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A huge sigh of relief

A huge sigh of relief

Single Saudi mothers can now visit government offices alone to follow up on matters relating to their children.

This is my column that appeared in Arab News on Feb. 01, 2015:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

I was very pleased to read the report this week of the announcement from the Ministry of Justice that courts in Riyadh have sentenced more than 65 men to prison terms ranging from two days to three months for refusing to heed court rulings in favor of their former wives. Finally, these women who have suffered from not receiving their alimony payments to not being able to see their children because of mean-spirited ex-husbands, are getting some long overdue justice.

In our country where men have the upper hand, many women and their children are made to suffer unnecessarily by vengeful ex-husbands who do not want to pay the alimony they owe them, and many times make it nearly impossible for their ex-wives to see their children if they have custody of them. And in our male guardianship system, an ex-husband can very easily make the lives of his ex-wife and children a living hell if so desires by refusing to pay alimony, blocking the ex-wife from seeing her children and refusing to do the necessary paperwork that children need for enrollment in schools and to get government IDs and services.

It is clear that this has been a problem for a very long time, and our government has recognized this now, signaling that its patience has run out with misbehaving ex-husbands, who cause wholly unnecessary suffering and embarrassment to their ex-wives and children when they pull such illegal stunts. For sure such shenanigans are not unique to Saudi Arabia. Divorced husbands, all over the world, have for decades been skipping alimony payments and trying to get away with it. Here in Brazil they also jail ex-husbands who miss alimony payments too many times, especially when minor children depend on the payments for survival.

The other piece of good news in the announcement said that the ministry has recently allowed, in cooperation with the Supreme Judiciary Council, single mothers the right to visit the Civil Status offices, Passport Department offices, schools and departments of education, and some government and private bodies to deal with formalities and transactions related to their children. This is an excellent development, as it will allow divorced mothers to take charge of their children’s lives and not be wholly dependent on ex-husbands, who may or may not be helpful. How many times have I seen single women in government departments trying to get some bureaucratic issue resolved, papers in hand, only to be treated as if they were lepers with a contagious disease and desperately being shunted from window to window. With this new regulation, hopefully single women, who do not have a husband to do these types of essential errands for them, will no longer be treated so badly or ignored.

Divorced women and their children have long deserved better treatment in our society. Perhaps with this new crackdown on errant ex-husbands and new rules that allow better access to government offices to these single mothers, their situation will improve. Being divorced is already hard enough, and to have to endure not getting alimony payments and possibly being blocked from seeing your own children can only make a bad situation unbearable. We should strive to be a modern, just and fair society that respects the rights of all. Punishing miserly ex-husbands is a good start in that direction.