Millions of children are suffering around the world. These children are unfortunate enough to be born in countries where there is a lack of justice. The constitutions of these countries differentiate between their citizens according to gender and religion. In these countries, mothers have no rights and fathers define what constitutes "honor," even if they are themselves unscrupulous and dishonorable.
When I defended a child’s right to dignity, regardless of the conduct of his or her parents, I was said to be defending delinquency. In fact, I was doing quite the opposite. I was trying to reform the corrupt morals of men, forcing them to assume moral responsibility for their actions and to recognize children they have had, either within the framework of a legal marriage or outside of marriage. I was also demanding that society be fair to those children, as an innocent child shouldn’t be scapegoated for the crime of her or his father.
Instead of ending this oppression and doing justice to children, I was fiercely attacked by men. They seemed to be defending their right to sexual chaos, where the helpless child and his or her mother are left to carry responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of the man.
But that was before DNA testing was possible. Today, a child’s father can be identified, thanks to these tests. However, the law doesn’t require an alleged father to undergo such a test. Egyptian law allows the father to wriggle out of responsibility for his behavior, supported by societal norms and the ruling regime. Why are society and the elite silent, seemingly unmoved by such a violation?
Thousands of children involved in paternity cases suffer everyday at the doors of the Egyptian Forensic Medicine Authority. The mothers of the hapless infants wait in the streets for the fathers to appear. But they don’t, because the law doesn’t oblige them to. Only two percent of the fathers show up.
If there are two million children waiting for the father to turn up, then 160,000 will never see him. The remaining "lucky" 40,000 children may still not be proven the biological children of those fathers–when the fathers do actually consent to undergo the test–for the test has a two percent margin of error.
That leaves 800 children without a biological father simply because the test may not always be accurate enough. Moreover, bribery often gives a boost to that margin of error.
Whenever the father doesn’t undergo the test or the test doesn’t come out positive, the child is labeled illegitimate, and thus stigmatized. That child is not an Egyptian citizen with full human rights, for he or she has no birth certificate. In Egypt, there are more than eight million children without birth certificates, living with absolutely no rights. A recent study reported on several consecutive generations of such children who don’t go to schools, and who live and die without an official name, identity or even a birth certificate.
Don’t these facts trouble the conscience of the Egyptian people? When I called, half a century back, for those children to bear the names of their mothers, I was accused of attempting to corrupt the morals of women.
Finally in 2008, the Child Law was amended. The amendment gave children the right to carry the name of their mother or some fictitious father in order to gain a birth certificate recognizing their existence.
Zeina is a 13-year-old girl who has lived with both her parents since her birth. One day, seemingly on a whim, her father decided not to recognize her as his daughter anymore.
The same scenario has happened before, with little Lina, whose father refused to recognize her at first, but eventually yielded in the face of an effective full-on defense put up by the mother’s family. Today, Lina has a father, a birth certificate, and enjoys all the rights of an Egyptian citizen.
But Lina’s success story was an individual case that wasn’t repeated. Why? Because our patriarchal system refuses to be changed. The preservation of masculinity and patriarchy are more important than justice.
That’s why Zeina never got a father. Since her mother is a poor woman, she couldn’t rally public opinion to her defense. Zeina’s father rejected the paternity test which he, by law, is not obliged to undergo. After living 13 years in suffering and humiliation, Zeina was finally able to have a birth certificate issued, but with a fictitious name in the box where the father’s name should be written. She has to accept this fictitious father to "gain her honor back."
Political parties, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists should rise to the defense of a child’s dignity. This is no less important than combating poverty and illiteracy and fighting for freedom, justice, and the integrity of elections.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.