SAUDI CHILDREN OF FOREIGN MOTHERS DENIED SCHOOL ENROLLMENT
Arab News | Jeddah
14 September 2007
For the past three weeks it has been the same routine for Saleema, mother of three girls ages six, eight and 11. Each morning she gets up, prays Fajr, and then wakes, bathes, dresses and feeds her children and gets them ready for the day. But she hasn’t been sending her children to meet the school bus or to be dropped off by their father or a fancy chauffeur-driven car. Instead, she endures the agonizing task of trying to get her children enrolled in a Saudi public school.
Why has Saleema spent so much time and effort getting her children enrolled after the majority of the Kingdom’s children have already started the school year? Her short answer: discrimination against foreigners on the part of Saudi state schools. “I know it is all happening because of my accent when I try to speak Arabic to the school staff,” said Saleema, who was born in the UK but has been married to a Saudi man for the past 14 years. “I have been told by a number of government schools that they have no seats available and to wait and call after a week. Then I was told that the school was only enrolling children of government teachers at the specific school. Then I spent another week visiting other schools that the initial school administration sent me to saying that these schools would take my children because they had seats. When I went they too said they had no seats available. I finally asked my sister-in-law, a Saudi, to call and request information for me and she was told that the children can be enrolled for a nominal fee, if they are of Saudi nationality.”
Saleema’s situation is common. A number of foreign mothers of Saudi children believe that their children should have the same rights to education as other children whose mothers are Saudi.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Huda, a foreign-born mother of two Saudi children. “Why should we have to spend extra money enrolling our kids in private schools when our children are Saudi and should be able to attend the public schools for free?”
Huda, who is an Indonesian married to a Saudi, said that she’s even been judged by school officials based on her nationality, who have presumed that because she is Indonesian she’s a housemaid who has come to enroll a Saudi woman’s children. (Many housemaids in Saudi Arabia are Indonesian.) Huda says officials have told her that the children’s mother should be enrolling the kids, not the maid.
Some suspect that there might be a general sense of objection to the idea of a Saudi man marrying a foreign woman.
“Even when we go out to the shopping mall or elsewhere and speak Malay, many Saudi women make sarcastic remarks. They ask each other if there’s such a shortage of Saudi women in society that Saudi men have to marry foreigners,” said Khalil, a Saudi who has been married to his Malaysian wife for the past 30 years.
As for filing discrimination complaints with the Ministry of Education, Saleema says she thinks it would be useless. “What would we do when we go to the ministry? The ministry may or may not confront the administration. And because the foul treatment is totally verbal, the school’s administration will deny it and pretend nothing happened,” she said. “Even my husband has tried to enroll our girls asking the guard outside the school for the phone number and the name of the headmistress in order to call and get things straightened out, but the guard refused to give out any information to the extent of speaking harshly to my husband.”
Numerous calls and visits by Arab News to speak with the Student Affairs Department of the Ministry of Education went unanswered. It looks as if the only thing left for these foreign-born moms to do is to face the fact that prejudice is everywhere even in the one place children should feel the safest: at school and at the hands of the very people parents trust to teach their children.