Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Our abandoned kids abroad: A father’s story

“You are siding with women! Like they are all angels, and we are all monsters. The truth is in between. Justice is in the balance.” A reader of my last column “Our secret marriages abroad: Broken hearts, neglected kids” (Oct. 16) complains and tells me his story.

During his studies in the US, he fell in love with a Columbian girl. She was all he wished for in a woman. Smart, pretty, cute and exciting.

They talked about marriage, but he never made any promises. “We would dream about eternal union, review challenges, and play with the idea, but our reality, as lovers, was not based on the condition of marriage,” he explained, showing me messages exchanged between the two confirming this understanding.

According to an email sent to him during a school vacation, the woman was thinking about converting to Islam and studying Arabic. In another, she asked questions about Saudi traditions and hijab, in case they decided to marry and live in Saudi Arabia. In a third she was wondering what her family and church would say if they knew about her relations with an Arab-Muslim boyfriend.

It was clear from what I read that they agreed not to have children during their relationship. “I was to return home and check if marriage was at all possible. She remained Catholic and liberal. This was a no-go with my family. I wouldn’t mind the first, but being liberal in a conservative society would never be accepted,” he said.

“Six months before my graduation, she invited me to a romantic dinner in a seaside restaurant. Then after dessert, she suddenly announced: ‘Love! I am pregnant!’ Now that was an earthquake! I could hardly breathe. Suddenly, I was going to be a father! She made it much more difficult to marry. Even if I were to get my family’s and government’s approval, how could I explain the child?

“I almost failed my exams. I did manage to take care of her during the pregnancy, though. On my return to the Kingdom, I left her with all I had in my savings, plus the car and apartment. I only promised her to try to persuade my family. So, when I reported my failure, she shouldn’t have been so surprised and angry.

“She calls me a heartless father and lover. But we had an agreement, and she broke it. In law this is called “entrapment”. In the last couple of years, she has tried everything: complained to the Saudi Arabian embassy, told my friends, wrote to my family and now has put the story on the net.

Of course, she didn’t mention our agreement or her breaking it. The blame is all on me! Tell me where I went wrong, and what I can do?”

I told him that Muslims should not be involved in such relationships. If he intends to marry, he should get all the required permission first. Marriage is a holy institution which is not to be taken lightly. Yes, the woman appears to have entrapped him and broken her promise, but it could have been an accident or a desperate act of love.

“Now,” I told him, “you are faced with the consequences of your mistake: a poor child who needs his father and a woman who would do anything to have her beloved back. The right thing to do is to go back and solve the issue.

If you cannot marry her, at least you must acknowledge your child, and agree on custody, support and access arrangements. One thing you cannot do is to attempt to escape and ignore the issue.”

Another story that broke my heart was that of a Filipino domestic worker who was shipped home in disgrace. She was pregnant with the child of the family’s oldest son. Yes, she seduced him, but the young man should also bear some of the responsibility for unethical behavior.

The young man fell into a depression knowing he had a baby in a faraway land. He left university and went to work as an airline steward in the hope that he would meet her in one of his travels and be able to reconnect with his child. The last I heard, he had not.

Temporary and secret marriages are leaving many women with broken hearts and neglected children. Without proper documentation, they cannot even prove that their marriage was legal. Too many children are left without fathers or even a family name. This is so unfair and sinful.

We must take this phenomenon seriously and discuss it at every level – religious, academic, governmental and non-governmental. The Shoura Council should take the initiative and lead the way.

Apart from all the Saudi men who travel overseas, this tragedy is being multiplied as more and more students are sent abroad. Now is the time to fix a problem which has been neglected for too long. We cannot afford to ignore it any longer. 

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