No voices for Moms

5 February 2022

Educational Custody’s Rules Ban Children from Private Schools

Rabab Hussein, 40, spends five hours a day travelling from her home south of Cairo, to accompany her son to a school chosen by her divorcee. Rabab, a doctor’s assistant in Helwan separated from her husband six years ago, and is bringing up an eight-year-old child, who is now in language basic education stage.

Although the child is in her custody, his school was chosen by his father, who did not take into consideration the distance between the school and where his son lived with his mother.

Rebab Hussein tried to transfer her son to an alternative school closer to his home, but the school administration refused her request. School officials informed her that she should submit a judicial ruling that provides her with the “education custody” for her son or that the child’s father himself apply for his transfer.

In order to avoid raising problems with her divorcee, Rabab avoided going to court and filing a lawsuit to prove her right to “educational custody” preferring to endure the daily strenuous trip to the school.

The “educational custody” refers to the law administering the children’s educational affairs before they reach the age of 15. This includes school selection and registration, file transfers, parents presence at school meetings and other issues. The “educational custody” is automatically given to fathers in Egypt in the absence of marital disputes, but could be transferred to a custodian when a divorce occurs, in accordance with Article 54 of Child Law No. 12 of 1996, as amended by Law No. 126 of 2008. However, divorced mothers need to obtain a court ruling to establish their right to “educational custody” established by law.

The Egyptian Child Law No. 12

Although judicial rulings recognize the right of mothers and grandmothers to “educational custody” after a divorce, many divorced women in Egypt are challenged while trying to run their children’s educational affairs because of conflicts with their former husbands. Some departments of private educational institutions have been directly or indirectly intransigent in registering the children of divorced women.

Years of Loss

This investigation documents 12 cases of divorced women whose children’s natural right to education has been curtailed by the “educational custody” provision. Some private schools have refused to accept to enroll children of divorced women in the absence of the father or a judicial ruling that grants the mother “educational custody” for the child. The fact that many private schools require a court ruling to establish this ‘right’, causes children to join schools late, deprives them of schooling near their mother’s homes where they usually reside, not to mention the material and psychological burdens the mothers suffer as a result of that.

Anji 34, was divorced six years ago, and she could not register her only son who is eight years old at a school that required the father’s attendance to register the child.

As the child’s father was outside the country at the time, Anji failed to register her child in time. Later, she succeeded when she managed to bring along her son paternal grandmother’s cousin. The school administration later agreed to register the child “since a male from his father’s side of the family was present.”

This dispute led the child to lose two years of schooling. Later this six years old was enrolled in the pre-kindergarten stage tailored for admission of 3 to 4 years old children.

Yasmin Mustafa, who gave up all her marital rights in return for her divorce, did not expect the divorce to affect her child’s educational future, especially as the rupture with her husband happened while she was pregnant.

To her surprise, Yasmin Mustafa was unable to register her daughter at kindergarten stage when she turned fours years old, since her father was not around.

At the beginning, she did not tell the school’s administration about the divorce, citing that the father was traveling abroad. But the school administration asked her to wait until his return.

Later, Yasmin managed to persuade the father to come to school and register the child without informing the school administration of their divorce to avoid the child being denied acceptance. Today, Yasmin’s daughter is in Grade 4, and the school administration still does not know about her parents’ divorce.

Yasmin describes her “bitter” suffering trying to hide the truth from her child during the application process to save the child any psychological harm, but she knows also that she will not be able to hide that issue for much longer.

In Giza Governorate, Marwa Eid, 28, has been divorced for three years, and was unable to enroll her six-year-old daughter in a private school. “I suffered after all the private schools I went to refused to accept her on the grounds that one of her parents’ absence would affect negatively her academic achievement. This eventually led me to register her at a less excellent school, which overlooked my marital status.”

Direct and Indirect Intransigence

In an attempt to test the claimed intransigence of private schools in Egypt to register children of divorced mothers, this investigation randomly selected a sample of 100 private schools in the governorates of Cairo, Giza and Alexandria where the divorce rates are very high according to official statistics. Then, the registration departments in each school were approached to monitor their acceptance or refusal of children of divorced mothers and the extent of their insistence that the mother should hold the “educational custody”.

About 71 percent of schools directly refused to receive the child without the mother having “educational custody”. For example, Nour Al-Islam Private School in Giza Governorate refused to register children of separated parents without a court ruling clearly establishing the mothers’ right to “educational custody”.

It said, “This is normal. A copy of the “educational custody” of divorced or widowed women must be provided when applying for a school place.”

Sixteen schools used some indirect tricks to justify rejection, such as claiming lack of vacancies or other excuses. Thirteen schools agreed to accept the registration of children despite the separation of their parents.

In 2017, Minister of Education Tarek Shawky issued circular no. 29 to regulate cases of parental conflict related to their school aged children. The circular has set people entitled to custody in the following order: “The mother and then women close to the mother of the child have right to custody, and those (relatives on the mother side) have precedence over those on the father’s side”. The circular emphasized that educational custody shall not be transferred to a non-custodian unless an enforceable judicial decision or a judicial decision in a matter of educational custody has been issued. The school or educational entity must be then informed of the ruling so that it can be carried out as soon as the notification has been delivered.

Iman Sabri, special education director at the Ministry of Education, confirms the validity of the decision of Minister Shawky until now (the date of publication of the investigation). However, she explains that his decision is limited to government schools, not private schools governed by educational directorates, that are not part of the ministry directly.

Sabri says, “The ministry does not intervene unless there is an official complaint.” Most of the complaints received by the ministry are related to requests for exemption from academic expenses due to the parents separation, she explained.

Sabri says she believes that the attitude of private schools rejecting the registration of children of divorced mothers is “normal” as the school fears that the mother will not be able to settle the financial dues in case of separation. In addition, she says, the school fears becoming involved in the parents’ disputes, such as when a father desires to see the child in the absence of the mother.

“The issue of divorced parents is a very special matter and schools try not to interfere as long as that divorce does not affect the child’s situation, or drag the school into the conflict between the father and the mother,” said Mohammed Mustafa, director of the Al-Wafaa School in Helwan.

Mustafa explained that he had witnessed conflicts between parents inside the school, which started with the desire of one of the parents to see the child inside the school without the knowledge of the custodian. This affects the entire educational process, he added.

Sabri does not deny receiving complaints about schools refusing to enroll some students in private schools, but the reasons she claims might not be related to the parents’ marital status.

She said, “Each school has specific admission requirements, according to which it can accept some students and refuse others. Schools acceptance committees usually choose the best students according to the number of available seats, and of course many are rejected and must find other schools.”

There is no explicit declaration requiring a judicial ruling on “educational custody” to be included as a condition for enrollment in the private schools that we investigated. However, the application for enrollment included questions about the nature of the relationship between the parents – “married” or “separated” – and questions about who will pay the tuition fees. Most schools also ask about social details related to the nature of housing (rented or owned), income level, the name of the social club to which the family belongs to, and other matters to determine the financial situation of the child’s family and ensure its ability to pay the school fees and expenses.

In contrast, the Ministry of Education sets no conditions for private schools to register children other than the condition that a child must be at least four years of age by the beginning of October of each academic year.

The role of the ministry is limited to verifying whether the school complies with specific criteria regarding the number of students admitted, the value of the tuition fees and the quality of the curriculum taught.

Poussi Mustafa, director of Al-Orman Private School, justifies that each private school sets its own admission criteria and policy. She says that ” refusal of a student is not necessarily related to the parents social status.”. A large number of children come to school every year at a time when the school tries to fill its available places, according to its capacity, she explains. The choices made depend on factors, including the general situation and environment surrounding the child, the stability of his or her life, and an acceptable economic and social level enjoyed by the family. This “does not mean refusing children of divorced mothers but choosing the required number according to the best criteria seen by each school”.

Negative Effects

There is no doubt that children are greatly affected by parental divorces, and by its psychological and material impact. Their educational journey is usually impacted greatly as well.

“Parents’ separation generally affects the wellbeing of children, and it takes a great deal of effort to raise a normal child,” says Dina Mahmoud, a professor of behavioral disorders at Cairo University. The psychological condition of a child becomes worse when obstacles appear, such as the school’s failure to accept their enrollment or the fact that the child lags behind his or her peers, she adds. “This results in psychological problems, including anger, anxiety, night urination, introversion, and stubbornness, in addition to difficulty in concentrating or learning”.

Law but…
Mohammed Salameh, a legal adviser on family matters before criminal and civil courts, says that he is frequently asked to obtain “educational custodies” on behalf of divorced women. Applications for “educational custodies” are not only related to women divorcees, he explains. Married women can legally request them to follow up on their children’s educational affairs easily and without any complications, especially if the husband is not residing in the country, he explains.

In the event of divorce, the mother is required to bring papers such as photocopies of the divorce contract, the child’s birth certificate and the mother’s identity card. The papers, in addition to the application form for “education custody”, are submitted to the religious court registrar for review and evaluation of the fee, he says. A hearing is scheduled within a week, and the contender is notified, he adds. One week after attending this session, the executive form of the educational custody is received by the plaintiff, hence, getting the document does not take a long time, according to Salameh.

However, divorced mothers often avoid resorting to court, to avoid increasing disputes with the father, and fearing he may stop paying the children’s expenses.

Nesma Al-Khatib, a lawyer at the Sanad initiative for legal support for women, says the problem is not related to the law, as there is a law and a ministerial decree that provides for granting “educational custody” to the mother. The problem, she adds, is related to the (illegal) attitude of schools that are intransigent in accepting children without the presence of the father personally or one of his male relatives or without an explicit court ruling that establishes the mother’s “educational custody”.

Al-Khatib points out that there are many mothers who are late in getting their children to school to avoid complications related to enrollment, saying that this is a form of school drop-out.

A Distress Call
The divorced mothers whom I interviewed unanimously agree on the importance of a decision being issued that clearly obliges private schools to accept student registration, regardless of the status of the pupils parents’ social status.

“School administrations should be prevented from excluding our children from enrolling at the school,” said Oumaima Mohammed, a recently divorced woman in her 40s.

Mohammed is a teacher, and she was able to register her children at her school. However, she confirms that there are dozens of children who are refused admission to school if there is no judicial ruling about the mother’s “educational custody” or the father’s personal presence during registration.

She concludes, “We need official support that will reinforce our right to have the educational affairs of our children taken into consideration in a normal manner so as not to affect their future or their mental health.”