Cairo: A recent court ruling against a high-profile paternity lawsuit, filed by a single mother against an Egyptian actor, has prompted calls for upgrading laws to better handle similar cases.

Late last month, a Cairo family court rejected a paternity suit from set designer Hend Al Henawy, who claimed that her 15-month-old child was the result of a brief and secret marriage to actor and TV presenter Ahmad Al Fishawy.

The court said Al Henawy was unable to prove her marriage. Al Fishawy, who denied their marriage, refused to take a DNA test, which he was not legally obliged to do.

"The DNA test must be obligatory. Why should the mother alone pay the price for having a secret marriage or an affair?" asked Eman Beibars, chairperson of Cairo-based Association of Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW). "There are around 12,000 paternity cases being heard by courts. What wrong have children of unknown fathers done?" she told Gulf News.

After the court ruling on Al Henawy's suit, four Egyptian human rights groups collectively demanded that the law be amended to make the DNA test obligatory for men in paternity cases. Under Egyptian law, a birth certificate cannot be issued without the father's name.

The birth certificate gives the child the right to education and healthcare services.

The four groups suggested temporary birth certificates be issued for children with disputed paternity until final rulings are passed in their cases.

Women fighting a legal battle to gain official recognition for their children say the children are the result of common law marriage, locally known as "orfi".

Secret marriages have increased over recent years in Egypt, especially among university students. Experts attribute the rise to economic woes, mainly unemployment.

"Young people, unable to afford the phenomenal costs of officially registered marriage, turn to marry orfi style, which they believe is legal from the Islamic perspective," said Beibars.

"Excessive financial demands for marriage should be dropped in order to encourage young people to tie the knot and satisfy their natural [sexual] desire."

Egyptian law does not recognise secret marriage. It takes a law court up to two years to rule on lawsuits to prove this type of marriage.

"We are living in the golden era of science. So, there must be accurate and trusted methods to prove paternity," said Amnah Nusseir, professor of Islamic faith and philosophy.

The writer is a journalist based in Cairo