The fathers' right crowd complains bitterly and unrelentlessly about Japan, one of the few countries that still favors mothers. But they are utterly silent about the countries of the mideast, where fathers rights are completely and totally institutionalized. Countries that are typically authoritarian regimes where mothers have virtually no rights. Countries where torturous abuse by violent, controlling custodial fathers is rampant.
My heart goes out to this mom. How horrible that so-called progressive countries in the west buy into and support this total lack of justice. In reality, we see that so-called progressive countries in the west are nearly as invested in fathers' rights as the middle eastern countries.
This is typical of how these things play out. Fathers of children "abducted" by their mothers get government officials and the media behind them. In the U.S., MARK GOLDMAN had his congressman and the State Department aggressively taking up his case. He had the U.S. media paying for a chartered plane trip to Brazil.
But mothers get squat. Just a lot of official hand-wringing and excuses.
Ottawa mother fights for children legally ‘abducted’ by husband in Kuwait
BY KAREN CHEN, OTTAWA CITIZEN
SEPTEMBER 23, 2012
OTTAWA — Zinab Alfawzi had prepared the perfect party for her son’s eighth birthday on Aug. 16. She specially ordered a cake featuring her son’s favourite superhero, Spiderman. She strung up streamers and balloons, lit all the candles and gathered friends to sing Happy Birthday.
The only thing missing was her son, Ahmad, who was nearly 10,000 kilometres away in Kuwait with his father. He wasn’t answering the phone.
“Happy Birthday son. I wish next year we could be together. I love you,” she says in Arabic in a cellphone recording of the celebration, the phone in Kuwait ringing and ringing as the candles grow shorter and shorter. A few months ago, the same thing happened except with a Dora the Explorer themed cake for her nine-year-old daughter, Rawan.
Alfawzi hasn’t seen her children for three years. They live in Kuwait with her husband, Salem Khalef Rashid and his new wife. Kuwaiti courts granted him a divorce and awarded him full custody of the children without ever giving Alfawzi a say in the matter.
The divorce is recognized by Canada, even though she never signed her name agreeing to it.
Cases like Alfawzi’s fall between the cracks of international customs and the courts of different countries, said Mona Pare, a civil law professor at the University of Ottawa with a background in human rights and child rights. There simply does not exist any agreement or legal process that could force the father to bring the children back to Canada, even though Alfawzi never had a say in their custody.
“In cases that are related to immigration and family and religion ... there are so many different combinations possible that make it really complex,” said Pare.
Weeks after her son’s birthday, Alfawzi sits in her east end apartment, deflated balloons scattered on the floor and tears in her eyes. Because the divorce and custody orders occurred under Islamic law in Kuwaiti courts, Alfawzi has no legal claim to her children in that country, and unless her Rashid decides to set foot in Canada, Alfawzi has no opportunity to argue for the custody of her children in Canada. She is stuck, without her children and without viable options.
Alfawzi arrived in Ottawa as an Iraqi refugee in 2002 and moved in with Rashid’s family. Their families were acquaintances in Iraq and the Rashids agreed to house her. She and Rashid fell in love and married under Islamic Sharia law and registered to have it recognized in Ontario.
In the following years, she gave birth to her daughter and son, seldom leaving the house and never learning English.
In 2006, her husband announced they would visit Kuwait for a family vacation. When they arrived, he told her they were moving there permanently.
Rashid waited for Alfawzi’s Kuwaiti visa and Canadian permanent resident documents to expire and then kicked her out of the house in 2009, announcing he had divorced her and that he was keeping the kids.
It might sound like a case of international child abduction, but it wasn’t. It is completely legal. With Islamic law, the husband rarely needs the wife’s permission for a divorce and the divorce can be instant.
Shocked and eventually destitute, Alfawzi had no choice but to return to her native Iraq, leaving her children behind. The Canadian consulate could offer no help.
In Canada, those custody orders would never be recognized, Pare said, because Alfawzi had not participated in them. The divorce can be carried over legally, even though she could probably fight them. Custody, however, is a separate issue and undecided in Canada. But, even if she were to pursue justice here where courts would likely award different custody arrangements, she cannot get her children back unless her ex-husband and children, who are Canadian citizens, enter Canada.
That would seem unlikely. They can easily renew their passports at the Canadian consulate in Kuwait and notice of an Ontario custody proceeding may further discourage Rashid from coming back to Canada.
“Now she’s faced with, ‘Well there’s a legal system that can be used, but of course what she cares about are her kids, not just getting a paper from the courts that says ‘you’re right’,” Pare said.
Alfawzi could use the Canadian legal system, but it would not help her be reunited with her children. International agreements like The Hague Convention don’t apply because the case is not considered an abduction and even if it were, Kuwait hasn’t signed the agreement.
Pare said it can be difficult to generalize on trends or numbers for how common cases like Alfawzi’s are because each case is so different.
“Imagine how vulnerable you are as a woman refugee and you don’t speak the language and how somebody can just take advantage of you,” Pare said.
Alfawzi eventually was able to return to Canada. She had to learn English before she could ask for help.
She is now a permanent resident and has a file of spouse harassment with the Ottawa police. She also has a separate fraud case against Rashid, who allegedly forged her signature to take money from her account. Police connected with the Canadian consulate in Kuwait to arrange phone calls between Alfawzi and her children and once visited the children to write a report. The report noted the kids were healthy and treated well, but calls are often difficult, Alfawzi said.
“I say ‘Hi son,’ and he says ‘Hi Zinab,” she said. The children no longer call her ‘mom’ and often ask if she loves them, telling her their father said she hated them. “Of course I love them, I am the mother,” she said.
Alfawzi last spoke with her children on July 5. Alfawzi likes dates, memorizing each day, month and year she interacts with her children and using them as passwords. Alfawzi said she feels physically ill when she thinks about her children, seldom eating when she returns to her small apartment where she is surrounded by their pictures, but completely alone. A physician said her diet has caused stomach and nutrition problems, but Alfawzi remains energetic, running between the kitchen and the couch, making dolmah — stuffed grape seed leaves — for the first time in months while organizing stacks of court documents and police reports.
“I don’t want to stop my life: I grow up, I work, I speak English, I write English, I have a home. When my children come back to me I want them to see I have things for them,” she said.
Alfawzi worked at a restaurant for several months, but was forced to quit when her stomach condition worsened.
She loves Ottawa. She loves the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill where she made a wish after copying others tossing coins.
After consulting with Pare, Alfawzi has been in touch with a human rights attorney in Kuwait who said he would start to work on her case there while she tried her best in Canada. No Ottawa attorneys have taken her case, but legal action is not what she needs. She needs her children back.
“My friends say I am strong woman, I don’t cry when I’m with people,” she said. “But when I go home and listen to (my children’s) call and look at their picture, I cry, cry, cry, cry.”