The case of a four-year-old boy, Shenouda, who was raised by a Coptic couple who found him abandoned outside a church, has sparked a heated debate in Egypt involving human rights activists and lawmakers.
Activists have called for the case to be brought before the House of Representatives in the hope that Egypt’s laws regarding the adoption of children by Christians will be amended.
Shenouda was raised as a Christian by the Coptic couple. But the husband’s niece filed a legal case claiming that the couple had kidnapped a Muslim child, as a result of which Shenouda was taken from his foster parents and placed in an orphanage by the public prosecutor.
Shenouda’s foster mother Amal, 50, alleged that the niece filed the case because of a family dispute over inheritance.
At the orphanage, Shenouda’s name was changed to Youssef and his religion changed from Christianity to Islam.
Najeeb Gabriel, the lawyer representing Shenouda’s foster parents, told Arab News: “After the child was placed in the orphanage, we worked on a petition to overturn the public prosecutor’s decision and return him to his adoptive family and religion. A request to hear witnesses was submitted to the counselor to the attorney general.”
A judicial source, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News: “The incident of Shenouda is not unique. There are many similar stories that were not covered by the media.
“Reality necessitates the need to change the approach of relying on religious and sectarian discourse in personal-status laws.
“The Egyptian state prohibited adoption, in its broadest sense, when it issued the Child Law in 1996, and made several amendments to it, which subject the adoptive family to conditions and criteria confirming the validity of the family and the integrity of its intentions to care for these children without exploiting them or for self-interest.
“It was enforced until the 1970s, but the door to adoption was removed with the draft Personal Status Law for Christians, which was put in place after the 2014 constitution.”
Ehab Ramzi, an MP, told Arab News: “The case of the child Shenouda is a step toward new legislation for adoption.”
He said that changing the child’s name and religion was not based on any legal text or precedent.
“He was found near the church and was baptized and raised within it by a Christian family, which makes it obligatory for the child to remain in this upbringing until he has the freedom of choice,” Ramzi said.
“I believe that parliament and legislators are now required to amend the law on private adoption by Christians in accordance with laws and regulations, or to develop a civil personal status law that does not discriminate between citizens on the basis of religion,” Ramzi added.