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PCHR’s Women’s Rights Unit Holds Panel Discussion: “Sharia Courts for the Best Interest of Children”

 

Ref: 37/2020

Date:18 August 2020

On Monday, 17 August 2020, the Women’s Rights Unit at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) organized a panel discussion titled: “Sharia Courts for the Best Interest of Children.” The panel discussion was held in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, and was attended by Dr. Omar Nofal, Supreme Sharia Court judge, and representatives of the Sharia Courts Council, Sharia judges, Sharia Lawyers Association, women institutions and civil society organizations (CSOs), and  a number of specialized Sharia lawyers.

 

Majeda Shehada, PCHR’s women’s rights researcher, opened the meeting by welcoming the attendees and pointed out that this meeting is the second of its kind within a series of workshops that will be held across the Gaza Strip to discuss the best interest of children regarding child custody, hosting and visitation rights, its guarantees and means to achieve them in the Sharia courts.

 

Mona al-Shawa, Head of PCHR’s WRU, presented  the importance of the 2004 Palestinian Child Law No. (7) issued on 15 August 2005 and its amendments under law by decree No. (19) in 2012, as many of its articles are shared in the Personal Status Law, particularly in custody, hosting and visiting cases, and taking the child’s opinion in judicial proceedings. However, al-Shawa pointed out that it is not applied in the Sharia courts. Al-Shawa clarified that these workshops are a continuation of PCHR’s former workshop (2019) on the Palestinian Child Law which provided many valuable recommendations, the most prominent of which was the submission of a legal memorandum signed by 40 CSOs, HROs and activists, which demanded equality between widowed and divorced women in terms of child custody and focusing on the child’s best interests in all laws and consequent legal proceedings.

 

Samah Ashour, lawyers at PCHR’s WRU, presented a paper discussing the best interests of the child under international laws such as the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), and  the Palestinian Child Law and its amendments and comparing  it with the Personal Status Law as fit with custody, hosting and visiting cases. Ashour stressed on two fundamental rights: the right to take the child’s opinion in the judicial proceedings affecting their life, and the right to protect children through the Child Protection Department that assesses the status and follows up on children cases as per the law and regulations.

 

For his part, Dr. Omar  Nofal, Supreme Sharia Court judge,  emphasized that the Personal Status Law is taken from the Hanafi jurisprudence of the Islamic Sharia and the Family Law was formed to complete and amend many regulations in the Palestinian Status Law. Dr. Nofal also said that the Higher Sharia Court Council issued a  number of  judicial  decisions to achieve the best interest of the child, including the right to view, host and visit the children by the requesting party (non-guardian party). The judge pointed out that there are many laws under review by the Technical Office at the Sharia Court. He also spoke about viewing and hosting cases and the need to speed the decision process in order not to prolong the litigation period between opponents. He also referred to custody cases and pointed out the efforts made by human rights and women’s organizations to ensure equality between divorced women and widows regarding custody and assured that the matter is under study.

 

The panel discussion concluded with a number of recommendations:

 

  1. The importance of allowing the child to choose when they reach the age of puberty in cases of custody and hosting in order to achieve the principle of equality and non-discrimination between genders;
  2. The importance of taking child’s opinion in cases that affect their rights in Sharia Courts;
  3. Classifying hosting, viewing, and visitation cases as speedy requests to fulfil the principle of minimizing the period of litigation and achieving the best interests of the child;
  4. Imposing penalties or fines on the violator or the guarantor who wishes to meet or host the child in case they violate their pledge, or the decision issued by the court, such as suspension of visitation or viewing rights for a set period.