A letter addressed to Egypt's First Lady demanded urgent intervention 'to save the Egyptian Christian children from forced Islamization', was sent by Dr. Naguib Gibraeel, President of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization (EUHRO).
"The compulsory subordination of Christian minors to their converted to Islam fathers has a religious background and no legal basis whatsoever," stressed Gibraeel, who is an attorney and a Christian Copt himself.
The letter also criticized establishing rulings for a child's custody on the 'better religion' criteria as being incompatible with the concept of the secular state, and the judge in these instances disrespects the rule of law.
"How is it possible to deprive a youngster from the arms of his mother to live with his Muslim step-mother, while his own mother is still alive?" asks Dr. Gibraeel, "and this is being practiced in the 21st century in Egypt, while it does not happen in the least developed of countries."
Gibraeel criticized Family Courts' rulings to award custody to the father because he converted to Islam by saying: "Instead of applying the Egyptian custody law issued by the People's Assembly which, gives custody to the mother until the child reaches the age of 15 years, we find this law 'miraculously' disregarded once the father converts to Islam, and the custody is then removed from the mother and awarded to him."
The EUHRO letter points out that this is against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects the best interests of the child, recommending the child to be under the custody of his real mother.
In a lengthy letter which was delivered on May 13, 2009 to the office of Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, in her capacity as President of the Egyptian National Council for Motherhood and Childhood, EUHRO depicted the coercion, persecution and injustice with which Christian children are overburdened.
The letter argues that it is illogical to call for citizenship and the supremacy of law when these foundations are completely ignored 'once a father converts and coerces his minor child to change his name and religion, resulting in the 'social malady' prevailing among those Christian children.
"The youngster is not only taken away from his mother, but is also forced to change his name and religion following his father's conversion," Gibraeel explains, "he finds himself having two names and two religions; his name from birth and a religion known to his peers and teachers, in addition to another new name and a new religion in the official papers. He is, therefore, subjected to strange and random decisions by the Ministry of Education and the school authorities where he is forced to sit for exams in Islamic religion."
It is worth noting that Egyptian law is influenced by Islamic jurisprudence (Shari'a), which automatically awards child custody to whichever parent has the "better" (or 'more noble') religion and dictates "no jurisdiction of a non-Muslim over a Muslim."
Furthermore, the amendment to the Egyptian Constitution in 2007, inspite of a wide Coptic rejection, stipulates in its Second Article that Shari'a is the main source of legislation, leading to a serious deterioration in the 12-15 million Coptic population's conditions; relegating them to a de-facto status of second-class citizens.
The EUHRO letter also accuses the Ministry of Interior of forcing Islamization. "Tthere is no law or any legal basis in Egypt which stipulates that the minor has to follow the parent with the "better religion." It also called for charging with forgery its Civil Status Department's employees, who change the name or religion of a child due to his father's wishes, as no one has such a right except the concerned person (i.e. the child) himself.
Gibraeel asks Mrs. Mubarak why in the newly enacted Child's Law there was no clear clause ensuring that custody is to remain with the mother according to the 'marriage contract' in the event of religious conversion, until the minors come of age, or until their marriage at the age of 18 years.
Referring to Family Courts' rulings when the reason for giving custody to the Muslim father was given as "fear of the youngster frequenting churches, fear of knowing any other religion besides Islam, fear of eating pork and drinking alcohol" the EUHRO letter goes on to inquire as to the reason of perceiving Christianity as an 'inferior religion' while it is recognized as a divine religion in the Constitution.
"How is it possible to accept hurting the feelings of the Christian population with these judicial rulings? Would Muslims accept to have similar things said about their religion?" inquires Gibraeel of Egypt's First Lady.
Gibraeel stressed that should this issue not be resolved, the Christian mothers who are victims of these extremists' practices will stand in front of Mrs. Mubarak's office until the issue is resolved.
The letter concludes by Gibraeel emphatically stating: "I would like to know one thing so that I can put an end to my distress and with me the rest of the Christian population, are we a religious or a secular State? Are we governed according to civil or Shari'a law? If the latter is the case, we should therefore stop boasting in front of the whole world that we are a secular State and declare openly that we live in a Theocratic State."
By Mary Abdelmassih