They said they would rather endure a bad marriage as in most child custody cases the father usually wins.
Arab News spoke to a number of women who are in the dilemma of either filing for divorce or keeping their children.
A recent Arab News report told the story of a mother of a three-year-old girl who said the father, to whom the court had given custody, did not allow her to see her daughter.
She said the court ruling did not include visitation rights for her, so the father took their daughter out of Jeddah to live with his mother in Al-Baha.
The woman said she had been unable to see her daughter or communicate with her over the telephone for more than a year.
Kholud Manzar, who has been married for 30 years and is a mother of four, admitted she has been enduring a bad marriage for the sake of her children.
She says even if she had a job and could afford to raise her children she would not be given custody if she filed for divorce.
“Islam is the best religion and most respectful to women. I love the rights given to women and I know I can walk out of my marriage with all my respect and dignity. It is just that the social system and vices work against us,” she said.
Kholud said she fears losing her children and respect in society.
“Even my mother does not support me. She said she looked after me all my life and I should do the same for my children. So here I am living my life, serving the sentence society prescribed for me.”
Expatriates living in the Kingdom also suffer from the stigma related to divorce and women are mostly the victims.
Madiha Iqbal (name changed), a 25 year old from Karachi living in Jeddah, said most divorced middle-class women from India and Pakistan are denounced and are not welcomed home by their families, especially if they come without their children. Her mother Sabiha said she has been in an unhappy marriage for 40 years and claims women have a very hard role to play and maintain in society.
“Especially in our countries, this abstract mentality is far removed from Islam and yet women have to succumb to it.”
Sabiha said most women do not get a divorce living in the Kingdom as they would lose their iqama (residence permit) and be sent back to their countries.
“How can a mother stay without her children? She would not sacrifice them at most times to fulfill her right to divorce and therefore tends to stick it out with her husband. I feel very sad for these women. Their families should support them.”
Hamid Ahmed, a 24-year-old sales manager in Jeddah, told Arab News he grew up watching a disturbing marriage between his parents.
“My mother was abused, sometimes physically, but it was more mental and verbal torture for her. She is more religious and I am ashamed to admit my father indulged in immoral practices and was an alcoholic. However, my mother never filed for divorce because she knew she would lose us.”
Hamid said his mother is not well educated and often told him she would never find a job that would pay her enough to sustain her sons’ education and upbringing.
“This is why she endured the abuse and unhappy marriage so she could stay with me and my brother in case my father decided to remarry or any other worst case scenario.”
The primary concern of Saudi courts when deciding custody cases is that the child be raised in accordance with the Islamic faith.
Saudi courts usually do not grant custody of children to non-Saudi women. If the mother is an Arab Muslim, judges will usually not grant her custody of children unless she is living in Saudi Arabia, or the father is not a Muslim.
The generic rule under Shariah law is that a mother can retain custody of her sons until the age of nine, and daughters until the age of seven.
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