UN calls on Israel to amend custody law

Rights committee highlights need to ease burden on fathers seeking full or partial custody of their children.

School children walking 260 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
School children walking 260
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has called on the Israeli government to amend its laws in order to ease the burden on fathers seeking full or partial custody of their children.
At a special hearing in Geneva last month, the committee expressed concern that fathers embroiled in custody disputes here are not always treated fairly under the Capacity and Guardianship Law.
In its summation of hearing about the economic, social and cultural situation in member countries, the committee called directly on the state to make sure that custody of children up to the age of six is not always given to mothers and asked the government to find a way to “ensure that child support awards do not lead to an inadequate standard of living for the father.”
The committee was responding to a report submitted by the Coalition for Children and Family, a non-profit organization that unites several bodies engaged in fighting for father’s rights. The report outlines numerous hardships faced by fathers going through what the NGO describes as a gender-biased court and social welfare system.
Alongside complaints of social and economic difficulties faced by the men and accusations that in general more attention is paid to women’s rights, the CCF also outlined legislation it calls “blatantly discriminatory against men.”
“The parliament and judges refuse to eliminate discriminatory preferences and presumptions which favor women. That is coupled with automatic and instant decisions in favor of women, compared with deliberate procrastination in disposing of motions filed by men, general attitude of ridiculization and marginalization of all men, labeling all men as potential aggressors and dangerous to spouses and children,” wrote the fathers in their report.
They continued: “It turns the lives of men unbearable, driving most of them into poverty, inability to carry jobs, imprisonments and a large number of suicides (200 suicides a year, eight times greater than everyone else, and 50 percent of the national average number of occurrences).”
The group specifically highlighted article 25 of the Capacity and Guardianship Law, known as the Tender Years Presumption Law, which automatically awards custody of children under six to the mother.
“There is not even one official source that recognizes a father’s right to access his children post-divorce,” wrote the men in the report.
In its summation, the UN committee expressed concern that “in the case of a divorce, custody of children up to the age of six is always given to mothers, and that fathers are often required to pay child support awards that exceed their income, and if not that their freedom of movement is seriously curtailed.”
It also noted that “divorced fathers often are required to visit their children in supervised visitation centers during their working hours, which leads to the accumulation of work absences and the risk of dismissal.”
Despite the UN’s recognition that their battle has legitimacy, Daniel Zer, a father who has not seen his son for more than two years, expressed pessimism that anything would change on the ground here.
Zer said the NGO has been rebuffed by politicians and the authorities in their attempts to raise the issue and improve the situation.
“We are really stuck in hell,” he said.
Last June, Zer and four other fathers associated with the CCF submitted a similar petition to the UN’s Human Rights Council detailing decisions by the authorities to deny or limit the fathers’ access to their children.
In that complaint, the fathers claimed that Israel’s family laws and practices violate international conventions, deny men involved in divorce cases their basic human rights and accused state-run authorities and courts of purposely disengaging fathers from their children.
Earlier this year, MK Yulia Shamolov Berkovich (Kadima) sponsored two conferences in parliament addressing “equality of the sexes” and, in addition, a petition (“Adam Zer, a minor v. Ministry of Welfare”) was submitted to the High Court of Justice by Zer, who said the practice of forcing men to prove it is in the best interest of the child to see the father violates basic and natural human rights.
In addition, fathers’ rights groups have held a series of demonstrations and are currently in the process of compiling a report on the estimated 200 divorced men who commit suicide each year.
Legislation is also being drafted, which the CCF said will “bring Israel in line with the rest of the world” in regards to the rights of fathers.