LES ECHOS

Family Rights Future: Biological Fathers, Lesbian Mothers

A heartwrenching court case in France poses thorny questions as the very meaning of family evolves more quickly than the legal system, or even the experts, can keep up with.

Who's the dad?
Who's the dad?
Serge Hefez*

PARIS — A moving, tender film, I Am Sam (2001) tells the story of Sam Dawson, played by Sean Penn. He is a simple, mentally challenged man who works in a café and who finds himself the single parent of daughter Lucy after his partner abandons the two of them. Nothing in the world matters more to Sam than his little girl. But after a few years have gone by, social services remove the child from his care, deeming him an inadequate parent. Lucy is placed with a foster family, a wealthy, elegant and brilliant couple who offer her all the love and security a child could wish for.

The movie's strength derives from the fact that Lucy, who is exceptionally mature, refuses to make the choice she is supposed to make. She becomes attached to her adoptive parents while continuing to love her touching child-father, who lives surrounded by his bunch of nutty friends.

The film comes to mind after Nov. 25, when a court in Rennes completely excluded a father from the life of his child. The court not only refused custody of Corentin to Yoan Delorme, his biological father — entirely comprehensible, in view of the child's particular history — but also all visiting rights, including visits conducted in the presence of the baby's family.

Corentin, whose mother gave birth anonymously, has been living for 17 months with a family that wants to adopt him. His biological father, who recognized him from birth, claimed full parenting rights. He won a first court case, but has just lost in an appeals court.

Branded on his arm

The story of Delorme's paternity is interesting in more ways than one. In prison, he received a visit from his girlfriend, who announced that she was pregnant but that she didn't want the child and that she was leaving him. The father-to-be asked the registry office to recognize the child, and his request was accepted — except that because the mother had given birth anonymously, the father's name could only be listed on the birth certificate if the child wasn't immediately locatable: A woman who chooses to have a child anonymously is not supposed to provide the name of the father.

In accordance with the French civil code, Corentin's placement with his adoptive family precluded custody being given to his biological parents. After the court case, then the appeal, time has elapsed, and Corentin is now 18 months old with an adoptive father and mother who love him and whom he loves — a couple who said they lived "through hell" waiting for the potentially "terrifying verdict" — and a biological father who fought for him within the realm of his possibilities, and who has a tattoo on his right arm that says "To My Son."

Let's be clear: It would have been unthinkable to tear the baby away from parents who had been raising him with love for months. But would it have been so complicated to grant a legal jump seat to a third party so he could prove himself and progressively weave a bond with the child whose path through life he could share?

This is where the weight of the many pedopsychiatric reports listed in the case come into play. Just as the good fairies gathered to present their gifts to the infant Sleeping Beauty, all the experts appear to have been summoned in Corentin's case. They rightly declared that separating the child from his adoptive family would be traumatic. But most of them contented themselves with defending an exclusive vision of the family and giving absolutely no weight to the possible role of the biological father unless to point out that, in view of his "immature character" (Sam, are you there?), he might prevent Corentin from forging harmonious bonds with his adoptive parents.

One of the most renowned experts in France reluctantly said that it was a question of "knowing how to make room" for the father in the child's life, taking an "indispensable," "carefully thought-out series of measures and precautions."

It probably would have taken until the boy was in young adulthood to set all this up so that Delorme could finally take his son out for a pain au chocolat. Only one psychoanalyst, who has been working for 30 years on the role of the father and the necessity of respecting all the protagonists in situations of pluri-parenting and co-parenting, stressed that it seemed to her "very serious that this little boy wouldn't know who his father was and couldn't at the very least see him on a regular basis."

Two mothers, a bitter break

A family today can't be so easily characterized as having "a dad, a mom, nothing more, nothing less." Families are increasingly complex entities composed and recomposed of parents, step-parents, sperm donors and embryos, biological parents who've abandoned a child in a faraway country, and women who carry and give birth to children. Not to mention the brothers and sisters, including half-brothers and sisters, who in their way constitute the foundations of the family architecture. Each family member must have a known and recognized place so that the child has a coherent picture of his place in the world.

If we professionals all claim to know how to identify and diagnose suffering or a dangerous situation in relation to a child or adolescent, we can't then act as if our theoretical — not to say political — presuppositions play no role in what we anticipate when we are called in as experts.

In San Francisco. Photo: Nerdcoregirl

Recently I've been called in on an increasing number of cases. Ms. A and Ms. B wanted a child, and had one thanks to medical assistance received in Belgium. Ms. A, who carried the child, was the only official mother of little Tom, who was raised by both women with lots of love. Five years later, after a stormy separation, Ms. A, based on the fact that she is the child's biological mother, forbid her former companion from seeing him. Ms. B asked a family affairs judge to grant her rights to see the boy and have him stay with her. An expert was appointed to the case and observed a dangerous symbiosis between Ms. A and her son, but a very positive bond between Ms. B and little Tom in addition to her role as separator in the mother-child relationship. But in view of the conflict between the two women, he decided it would be better not to decide in favor of Ms. B. In a parallel situation, would he have done the same with a man, a father?

We can be sure that there will have to be a multitude of little Lucys before we can justly take into account the extraordinary complexity of all the unique histories of these children we call our own.

*Serge Hefez is a psychiatrist and writer.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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