The procedure is usually carried out by couples who do not wish to publicly announce their marriage. Despite being Islamic Sharia-compliant, the practice is generally frowned upon in Egyptian society and can lead to legal issues for women afterward, and difficulty acquiring access to services that require a birth certificate, like school enrollment and vaccinations.

Lawyer at the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance (CEWLA) Abdel Fattah Yehia told Mada Masr this is not the first court ruling of the sort. According to Yehia, a 2015 ruling issued by the Administrative Court permitted mothers with customary marriage contracts to register their children, as did as an earlier ruling by an Alexandria court.

“The new thing is that this recent ruling follows a lawsuit, filed by a mother, against the Civil Status Organization whose employees did not implement the previous rulings,” he stated, asserting that even mothers who have official marriage contracts are unable to register their children. The most recent decision compels the Interior Ministry to commit to previously issued rulings.

“Civil servants only allow fathers and male relatives to register children. even if a mother is officially married she cannot register her child on her own, her husband must go. Sometimes when spouses are involved in conflicts and a father does not want to spend on their children, they decline to register them, so mothers have to file lawsuits to prove paternity,” Yehia elaborated.

This is in violation of Egypt’s Child Law and both court rulings. Amendments to the Child Law in 2008 made it possible for women to register their infants, where previously only male relatives were legally permitted to do so. However the amendments required women to present “an official document proving the marriage relationship and consent signed by her that the child is born out of this relationship.”

Yehia told Mada Masr that many women with this documentation are still unable to register their children as most civil servants are unaware of the legal reforms and court rulings issued in this regard. The Interior Ministry is obliged update civil servants on decrees, legal changes and court rulings. According to Yehia, this never happens, and they continue to implement outdated laws.

Moshira Khattab, former head of the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood, proposed an amendment to the Child Law in 2008 that would enable mothers who cannot prove their children’s paternity to register them under the mother’s family name. The proposed amendment was rejected by Al-Azhar.

In March of this year President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a presidential decree amending the Social Solidarity Law, redefining the term orphan to include children with unproven paternity, granting them greater access to services.