When Lena came to life she became a household name. She was not the first child to be born out of wedlock, but her mother, Hind Hinnawy was the first woman who publicly sued a man to prove his paternity. She stood up for her unborn child’s right to live, in one of the most controversial cases the Egyptian courts dealt with.
Costume designer, Hind Hinnawy, met actor Ahmed Fishawy on the set of a movie. They fell in love, draft and signed an urfi marriage document. And as always problems unfolded when Hind announced her pregnancy.
In a society where both conservatism and hypocrisy are moving parallel, premarital sex is forbidden, but urfi marriages are widely spreading between young couples. The disagreement among religious scholars over its legality is causing a lot of confusion and couples are using it as an excuse to legalize their sexual relationships.
In urfi marriages, two copies are drafted and signed by two witnesses. Each party keeps a copy, and the alleged husband is neither financially responsible for his wife nor kids, but the kids carry his name.
If a woman loses her copy, she can’t prove she was married. If the man denies the marriage, the woman has the entire burden to prove that the child belongs to him.
When Hind’s pregnancy was announced, Ahmed consulted a religious scholar who advised Hind to abort the child. She refused and Ahmed stole her urfi copy to force her to terminate the pregnancy. It was ironic that the voices of the religious scholars that were preaching against abortion from the beginning of time agreed that aborting the child was less sinful than having one out of wedlock. The decision that was made by a man for the welfare of another man only proved how they are supportive of their own kind.
Destroying the urfi marriage paper is a good strategy that usually works. But Hind’s courage was unexpected. She informed her parents of the situation and in an unprecedented event they fully supported her. When the story reached the media, Hind’s father, Professor Hinnawy was subjected to humiliation and hurtful remarks against him and his daughter’s honor which he tolerated with patience. After all, Egypt had never witnessed before a man, on public television, discussing the circumstances of his daughter’s pregnancy out of wedlock.
Ahmed Fishawy, the father to be, denied all allegations of his relationship with Hind. And when Lena was born, he refused a court order to undergo a DNA test to prove his paternity. Under Egyptian law a child with no father’s name can’t have a birth certificate. Lena’s future was ruined before it had even started. Religious scholars insisted that children born out of wedlock have to pay for their parent’s mistakes.
Hind and her parents didn’t rest until the judge ruled in her favor and Lena was granted her father’s name, two years after she was born. Critics of the ruling warned that this would encourage more people of having premarital sex, but those who supported the ruling said that men will think twice before abandoning their responsibilities.
In November 2008, shortly before Lena’s fourth birthday, Ahmed Fishawi publicly admitted that he is in fact her father.
Lena’s story had a happy ending, but unfortunately that was the exception not the rule. There are more than 14,000 similar cases being fought in the Egyptian courts. To carry the message forward, Hind formed an NGO to help unwed mothers to fight for their children’s rights.