“Relationships in Saudi Arabia” .. Mothers struggle to “free” their children

The BBC on Saturday recalled the case of an American woman who struggled to “free” her daughter, following her divorce from her Saudi husband, and who is having trouble keeping her daughter after she came to Saudi Arabia has to visit her husband and his family.

Carly’s mother, Denise White, is becoming increasingly concerned, and “believes that the economic and political importance of Saudi Arabia means that American diplomats are reluctant to act” on the issue of her daughter and granddaughter Tala.

Speaking to the BBC from her home in California, White said she was “extremely concerned about her granddaughter’s education, having been told that Tala has not been to school for the past three years”.

Last September, Agence France-Presse published a detailed report on the woman, named Carly Morris, saying that she “arrived in Saudi Arabia with her daughter in the summer of 2019 to teach the girl about her father’s family ken, but since then she has been stuck there and engaged in a legal conflict in the kingdom, where the regime grants that Parents have absolute authority over their children.

The story of 34-year-old Maurice and her 8-year-old daughter, Tala, is similar to the stories of other foreign mothers who, after their divorce in Saudi Arabia, are faced with a difficult choice between their personal freedom and staying with their to stay children, according to lawyers and human rights defenders.

Carly, who converted to Islam at the age of 17, met her Saudi ex-girlfriend online in the United States in 2013 and loved that he was “Muslim and conservative”.

They divorced in 2018, and he returned to his country when their daughter was 4 years old, but he returned and convinced her to allow the girl to visit his family for only one month, according to AFP.

“Everything seemed fine at first when Carly Morris arrived in Saudi Arabia with her daughter Tala. Her ex-husband (the girl’s father) arranged a 30-day visa for both of them so that his parents could see their granddaughter for the first time met,” he said. says the BBC.

She adds that in the hotel her ex-husband booked for her and Tala, their room had no windows or internet and her cell phone didn’t work there, and soon Carly started to worry.

The mother, who lives in the city of Buraidah, said in a telephone conversation with Agence France-Presse that her ex-husband confiscated all their identification papers days after their arrival in the Kingdom. And she continued with a sigh: “At the end of 2019, my daughter acquired Saudi citizenship to begin my tragedy.”

Little Tala became a Saudi citizen overnight, subject to the guardianship system, which gives the father absolute powers over his children, especially in the matter of travel outside the country.

Although Morris was granted custody of her daughter by a Saudi court in May 2022, the mother is now stuck in Saudi Arabia, where she does not speak Arabic and has no right to work.

She also did not obtain her Saudi daughter’s identity document, which prevents her from enrolling in school or obtaining the necessary health care for her.

After spending her savings and exceeding her credit card limit, Morris had to seek help online, according to tweets tracked by AFP before she deleted them.

“I live in an inhumane situation… I have to borrow money from strangers and accept donations” after her husband recently stopped providing them with food, she said, only to pay the monthly rent for the apartment in which they live. live

She believes that her husband is pressuring her to force her to leave without her daughter, but she defiantly claims, “I will not leave this country without my daughter.”

After the father tried to grant his daughter citizenship, Tala, who was born and raised in America, was deemed a Saudi citizen, meaning that under the male guardianship system she could not leave the country unless her Saudi father agreed not, according to the BBC.

Since Prince Mohammed bin Salman assumed the position of crown prince in 2017, Saudi Arabia has seen a social opening after decades of closure and severe restrictions imposed especially on women, according to AFP.

In recent years, the kingdom has reduced “guardianship” rules that give men broad powers over women from their families, allowing them to work and travel.

However, human rights organizations note that women still need the consent of their male guardians to marry and face discrimination in divorce and custody disputes.

And the BBC quotes Carly as saying that “her Saudi ex-husband started taking Tala every morning and only brought her back late at night. She was alone all day in her hotel room with little money (…) and about two years after after she pleaded with him to take their daughter to America, Carly began writing to members of the US Congress and others she hoped to help (…) and this, she says, angered her ex-husband.

After a long court battle, Carly was finally granted guardianship of Tala, but was told not to leave her Saudi city, let alone the country itself. She says she has become a prisoner within the walls without her own money. Saudi authorities and Carly’s ex-husband were contacted for comment but did not respond to the BBC.

Last September, Carly received a summons from Saudi prosecutors to face charges of “disturbing public order,” a development Morris believes is related to tweets criticizing the Saudi guardianship system. Later, authorities banned her from traveling, according to an electronic memo seen by AFP.

The family of Morris’ ex-husband did not respond to AFP calls for comment.

“Carly and Tala’s case is unfortunately not an isolated case,” said Bethany Al-Haidari, an official at the New York-based Foundation for Human Rights. And she continued: “There are countless women and children trapped in similarly degrading conditions in Saudi Arabia.”

Egyptian Fatima, 36, who has been married to a Saudi Arabian for 15 years, preferring to use a pseudonym because of the sensitivity of the issue, said she was “a prisoner to her children.” The mother of three explained that she was not abused, but that her husband’s remarriage completely marginalized her.

And she continued, “I wanted to get a divorce and return to my country to raise my children, but my husband decreed that I return alone.” “I will never leave my children and go away,” she said in tears.

AFP spoke to two American mothers facing the same dilemma as Morris, and the three women complained about the complexity of family-related litigation procedures in Saudi Arabia.

The US embassy in Riyadh told AFP it was following Morris’ case “closely” and was “in constant contact with Morris and the Saudi government”.

Saudi lawyer Nasreen Al-Ghamdi attributed her country’s decision not to allow foreign mothers to admit their children to their countries to the fact that “the state protects its Saudi children from their exposure to problems to avoid abroad.”

Out of 139,000 marriages in 2020, according to official figures, Saudi Arabia recorded 4,500 cases of the marriage of one of the parties to a foreigner, which requires a special official permit to be obtained.

In the same year, approximately 4,200 divorce cases of one of the parties were registered with a foreigner out of a total of 50,000 divorce cases. Divorce cases in Saudi Arabia increased by 12.7 percent compared to the previous year.

The Saudi Human Rights Commission did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment on the Morris case and others.

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