Egyptian rights advocates, writers, artists demand return of child 'forced to be Muslim' to his foster Christian family
A total of 267 Egyptian human, women and children's rights defenders, artists, writers and others called on the Egyptian government to return a child named Shenouda, who was taken from his foster Coptic Christian family to an orphanage where his name was changed to Youssef and he was allegedly forced to convert to Islam.
Four years ago, a Christian couple, who could not have a child of their own, found a few-day-old baby unattended inside a church. They decided to raise him as their own and issued him a birth certificate and named him Shenouda, a statement by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) read.
"A family member had a feud with Shenouda's foster parents and to take revenge, she reported their secret to the police. This led to the child being taken by the authorities by force and put at an orphanage where his name was changed to Youssef and he became Muslim by force under the pretext that a human is inherently born as Muslim," the statement read.
"There is no article in the law that dictates a person is Muslim inherently. These are just explanations and legal adaptations by those applying it," EIPR argued.
The signatories called on the concerned bodies to form a committee to find a solution for the child, with the help of sociologists and psychologists, and visit both the former foster home and the orphanage, where the child currently stays, to examine his psychological state and decide which situation is best for him.
"We further call on the ministry of social solidarity and the civil affairs authority to retreat from their decision of changing the child's name and religion so that his family can foster him," the statement read.
The foster parents could not be reached for comment at the time of publishing.
Adoption is illegal in Egypt based on Islamic Sharia, but a Muslim family can foster a child while s/he keeps their name. Yet adoption is allowed in Christianity.
Christians in Egypt are forced to follow Islamic Sharia in most matters, except marriage and divorce.
Legally, in Egypt, Christians can only foster a child if s/he lives at an orphanage annexed to a church. Usually, church orphanages host children whose parents died or are too poor to support them. Otherwise, any unidentified child is considered Muslim by default.
The percentage of Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt has never been officially released. But it is believed they make up approximately 10 to 15 per cent of the 103 million population; most of them are Coptic Orthodox and are among the world's oldest Christian communities.