August 5, 2014
The Foreign Office has warned expatriates living in the United Arab Emirates they could face Sharia courts in divorce or child custody cases. UAE personal status law provides expatriates, even if they are not Muslim, with the right to have their case heard under the Islamic law.
It comes after a British mother lost custody of her son to her French ex-husband following a Sharia hearing. In February, Afsana Lachaux was given a suspended prison sentence in Dubai. Ms Lachaux, from London, was found guilty of kidnap charges for failing to attend an access meeting between her son and her ex-husband. The 46-year-old claims she was scared – having been the victim of domestic abuse, which her former partner strongly denies.
She told the BBC’s Asian Network had she known Sharia law could be used by non-Muslims in court cases to decide divorce and child custody, she would not have moved to the UAE. “The fact that I didn’t obey my husband, that shouldn’t be a matter to condemn… it shouldn’t be a reason to take my child away from me,” she explained. The former civil servant was branded an unfit and un-Islamic mother for refusing to obey her husband and having gay friends. It also ruled she was a bad mother as her son had eczema. “I can’t see my son now until he’s 18. I don’t even know if my son is dead or alive. [My ex-husband] got custody through false information,” she said.
Since coming back to London, she has been campaigning for the British government to provide more support to women like her in the UAE.
Tess Lorrigan, from Southampton, also lost custody of her adopted daughter, Olianne, in a Sharia court. She was deported from the UAE in 2011 having been convicted of working without her British husband’s permission.
Human Rights Watch says UAE authorities are failing to respond adequately to reports of domestic violence and is calling on the country to revise its laws to recognise domestic violence as a crime.