Monday, March 22, 2010

Custody war: Saudi men hold children for ransom (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

Sadly, these kinds of "custody wars" (children held hostage for buy-offs or favorable financial settlements for the men) are not limited to Saudi Arabia nor the middle east. In fact they are becoming increasingly common throughout the world wherever fathers rights are on the resurgence.

Custody war: Saudi men hold children for ransom

Published: Mar 20, 2010 23:43 Updated: Mar 20, 2010 23:43

JEDDAH: Saudi women are increasingly speaking out about the excessive financial demands made by their ex-husbands after divorce.

Typically, in Islamic law, a mother, even if she is not a Muslim, can keep custody of her male children until the age of nine and of her female children until the age of seven after which custody goes to the father.

At nine, sons have the right to choose who they wish to stay with, while daughters normally go with their father.

A divorced mother can continue to have custody of her daughter beyond the age of seven depending on the father and what sort of relationship they have.

Nadia Nasr, a 32-year-old mother of one, said her ex-husband threatens to take her son if she marries and does not pay him money.

“I asked for divorce after I learned he was a drug addict and alcoholic,” she said.

“Once he took my son to Morocco and disappeared. I phoned his mother everyday and she was never helpful. She supported her drunkard son,” she added.

Nasr finally got a divorce and the judge presiding over her case ruled she should have custody of their son. She, however, continues to fear losing him as her ex-husband asks her for cash in return for allowing her to keep their child.

“I raised my child all alone while his father was out with his friends,” she said.

Nasr’s ex-husband calls her every so often and asks for a few thousand riyals, demands she finds difficult to refuse.

“He is crazy. He could take my son after school and no one would question him ... Who will make sure nothing happens to my son? Why do I have to live under this threat to get my basic rights?” she added.

The case of Nathalie Morin, a Canadian married to a Saudi, is another example of how some men abuse the system. Reports have been surfacing in the media that Morin’s Saudi husband is holding her captive along with their children.

According to a Canadian Foreign Ministry representative, Morin’s Saudi husband, Saeed Al-Shahrani, told Canadian consular officials in Dammam on Sept. 22 last year that he was willing to divorce her and allow her and their three children to return to Canada for $300,000.

Child custody battles in Saudi society are more than parents confronting each other in court. In many cases money plays an important role.

Ehsan Abdullah is a 45-year-old mother of four. Following her divorce over 15 years ago, Abdullah’s ex-husband took her children and prevented her from seeing them.

“He was punishing me ... He took the children, traveled somewhere and married another woman,” she said.

Abdullah said she saw her children for the first time 10 years later.

“I used to call his family on a daily basis to inquire about my children. I saw my kids 10 years later; they had all grown up not knowing me well,” she said, remembering the pain she has been through.

“I tried convincing him by offering him money. At one point, he said yes but ignored my calls later,” she added.

Custody cases used to be reviewed by several judges with each looking at the case from a particular angle.

For example, one judge would handle the visiting hours and another would look at the child support aspect.

In 2009, the Ministry of Justice made amendments, which, according to Makkah-based lawyer Ibraheem Al-Zamzami, means that only one judge will handle the entire case from beginning to end.

“The idea of custody is being misunderstood by many people. It does not mean that when a child becomes seven, the boy or girl has an option to choose or the father can take the child,” said Al-Zamzami.

“The more responsible parent and the one who is more capable of providing the child with a healthy atmosphere should be the one to be awarded custody,” he added.

He said mothers are given custody before children reach seven, adding that most custody cases are filed by mothers and not fathers.

Some abusive men take advantage of women and exploit their love for their children to extort money. “This is unethical,” he added.

“If a man is blackmailing his ex-wife by threatening to take their children from her in return for money, then he has forgotten that he is the one who is supposed to provide his children with financial support from birth until adulthood,” he added.