JEDDAH — Most women might be able to get out of a marriage but they cannot always save their children, claimed a number of mothers who escaped abusive marriages but were legally forced to leave their sons and daughters behind with their husbands.
News reports about a father who allegedly beat his five-year-old daughter Lama to death shocked divorced mothers and left them fearing for their children’s lives.
By law, fathers are granted custody of a daughter when she turns seven, but a boy gets the right to choose who he wants to live with, even though mothers sometimes automatically concede custody.
Divorcee Aisha Siddiq said: “I didn’t have my family’s blessing to go back home (when I divorced) with three small children, so leaving them with their father was my only choice.”
Siddiq’s ex-husband was mildly abusive, she said, but she could not stay in such a marriage so she left her children behind for financial and social reasons.
“They are his children as well. I believed he would never harm them as he never did in the past but now I fear for my daughter’s life (following the report about Lama).”
Domestically abused women do not always have the courage to flee from a marriage, but those who have do not expect their children to suffer as they have.
In most cases men are not violent toward their children, but Lama’s death has had mothers thinking twice about whether their sons and daughters are really safe with their fathers.
According to family counselor Elham Ezzy, children from an abusive marriage could be more at risk if the parents stay together.
“A stable human being would never harm his own flesh and blood, but would do that to his spouse for various reasons, which is why awarding custody to a father is not that alarming.”
In a conservative society like Saudi Arabia, divorced women cannot always take full custody of her children due to social and economic factors.
A mother who is granted full custody is only given very minimal financial support.
Kholod Dahban, a divorced mother of three, said: “You can’t feed, clothe and educate a child on only SR500 a month.”
Dahban did not ask her family to help her out financially and got a job to support her children, as leaving them with their father was not an option for her.
“I would not have been able to sleep at night if they were with him. He might love them deep inside but he is incapable of taking care of them.”
A mother’s nurturing nature is seen as the reason why she is given custody until the child turns seven, but some children find living with their fathers a nightmare.
Another victim of an abusive marriage, Lailah Al-Maliki, said: “My children have been living with their father for five years and even though they are old enough to take care of themselves, they still call me every night to come back home. “I have been fighting for them in court but I haven’t gotten anywhere.”
Al-Malki fears for her 10-year-old daughter more than her son.
“She is at a very difficult age and I wish I could take care of her because my ex is doing a very poor job.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Abdullah Naser said: “A mother is first and foremost the care taker and youngsters can’t function without her.
“Psychologically girls are most affected by the absence of a mother figure.”