UAE Single Parents Still Struggle

(Credit: AP Photo, by Kamran Jebreili)

Single parents in the UAE are in fear as they struggle to receive birth certificates for their children born out of wedlock, and will soon risk punishment as a new law will come into effect.

Hundreds of women, with their children, were released from jail when the United Arab Emirates decriminalized premarital sex in November of 2020. However, many women are still struggling to obtain a birth certificate. Birth certificates are only given to children born from married parents. These allow the children to receive medical care, access an education, or travel outside the country. Prior to the change in law, many of them gave birth in a hospital, but the doctors denied them birth certificates and had called the authorities on them. Others, scared of punishment, had given birth in their own homes. Meanwhile, a new law that soon comes into effect early January 2022 does not offer women a way to obtain these certificates, while it will criminalize parents who lack these documents for their child. 

“We were so full of hope,” said Star, one of the women released from Sharjah Central Jail in December 2020 with her 3-month-old daughter. “Then came trouble I didn’t think I’d have the strength to get through.”

Single mothers who were interviewed by The Associated Press described their experience prior to the law change. Star stated that many, including her, were separated from their children, and endured abhorrent prison conditions. They also described their police interrogations on their personal life to be deeply humiliating. Even after they had been freed, they had not been able to obtain what they most wanted: official documents proving their children’s identities. The new law states that parents failing to provide documentation for their children will face at least two years of prison. However, it makes no reference to health authorities issuing birth certificates to single mothers and does not detail how single parents should provide their child’s identities. Given this, some even yearn for the previous punishment under the old law, which typically was one year detention and then deportation. Although it was terrifying, they emphasized that at least their babies could get official documentation and they had a ticket to go back home.

Ludmila Yamalova, a lawyer who took single parent cases, states that “These massive fundamental changes are highly welcome, but so much still needs to catch up.” She also noted that the enduring challenges for single parents in the UAE stem from a conservative societal mindset and the government’s lack of coordination, and that “emotionally and mentally, people are not prepared to accept the law as reality,” referring to health and law enforcement agencies.

Meanwhile, many women keep raising their children in secret. However, the majority deeply struggle as they live on expired visas and wisps of income. Consequently, the majority cannot afford court fees and lawyers to open a birth certificate petition case, which costs a minimum of $350 in Dubai’s Family Court. Still, an increasing number of women are taking their cases to court, receiving mixed results. For instance, Star has succeeded in her case, and her daughter has received legal status. From her home in the Philippines, she has stated, “That kind of joy is overwhelming, to know your daughter is not illegal anymore. It’s like I’m breathing for the first time.”

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