Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Secret Marriages ِAbroad: Broken hearts, Neglected Kids

I can’t forget Christina. During my graduate studies in the US, I had a Web page entitled “Saudi Arabia: The Land of Islam”. An American woman contacted me via the site and told me her story.

At an early age she was put in an orphanage. An American family adopted and raised her. She married a good husband and had two wonderful children. Her life was perfect until she learnt a certain fact about her life.

Her parents revealed that she was not their biological daughter. They did not know who her real parents were. Orphanage rules prohibit telling adopting families and biological parents about each other. 

Christina set out to find the truth and years later she finally found it.

A birth certificate in the orphanage archives told her that her father was a Saudi student from a prominent family, who could not face his parents to get their approval to marry a foreigner. His family already had plans for him.

Another search led to her father in Saudi Arabia, who was now an important figure. He refused to acknowledge her. Some members of her Saudi family were more accommodating. The Saudi Arabian embassy tried to help, but the father was adamant.

The third journey was spiritual. After extensive research about Islam, Christina became a Muslim. As a result, she had to divorce her Christian husband.

An understanding and kind-hearted man, he did not mind her and his children’s conversion to Islam, even though he regretted the separation. He has supported her truth-finding journeys to their final conclusions.

Christina kept her first name, even as she joined the local Islamic center and participated in its classes and activities. She, however, adopted her Saudi family name.

Years after I left the US, the Internet joined us again. Christina has achieved a lot in her life and has raised fine Muslim-American children. I am proud of her.

Like Christina’s, there are many heartbreaking stories. Loving souls were left behind, sometimes with children. Communication was cut and questions went unanswered.

Before Facebook and other social networking sites existed, it was much harder to discover the whereabouts of missing loved ones. 

I have tried through my limited network to help, but few cases end happily. 

Even when found, many Saudi men refuse to reconnect. They are already married with children and are afraid to rock the boat with shocking revelations and complicated commitments.

Such stories are not limited to Saudi students or only happen abroad. Many marriages and love stories take place all over the world and at home.

Saudi travelers to Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, India, the Philippines and other popular destinations marry and befriend young local women, father children, and then leave without a trace.

Pregnant maids in the Kingdom are shipped back home without any legal rights or financial support. 

The Saudi government has made efforts to publicize abroad the fact that Saudi men are not able to marry foreign women unless they first receive government permission. However, there are many foreign women who are not aware of this regulation.

Embassies try to help desperate mothers and children, but even with legal documentation, if husbands and fathers do not cooperate, not much can be done.

This cannot be accepted. Our children, like the Olympic Filipino-Saudi swimmer, Jasmine Alkhaldi, and their mothers are the victims of such crimes of negligence. We should have laws and regulations in place to deal with such issues.

Funds should be set up to support the victims in case where fathers are dead or cannot be found. Children must have the rights to the full benefits of citizenship, in addition to due parental support and inheritance.

The Shoura Council should take the initiative and lead the way to a fair, compassionate and honorable resolution of this issue. Saudi Arabia, the Land of Islam and the Kingdom of Humanity, deserves no less!

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