EGYPT: New Protections for Children's Rights in Egypt note: The Egyptian Parliament passed a new children's rights bill last week that makes female genital cutting a crime punishable by fine or jail time and raises the legal age of marriage to 18.
The move comes after protests over the deaths of two girls who experienced complications related to the procedure.
A high-ranking Egyptian Muslim cleric, Mufti Ali Juma, supports the new laws despite opposition by many conservative Muslims.
The bill also allows children born out of wedlock the right to health care and schooling.

Young Egyptian girls.
Young Egyptian girls. © Centre for Development and Population Activities

New Egyptian Law Amendments Major Victory

The Egyptian Shura Council recently passed most articles of new child law amendments that, among other things, raises the minimum age for marriage to 18 years and makes the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Egypt a punishable offense.

These amendments directly address two issues that Coptic Orphans faces frequently in our work: female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage.

Major Victory on FGM/C

Female genital mutilation/cutting, (FGM/C) also known as female circumcision in Egypt, is the practice of removing or damaging some or all of the female genitalia. It is believed to preserve a girls’ honor, but has life-long social, psychological, and medical consequences.

A few years ago, the Egypt Ministry of Health banned the practice in medical facilities. Still, last summer a young girl named Bedour died while undergoing the practice, and then in September another girl also died. Coptic Orphans marched with the National Council on Childhood and Motherhood to demand a law to give teeth to the ban.

The current amendment makes providing the procedure a crime punishable by imprisonment or fine, a major victory for girls like Bedour in the face of this ongoing injustice.

Major Victory on Child Marriage

Samira was a participant in the Not Alone program. She was making progress in school and things seemed to be going well. Then, her family decided to marry her off while still in high school. She was only 14. We advocated on her behalf with the local priest and thankfully the family agreed to wait until Samira turns 18. Samira was fortunate: we have found that many girls find themselves in similar situation in Egypt.

Studies show that the education level of the mother determines the poverty of the children in her family. Consequently, we have always fought to keep individual girls in our program in school so that when they do reach marriageable age they have the resources to keep their future families from falling back into poverty.

An article of one of the amendments just passed now makes 18 the minimum age for marriage. Now, Coptic Orphans has the law behind us when we encourage families to keep girls like Samira in school.

An Added Victory for Children and Families

Whatever laws are on the books, the truest victory will be won when the principles behind these amendments are registered in the hearts and minds of families in Egypt.

We have seen this happen on the ground in villages and cities all along the Nile valley.

Coptic Orphans has led workshops on FGM/C for girls and families led by medical experts and church authorities. One mother who attended a workshop said that not only will she not subject her daughters to the practice, she will tell other women in her village about its harmful effects.

We encourage families on an individual basis to keep their daughters in school in the Not Alone program, and advocate for girls in danger of being pulled out of school for an early marriage. The Valuable Girl Project further encourages girls by helping them realize that they do have options and by emphasizing the importance of education for their lives and the lives of their families.

With your support, we can continue to get the word out in Egypt so that the children we reach will have the freedom to develop their full potential to change the lives of others.


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DATE: 14/06/2008

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