Egypt is one of the most populous countries in the Middle East with more than 81 million people living throughout Cairo, Alexandria, or along the Nile River. Of those 81 million, an estimated 1.7 million are orphans. In addition, the number of children that live in the streets of Egypt is thought to be far higher. Poverty is a major contributing factor to the number of children abandoned throughout Egypt as many parents are unable to take care of their children and see abandoning them as the best option.
Donating to the well-being of orphans is encouraged in Egypt. There is even an “Orphanage Day” held in early April highlighting the issue and reminding citizens to visit and donate to orphanages. Despite this supported generosity, adopting an orphaned child is prohibited under Islamic Sharia law, which much of Egypt’s civil and criminal laws are based. Whether the child was abandoned or their parents deceased, orphans are often considered a lesser being in Egyptian society and are often abused emotionally and physically. For most orphans, the disrespect and seclusion from society will continue into adulthood unless they find some way to keep their origins a secret.
Despite the stigma and laws forbidding adoption, many couples from the United States have attempted to adopt children from Egypt. Susan Halgof and her husband Medhat Bassada, the focus of Locked up Abroad: Not without My Baby, were one of two couples arrested in 2008 for attempting to adopt a child illegally from an orphanage affiliated with the Coptic Christian Church. The church provided the couples with forged documents in order to smuggle the children out of the country.
While perspective adopters may feel their intentions are well-meaning, officials in Egypt see it differently. Susan and her husband, along with those assisting in the adoption, were accused of human trafficking. Egypt has been under fire by the United States and Israel for their lax efforts to control human trafficking, which has resulted in thousands of children being coerced or forced into labor and sexual exploitation. This increased criticism over the handling of human trafficking in has created speculation that Susan and Medhat were being used as an example by Egyptian officials to prove the country is taking steps to control human trafficking. Their case was the first of its kind in Egypt.
Adoption in Egypt has undeniably divided the society as Islamic law prevents Christians, a religion that is accepting of adoption, from being able to adopt a child. In light of Susan and Medhat’s case, an Egyptian lawyer proposed an adoption law in 2009 which would allow children from Christian orphanages to be adopted by Christian families. However, many argue that such a law would be difficult to adhere to as 90% of the Egyptian population is Muslim. Proving an orphaned child is not Muslim could make the adoption process even more complicated.
Don’t miss Locked Up Abroad: Not Without My Baby Tonight at 10P