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Can new police force halt Egypt's rising divorce rates?

A number of parliamentarians have proposed creating a "family police" to address domestic disputes, yet some argue cash-strapped Cairo can't afford such a measure at this time.
A riot police takes his position in front of a poster reading, "Our mission is your security and your safety our goal" outside a police academy, where ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's second trial session was due to take place, on the outskirts of Cairo January 8, 2014. The trial of Mursi on charges of inciting murder was postponed until February 1 on Wednesday after officials said bad weather had stopped him from being flown to court. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNRES

CAIRO — A number of Egyptian members of parliament have proposed a draft law to create a so-called family police to deal with family issues and marital disputes and address the growing cases of divorce. This sparked a heated debate among parliamentarians and a number of specialists concerning the draft law’s significance and viability.

This special police department would look into domestic and family disputes in an attempt to prevent divorce cases. The bill includes the establishment of buildings that are independent from the police departments. The department will be separated from the detention and investigation cells where criminals and suspects are held so as not to have a negative psychological impact on young children or the entire family.

The idea started when the Justice and Equality Center, a nongovernmental organization, made a proposal to establish a family police to look into family-related problems such as domestic violence, issues with babysitters, the elderly, inheritance, addiction and mental illness, among other problems.

This proposal was endorsed by a number of parliamentarians, including Abdel Hamid Sheikh, a member of the Information and Communications Technology Committee, who stressed that once the center is done with preparation of the draft law, he will be working on collecting the signature of 60 members of parliament to be submitted to the Proposals and Complaints committee for deliberation and approval.

“The draft law will stipulate the need to have social experts and specialists qualified to play a reconciliatory role, with the necessary shrewdness to deal with domestic issues and problems in households, in a bid to fill the gap between the conflicting parties, especially with the high rates of divorce nowadays. This role could help families not fall apart and thus preserve the cohesion of the entire Egyptian community,” Sheikh said in a press statement.

He also stressed the need for the introduction of a family police to coincide with the launch of awareness campaigns on domestic and family cohesion in various media outlets. In addition, he noted, the National Council for Women and civil society organizations must work to ready the public opinion for this new experience; otherwise, it won’t succeed.

Hala Othman, the head of the Justice and Equality Center, said in a press statement, “The family police will be at the service of the entire community, specifically women and children. This is especially true for child custody and alimony cases, where women suffer for their rights, in addition to cases that should be dealt with in a different security manner, taking into account the social and psychological dimensions of the children and mothers. To this end, the family police will hire social workers and psychologists along the lines of the work of the family court.”

UN statistics released last year showed that divorce rates are soaring in Egypt, to the extent that Egypt became the No. 1 country in terms of the highest number of divorces, with a rate exceeding 170,000 cases in 2014.

In December 2015, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics revealed that the divorce rate in 2014 reached 180,244 cases, an increase of 10.9% compared to 2013.

According to the same statistics, urban areas recorded the highest numbers of divorce cases, with a 54.3% rate as opposed to 45.7% in rural areas.

Yet implementing the proposed bill on the ground will not come without impediments and obstacles, according to experts. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Noureddine, the former assistant to the minister of interior, said that while the proposal is “a good idea,” it could still fail if it is not carefully thought out and planned, whether in terms of securing the necessary financial resources or taking into account the input and suggestion of civil society organizations and the national councils for motherhood and childhood.

Noureddine said, “The idea of having a separate police department for family affairs — whether in terms of issuing official reports by police officers or final judgments by the public prosecution and the court judges — is of paramount importance. This would prevent mixing family issues with criminal cases inside the police station, not to mention the importance of such a step for the welfare of children.”

He added, “However, this proposal needs major funding at a time the Ministry of Interior cannot bear this burden, in light of the major challenges it is currently facing. The ministry is currently preoccupied with tracking down terrorist cells in addition to working on bringing in new technologies to face terrorist threats at the highest levels.”

Noureddine said, “I am totally aware that Egypt is in dire need of this idea being implemented, given the rising divorce rate that has reached alarming levels over the years. This is true particularly since the idea is being implemented in many European countries and other Arab countries, and thus Egypt is already late in this regard, due to the hard living conditions the ordinary citizen is facing, the lack of financial resources for this session and the significant economic challenges Egypt is facing.”

He said that there are highly efficient people at the Interior Ministry, and the police officers who graduated from the sociology and psychology departments and have the ability to deal with all marital disputes. “Yet this will only happen when the necessary financial resources are available. This is because we need 30 buildings in all parts of the republic, four of which are in Cairo, as it is overpopulated, and 26 buildings in the other governorates, for the family police to be present in all governorates. Thus, if the government provides funds for this idea, the Interior Ministry will be ready to implement it immediately.”

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