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UN Calls on Israel to Cancel 'Tender Years' Clause

UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says Israel discriminates against men in divorce.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 12/6/2011, 4:43 PM

Father and child.
Father and child.
Flash 90

The United Nations' Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has determined that Israel discriminates against divorced fathers and has called upon Israel to cancel the Tender Years Clause that grants automatic custody over children in divorce cases to their mothers. Israel is said to be the last country in the world not to have canceled the clause.

In the concluding remarks of meetings held in Geneva in November and December, the committee wrote that:

"The Committee is concerned 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. The Committee is concerned 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.

"The Committee recommends that the State party amend the Capacity and Guardianship Law so that custody of children up to the age of six is not always given to mothers, and ensure that child support awards do not lead to an inadequate standard of living for the father."

The committee is made up of iindependent experts and monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by individual countries.

The committee heard testimony from representatives of the Coalition for Children and Families, an Israeli group that fights for the rights of children and their fathers in divorce. Following the testimony, the experts posed questions to a 12-person Israeli delegation. A source on the committee said that the experts noted that there was a high suicide rate among divorced men in Israel, amounting to half of all suicides.

They also said that this was reportedly because family rights for divorced couples were very biased towards mothers and restricted access of men to children and the family home to a degree rarely seen in any other State, and that the situation for divorced fathers was "apparently hellish." 

They asked if it was true that divorced fathers were not allowed to leave Israel until they had paid approximately 20 years of alimony. The Israeli delegation did not provide direct responses to these questions.

CCF was founded by Daniel Zer, a father who has not been able to see his own six-year-old son for three years running, allegedly because the child's mother does not want him to see him, and the social workers agree with her that the child has no need for a father in his life. 

The father filed a motion to the High Court and asked it to declare that UN conventions forbid the state from denying a child the right to family life. The High Court refused to declare that fathers have rights to see their children, based on international law.