Egypt court jails U.S. couples over illegal adoptions


September 17, 2009

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court sentenced two Egyptian-American couples Thursday to two years in prison in a high profile illegal adoption case involving 11 defendants and four Egyptian babies, a court source said.

The couples, including two U.S. citizens and their Egyptian-born spouses, have been in jail for the duration of the trial and faced roughly nine more months in jail after time off for good behavior and time served, one of their lawyers said.

A third couple was believed to have fled the country and was sentenced to two years in jail in absentia.

"Of course it is bad," said Sameh Ahmed Saleh, lawyer for one of the couples, American Louis Andros and his Egyptian wife Iris Botros.

"We believe they are not guilty ... They adopted children and this is not a crime. Even in Egyptian law this is not a crime," he told Reuters.

Five other defendants including an orphanage worker and a doctor were sentenced to between two and five years in jail in the case, and all were fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($18,200)

The case, involving Christian Egyptian-American couples who wanted to adopt Egyptian children, has provoked ire among some Egyptian Christian activists who complain Islamic strictures make it impossible for Christians to adopt.

Rights activists confirm trafficking in infants and young children takes place in the most populous Arab country, and infants in orphanages and babies of street girls are at highest risk of being trafficked, often to infertile couples.

But there is also no practical legal mechanism for families -- Christian or Muslim -- to adopt children in Egypt, and Egyptians rarely gain guardianship of children not born to their families because of social, religious and legal strictures.

The current case came to light after Botros and her husband approached the U.S. embassy in Cairo to arrange to take two of the babies out of Egypt, according to the indictment.

It said the couple agreed with an orphanage worker "to buy two newborn infants, a girl and a boy, in exchange for 26,000 pounds," or $4,673, and received forged papers for the children.

The family's lawyer has said the couple wanted to adopt the children and did not knowingly break the law.

The second couple was accused of obtaining a forged birth certificate for a baby boy to take him to the United States, the indictment said. The couple tried in absentia was accused of forgery and paying 10,000 pounds for a baby girl.

All the children involved in the case have been returned to Egyptian orphanages.

Islamic law restricts adoption, barring families from giving their name to children they take into their homes. Egyptian law allows fostering but it is generally not culturally acceptable for families to take in unrelated children.

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Charles Dick)


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