At the request of parliament, Al-Azhar, Egypt’s three Christian churches, the National Council of Women (NCW) and a number of NGOs have prepared draft laws regulating marriage, divorce and the custody of children.
The NCW’s draft law requires all urfi marriages to be registered within five years of the legislation being passed. It prohibits the changing of a child’s name by either of the parents, and bans children from being taken abroad in the absence of the permission of both parents or — should the issue be subject to legal proceedings — the permission of a court. The draft upholds current provisions that children aged 15 or above can choose the parent with whom they reside. It also stipulates family support centres will follow up on the enforcement of judicial custody rulings and alimony and child support payments, and will beef up visiting rights. Often judicial rulings on alimony go unimplemented, leaving mothers with children struggling to support them financially.
Al-Azhar’s draft, which criminalises urfi marriage, also seeks to regulate the termination of engagements. It proposes that, in the event of an engagement ending, women have the right to keep the customary gift (shabka) from their fiancée should he call the engagement off, but must return it should they end the engagement. The draft also sets conditions for the taking of more than one wife. A husband seeking a second marriage will be required to inform his first wife in advance, and should only remarry if his wife is unable to fulfill her marital duties. It also outlaws second marriages for pleasure and criminalises child marriage, obligatory marriage, child labour and female genital mutilation.
Egypt’s three Christian churches are expected to finalise their own draft after Ramadan ends. The Coptic Orthodox Church only condones divorce should one partner have committed adultery or changed their religion, the Catholic Church forbids it entirely and the Evangelical Church allows divorce in very limited circumstances.